University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Star Turns

More than actors, playwrights and directors, these artists are architects who helped create Canada’s thriving theatre scene

When Vincent and Alice Massey opened Hart House Theatre in 1919, there was virtually no Canadian-generated professional theatre and no drama program at U of T. Yet the 500-seat theatre in the basement of Hart House was destined to attract generations of future stars: Wayne and Shuster, Arthur Hiller, Kate Reid and R.H. Thomson, to name just a few.

Over the next several decades, Hart House productions introduced Toronto audiences to challenging fare that would launch the careers of such major stars as William Hutt and Charmion King (profiled here), who went on to help establish a national theatre in Canada.

Building on the success of Hart House, Robertson Davies helped create the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama at U of T in 1966. The University College Drama Program followed in 1975. Now graduates of those programs, such as Daniel Brooks, Kristen Thomson and Sky Gilbert (all profiled here), are emerging as architects of a new era in Canadian theatre.

Today, Toronto is North America’s third largest theatre centre – due in no small part to Hart House, often called the cradle of Canadian theatre, and U of T’s drama programs. Last year, Hart House Theatre launched an $8 million campaign to support the artistic endeavours of the next generation of theatrical talent. The campaign is helmed by some of the best of recent generations of U of T grads: Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels (BA 1966 UC) and actor Donald Sutherland (BA 1958 VIC) are co-chairs, while director Norman Jewison (BA 1949 VIC) serves as chair to the theatre’s Council of Patrons.

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