Do you know John Hirsch?

Following  the opening of HIRSCH, a play about Canadian theatre legend John Hirsch (1930 – 1989), we have been overwhelmed by the response to the show from people who knew or worked with Hirsch. Here are two more Hirsch stories that audience members have kindly shared with us.  

old-hirsch-photo (1)I met John Hirsch in Winnipeg when he was a student at the University of Manitoba, first as an undergraduate and then as a student for the M.A. in English.  Later he involved me in plays he directed, first in a small roll in AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT at Theatre 77, which was evolving from the Winnipeg Little Theatre on the way to becoming the Manitoba Theatre Centre.  After that he directed VOLPONE and devised a role for me and another person as two beggars who on stage throughout the play were observers of the decadent world of Ben Johnson’s play. We had no lines. At the end as the lights went down we were digging around in the filth the play suggested.  Both experiences, that is watching him direct and explain the meaning of the plays, helped me in teaching French Literature at the University. It was so rewarding to rehearse, see a play take shape, and then watch the performance from the wings, such a different experience from watching a play, suspending disbelief as part of an audience.  I also had a small part in OUR TOWN that he directed at Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park. John and I were friends and I often was invited to Sunday dinner at the Shacks, the family that took him in when he arrived in Canada after World War II, with whom he lived as long as he was in Winnipeg.   In 1963 I moved on to the University of Western Ontario and John was in and out of nearby Stratford.  I saw him often.  On two occasions I remember being at the home of the Director of the Stratford Festival, which he had become, after performances with members of my family  The atmosphere was warm, the discussion lively.  Once he turned up at our home in London, Ontario with the actress Frances Hyland, and they spent the evening.  Once in Stratford in informed me that Air Canada was having a seat sale and told me I should take advantage of it and visit Winnipeg.  I could stay in his room at the Shacks’, which I did.  I saw for my self the heritage John Hirsch had left and the fruition of the professional Manitoba Theatre Centre. Of course he had left a heritage that went far beyond the Winnipeg we had known.
Photo credit: John Hirsch in Winnipeg in the 1950s, courtesy of Robert Walters

Robert Walters, Richmond, B.C
In the early 1980’s I attended a director’s workshop hosted by the Seattle Repertory Theatre. John Hirsch was leading one of the sessions. He was there to direct Our Town for the company. There were about 80 of us directors gathered in the theatre that morning for a session with John about how to direct crowd scenes.  In the morning papers was a scathing review of a play he has just directed at Stratford.  We were passing around the reviews from several papers, American and Canadian.  The dull roar of gossip in the room became hushed as John walked on to the stage.  He was carrying the same newspaper we were all reading.  It was an awkward moment, as we all knew, he knew, we knew. He started by saying the purpose of the workshop was how to direct crowd scenes, but he knew we were more interested in talking about the show he had just directed, and what had gone wrong.  He sat at the front of the stage and began to take us through the process he had been through.  He said that, as a director, you make your choices with your team, and you commit to them.  Then you enter the “dark Kim-Headshot-11tunnel” of rehearsal and creation, where you begin to doubt.  He said that he began to suspect that he was wrong on the path they had taken. But he had had that feeling before, and stuck to his path, and things had gone well in the end. That is the risk to you take.  To “change trains” in the dark tunnel, was to ensure mediocrity. That the real risk was to stick to your first instincts. You might have a great success or a gigantic failure.  He said that days before they opened, he knew it was going to be a disaster, but he had no regrets as he has stuck to his path. That he had gone through the “dark tunnel” and come out the other side. It was hard, but that was the only way to make great work. Those words have always stuck with me and served me well.  He then went on to lead a very lively and informative workshop on staging large crowd scenes, as if the review were water off a duck’s back. Also, something I learned a great deal from. He was larger than life.
Kim Selody
Artistic Director, Presentation House Theatre

Hirsch has just three more performances – Fri Feb 28, 8pm and Sat Mar 1 at 5pm & 9pm. Tickets are $15-30 and can be purchased online or by phone (604-689-0926).If you have a John Hirsch story you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Email us (marketing@firehallartscentre.ca) and we’ll post it to our blog!


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