Tag Archives: manitoba theatre centre

The Godfather of Winnipeg Theatre

The street behind Winnipeg’s Ashdown Warehouse where I live is named after an orphan from Hungary whose father was shot in Germany and whose mother and brother were gassed at Auschwitz.

john hirsch place signJohn Hirsch Place honors one of the founders of the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  John Hirsch came to Winnipeg in 1947, at age 17 as a war orphan and was taken in by Alex and Pauline Shack. He remained a close member of their family till the day he died of AIDS in 1989. 

john hirsch statue manitoba theatre centreHirsh who is immortalized in this statue outside the Manitoba Theatre Centre was in the drama club at St. John’s High School and directed plays at the University of Manitoba.  John’s adoptive family, the Shacks were skeptical when he said he wanted to have a career in theatre, but realized how serious he was when he got a grant from the Junior League of Winnipeg and created a puppet show to take to schools and community clubs.

Photo of John Hirsch from the Fire Hall Arts Centre

 He and a friend convinced the City of Winnipeg to sponsor them to put on three musical comedies at the bandstand at Assiniboine Park one summer, and then John landed himself a gig as the first paid artistic director of Winnipeg’s amateur Little Theatre. This led to a job with CBC television when it was launched in 1954. 

tom hendry and john hirsch statueAfter studying in London John came back to Winnipeg in 1957 and founded the Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) with Tom Hendry. Hendry is sitting on the chair in front of Hirsch in an art piece called Imagine created by Ruth Abernathy. manitoba theatre centreIt can be found just outside the present-day Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre building. MTC is where well-known Canadian actors like Martha Henry, Len Cariou, and Gordon Pinsent had their start.

john hirsch statue ruth abernathyGlobe and Mail writer Keith Garebian quotes Hirsch as saying he was part of four mafias, Jewish, Hungarian, homosexual and Winnipeg.  Garebian says  Hirsch often behaved like a ‘godfather’. He had hot-tempered outbursts, was incredibly demanding of his actors and skillfully manipulated events for his political and financial advantage. Despite this some people admired him. In an interview for the Theatre Museum of Canada, actress Martha Henry calls Hirsch a genius. 

john hirsch plaque at the manitoba theatre centre winnipegJohn Hirsch eventually went on to jobs at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, The Lincoln Center Theatre in New York and directed plays at the Shaw Festival, and at theatres in many Canadian and American cities.  He was accorded numerous honorary doctorates and was an officer of the Order of Canada. 

john hirsch banner manitoba theatre centreThe main stage of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is named after John Hirsch. 

Other posts……..

Bannatyne Street

Living in An Art Gallery

Walking Back in Time

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The Costumes Were Worth the Price of Admission

She stood gravely at centre stage looking simply stunning in her creamy coronation gown surrounded by church officials attired in crimson robes and golden crowns.
mtc-ticketI saw The Audience at the Manitoba Theatre Centre on Saturday night and the costumes stole the show as far as I’m concerned. The Audience chronicles decades worth of weekly meetings between the Queen and the British primeministers.  The play is not a fast paced or intense drama but what kept me riveted during the show were the marvelous outfits worn by Fiona Reid who played the role of Queen Elizabeth.
the-audienceWhether dressed in her Scottish tartan skirt and soft sweater, a gorgeous evening gown, a smart suit or a finely tailored dress the Queen always looked just about perfect- her hair coiffed, her jewelery tasteful, her shoes fashionable but serviceable and her handbags handsome. And what is even more amazing is how a trio of attendants managed to help the queen change her hairstyle, outfits and makeup in just moments either right on stage, discreetly tucked behind the queen’s desk or hidden momentarily behind a small dressing room partition.
Almost magically Fiona Reid would reappear dressed for a new scene that often took place during a period in history decades before or after the previous scene. The hasty transformations in style were really quite fascinating.christina-poddubiuk I admit I don’t usually read the program notes about the costume designer but this time I certainly did.  Christina Poddubuik was responsible for the costumes and sets for The Audience.  I looked her up online and she is a partner in a design firm called Punch and Judy.  It was neat checking out her unique work as an illustrator, stylist and artist. Although the costume designer doesn’t usually come on stage to take a bow at the end of a play I think Christina should have.  I would have given her a standing ovation.  As far as I’m concerned she was the star of the show. 

Other posts about theatre…….

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

John Hirsch Place

Jasper Station

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Kim’s Convenience

I laughed. I cried.  I know that’s a cliché but it’s what happened yesterday when we attended the play Kim’s Convenience at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Kim is a Korean teacher who immigrated to Canada as a young married man to make a better life for his family. He buys a convenience store in a Toronto neighbourhood and spends his life behind the counter.  

But Kim knows the store is not what his life is all about.  “This store is not my story,” he says to his children. “You are my story.”  That was one of the lines that brought tears to my eyes.  

Kim’s children’s stories have not turned out as he hoped. His son ends up in trouble with the law, has a fight with his father, and runs away from home with all the money from the store safe.  Now married with a son of his own and working at a dead-end job in the car rental business he has reconnected with  his mother but he and his Dad are estranged. Kim’s daughter is 30, a professional photographer who  can’t afford to live on her own and isn’t married.  

One morning a condo developer offers Kim a bundle for his convenience store. Should Kim sell it and retire or is there still a chance one of his children will want the business?  As the family goes through the day of the real estate agent’s offer we are treated to a window on their lives. 

I think the reason the audience laughs so often, and becomes so engaged with the play is because as they observe the Kim family’s interactions they see their own families. Whether they are of Korean, Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish or Mennonite descent they recognize some of their family characteristics in the Kims.  They see their own grandfathers and fathers in Mr. Kim’s  old-fashioned ways and attachment to the ‘mother country.’  They see their own kids and grandkids in the Kim children who are having trouble  deciding what they want in life and their mothers and grandmothers in Mrs. Kim’s steadfast love and loyalty to her family. 

The play is only on for a few more days. Go and see it. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. 

Other posts about plays………

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

A Mid Summer Night’s Dream on a Mid Summer Afternoon

Guernica Still Not Explained

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Filed under Culture, Family, Theatre, Toronto