Hirsch’s Gift To Future Generations of Directors

This month at the Firehall, we have the privilege of presenting HIRSCH, a show about Canadian theatre legend John Hirsch (1930 – 1989). This one-man play starring Toronto’s Alon Nashman and directed by Paul Thompson is truly an ode to Canadian theatre and Hungarian refugee Hirsch’s prolific theatrical achievements. In the lead up to the show (runs Feb 25 – Mar 1), we celebrate his legacy, talking to a series of Canadian theatre makers about how they have stood on the shoulders of this theatre giant. Katrina Dunn who is Artistic Director, Touchstone Theatre kicks the first post.

Hirsch’s Gift To Future Generations of Directors

Katrina Dunn
Katrina Dunn

I never met John Hirsch or saw any of his plays.  I’m also convinced that the Canadian theatre community does a pretty poor job of chronicling, learning and respecting our own history, even though it is fabulous and full of amazing stories and individuals.  So I first found out about John Hirsch when I was a much younger director, though the Canada Council’s John Hirsch Prize.  On his death in 1989, John Hirsch left a bequest to the Canada Council for the Arts to assist and encourage Canadian directors. The John Hirsch Prize is a tribute to the extraordinary contribution Mr. Hirsch made to theatre in Canada, most notably as founder of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, head of television drama for the CBC and artistic director of the Stratford Festival. The Prize was created in 1995 to recognize new and developing theatre directors who have demonstrated great potential for future excellence and exciting artistic vision. Two $6,000 prizes are awarded every two years, one for each of the Anglophone and Francophone theatre communities.  You can find out more about it here.

The Ontario Arts Council also has a similar program – The John Hirsch Director’s Award.

In 2012 Toronto director Christopher Morris won the Canada Council John Hirsch Prize. Those that saw Touchstone Theatre’s co-presentation of Night at the PuSh Festival will know Morris’ work and his daring investigation of uncharted communities and issues.  Finding out about Hirsch through the legacy of this Prize has forever connected his name with the cause of young directors in Canada, and with the many brilliant artists who have been recognized and encouraged by the award.

Katrina Dunn, Touchstone Theatre

Alon Nashman  next to the statue of John Hirsch in front of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, image from Winnipeg Free Press
Alon Nashman next to the statue of John Hirsch in front of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, image: Winnipeg Free Press

Creator of Hirsch, Alon Nashman, agrees with Katrina that many young directors who are awarded the John Hirsch Prize are unaware of his legacy. He recently told the Winnipeg Free Press: “Unfortunately, in Canada there is an amnesia,” says Nashman, “We don’t acknowledge our heroes. Many people who are up for his award don’t know who he is and what he did.” (read full article here).

Hopefully this play will help change that! Get a sneak peek of Hirsch with Touchstone Theatre’s short preview video below. Hirsch is on at the Firehall Arts Centre Feb 25 – Mar 1. Tickets are $15-30 and can be purchased online or by phone (604-689-0926).