Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'The passing of an era'

RMTC co-founder changed theatre landscape

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Without John Hirsch and Tom Hendry, there would be no Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre today, the country's first regional theatre.

Hirsch, the co-founder of the RMTC, died in 1989, and now the theatre's other co-founder, Hendry, has died.

Hendry died Sunday in Toronto. He was 83.

RMTC artistic director Steven Schipper says Hendry's passing is the end of a chapter in the theatre's history.

"He is still such a vital presence in our lives here," Schipper said on Monday. "We are sorry he won't be here to remind us where we came from and where we ought to be going.

"It is really the passing of an era."

Hendry was born in Winnipeg in 1929, and was a chartered accountant by trade when he quit to help found RMTC.

Hirsch and Hendry founded Theatre 77, located 77 steps away from Portage Avenue and Main Street, in 1957. That theatre merged with the Winnipeg Little Theatre to become MTC that same year.

But Schipper said Hendry also cast a long shadow on Canada's theatre landscape, not only being co-founder of the RMTC, but also the Playwright's Co-op, now the Playwrights Union of Canada, the Toronto Free Theatre, and the Playwrights Colony at the Banff Centre for the Arts. He was also the Stratford Festival's first literary manager.

Schipper said Hendry was also a playwright whose Fifteen Miles of Broken Glass received the Lieutenant Governor's medal. He also wrote other plays including Trapped, Hogtown: Toronto the Good, and Not in My Backyard.

Hendry also wrote for television including King of Kensington.

Before co-founding RMTC, Hendry spent three years as a producer at Rainbow Stage.

Doreen Brownstone performed on MTC's stage the first year with actor Gordon Pinsent.

"It's a very sad day indeed," Brownstone said.

"I'm not too surprised, but I'm shocked. John Hirsch and he were such enthusiastic people. They were so full of plans and so full of life and the theatre was all that mattered. John and Tom go together in my mind.

"That's how I'll remember both of them... let's hope they are together right now."

Zaz Bajon, who served in the same role as Hendry at the RMTC for 30 years, said he last spoke to Hendry when he phoned to congratulate Bajon on joining the Manitoba Theatre for Young People earlier this year.

"We talked for hours," he said.

Bajon said Hendry told him years ago that he put himself through school to be an accountant by acting on the stage and radio before co-founding MTC.

"I don't think MTC could have happened without John and Tom," he said.

"They were different, but they worked great together and bounced things off each other... it became the culture at MTC.

"We are very fortunate he was here and he did what he did. He helped create something out of nothing."

Hendry was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995, and the MTC Warehouse Theatre was renamed the Tom Hendry Theatre in his honour in 2007.

A statue of Hendry and Hirsch stands outside the box office of the RMTC main stage theatre.


-- Kevin Rollason

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2012 C2

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