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an interesting article from the Globe and Mail. Link:

Cariou, Pinsent, Reeves: all wrapped up in 50 years of history at the MTC


May 10, 2008

Many Canadian theatre greats have passed through the Manitoba Theatre Centre during its 50-year history. This weekend, it's time to welcome them back home.

MTC's Homecoming Weekend - which marks the end of its golden anniversary season - will climax tomorrow with a tribute show called The Curtain Rises. Written and directed by Richard Hurst, it will revisit many of the Winnipeg-based theatre company's greatest moments from the last half-century.

Tom Hendry, the playwright who co-founded Canada's first regional theatre in his hometown with John Hirsch in 1958, will be on hand, as will Len Cariou, who was artistic director at MTC before he became the first Winnipegger to win a Tony by originating the role of Sweeney Todd on Broadway. Octogenarian Doreen Brownstone will also take part in the tribute show - but that's not unusual. Brownstone, Winnipeg's oldest working thespian, was on the theatre's main stage playing Yente in Fiddler on the Roof this season.

(Keanu Reeves, who brought the theatre worldwide attention when he came to play Hamlet in 1995, post-Bill & Ted and pre-Matrix, is not scheduled to appear, but he could very well be one of the surprise special guests.)
Print Edition - Section Front
The Globe and Mail

Fifty years ago, the Manitoba Theatre Centre was formed out of a merger between the amateur Winnipeg Little Theatre and the semi-professional Theatre 77. For that initial season, its slogan was "The only professional theatre between Stratford and Yokohama."

"That was literally true," says Hendry, who was the company's inaugural general manager, creating the model for regional theatres that would eventually spread across the country from the Neptune Theatre in Halifax to the Vancouver Playhouse.

There were no false starts at MTC. Even the company's first production in 1958 had a future great in it: Gordon Pinsent, who acted in the drama A Hatful of Rain opposite Brownstone. "[Pinsent] was so good as a drug addict coming off drugs that people were coming out of the auditorium and throwing up on my carpet," Hendry recalls with a chuckle.

But it's not stars such as Pinsent who Hendry wishes most could come for Homecoming Weekend celebrations, but the staff and volunteers who were determined that the theatre should take root in Winnipeg - many of whom are no longer around. "One I would really like to see is Doris Topelnitski, our star box-office person," says Hendry, who moved to Toronto in the 1960s. "If you don't have a really good box-office person, you're dead."

While the sheen has come off many of the regional theatres that were established during Canada's centennial celebrations, the Manitoba Theatre Centre continues to thrive. Though located in the seventh biggest city in Canada, it is the third most-attended theatre in the country (after Shaw and Stratford). And while other theatres complain about a decline in subscription sales, MTC just clocked its biggest number of subscribers in its history.

"If the past is the best predictor of the future, then MTC's in for 50 great years ahead," says Steven Schipper, who has been artistic director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre since 1989.

Like Hendry, Schipper's dream homecoming weekend would include many people who have since passed on: Rick McNair, the former artistic director who established the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, now the second biggest in North America; Peter Wingate, scenic designer who did Equus for MTC as well as scores of other productions; actors Roly Hewgill and Heath Lamberts; and Odgen Turner, one of MTC's original board members who, Schipper says, was "instrumental" in the creation of the Manitoba Arts Council.

Of course, the person at the top of both Schipper's and Hendry's list would be the late Hirsch, a Holocaust survivor who went on to become head of CBC television drama and artistic director of the Stratford Festival.

Winnipeggers will have to wait until the fall to see the first artistic director's face at the Manitoba Theatre Centre again - that's when a statue of Hirsch and Hendry by sculptor Ruth Abernethy (who did the Glenn Gould that sits on a bench outside the CBC building in Toronto) will be unveiled outside the theatre.

"I'm going to make a trust fund to provide ammunition for BB guns to keep the pigeons away," says Hendry.
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