When Martin Hunter – who died in November at the age of 84 – took the helm as artistic director of Hart House Theatre in 1972, he returned to his first love of the stage.
As a boy, he was a member of the Toronto Children’s Players theatre troupe and, as a U of T student, acted in Trinity College productions. After graduating with a BA in 1955, Hunter took a post with the Department of External Affairs and later joined the family business, Buntin Reid Paper Company. On the side, he wrote plays. He also performed in and directed productions with theatre groups such as the University Alumnae Dramatic Club (now the Alumnae Theatre Company). In 1968, he became the playwright-in-resident at U of T’s Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama.
Under Hunter’s leadership, Hart House Theatre became a teaching hub that brought together students and seasoned performers. He believed the best place for aspiring actors to learn was in the thick of productions, and his wide-ranging programming allowed them to tackle everything from Shakespeare to musicals. “It was a very important place for him creatively,” says his daughter, Sarah Hunter. “He especially loved sharing his knowledge with students.”
Hunter’s directorship at Hart House Theatre ended in 1978, but he remained connected to its people and productions, staging his last original work there in 2011: The Gentleman Caller, based on the life of Tennessee Williams.