CBC Digital Archives

1957: John Hirsch revives pro theatre in Winnipeg

Seventy-seven steps from the famous intersection of Portage and Main, a new theatre company called Theatre 77 rehearses for its inaugural play. After a 25-year lapse, Winnipeg has professional theatre again, and it's all due to the hard work of director John Hirsch. In this CBC Radio clip, Hirsch tells the CBC's Warner Troyer he's certain there are enough professional actors in the city to keep Theatre 77 going.

Hirsch is not concerned that the new crop of actors will leave Winnipeg for the bright lights elsewhere: Hirsch wants to ensure that talented people get good training and find opportunities in their own hometown. A Hungarian immigrant, Hirsch says he finds Winnipeg a warm city that will support good live theatre. "I believe in doing entertaining plays as well as educational plays as well as plays with social significance," he says.
• John Hirsch's career in the theatre began at the age of 16. Having lost his parents and brother in the Holocaust, he was living in a refugee camp in Germany in 1946. There, he co-produced the play The Snow Queen for the camp's children.
• Hirsch immigrated to Canada in 1947, studying at the University of Manitoba and forming a children's theatre company.

• One year after its founding, in 1958, Theatre 77 merged with the Winnipeg Little Theatre to found Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC), which is now the province's premier theatre organization. MTC was considered Canada's first regional theatre.
• John Hirsch was MTC's first artistic director. He stayed there until 1967, when he moved to the Stratford Festival as associate director.
• Hirsch was also head of drama for CBC Television from 1974 to 1978.

• In 1981 Hirsch returned to Stratford and was artistic director of the festival until 1985. He was appointed following a tumultuous period during which a foursome of directors had been hired, then fired. Their replacement, a British citizen, could not obtain a Canadian work visa, and the festival's board then turned to Hirsch.

• John Hirsch died in Toronto in 1989. His contribution to theatre in Manitoba and Canada is remembered through numerous tributes, including:
• The Canada Council's John Hirsch Prize for emerging theatre directors;
• The Ontario Arts Council's John Hirsch Director's Award;
• The John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer;
• John Hirsch Place, a street running behind Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg.

• "John Hirsch was one of the best directors who ever lived. I was really lucky. I got him, and then I went to Stratford and I had Michael Langham, and when I went to the Guthrie Theatre I had Tyrone Guthrie. So I had three of the best classical directors in the world." - Len Cariou, Broadway actor
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Oct. 29, 1957
Guest(s): John Hirsch
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Reporter: Warner Troyer
Duration: 5:38
Photo: The Winnipeg Tribune Photograph Collection, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

Last updated: November 16, 2012

Page consulted on May 30, 2013

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