Royal MTC director bids fond farewell

Event marks end of weeklong show of love for Schipper


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Wednesday, May 29, was 30 years to the day when Steven Schipper took the job as the artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC)... before it was Royal.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/05/2019 (1393 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Wednesday, May 29, was 30 years to the day when Steven Schipper took the job as the artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC)… before it was Royal.

Wednesday evening saw local artists, Royal MTC board members, loyal subscribers and visiting theatre artists gather at John Hirsch Mainstage to bid a fond farewell to Schipper, as he leaves the position to incoming artistic director Kelly Thornton.

By any metric, it was an extraordinary goodbye. Schipper had previously joked that the only way he could countenance such a display was if it employed “a simple pine box,” a nice way of saying “over my dead body.”

“And as usual, no one listens to me here,” Schipper joked before the show.

Indeed, Schipper was alive and noticeably kicking in the audience of the Market Avenue theatre alongside his wife, Terri Cherniack, and their extended families for the celebration.

“I feel grateful,” he said. “My family is all here with me. My parents are blessedly alive and here from Montreal, my sister and her family, our granddaughter.”

Befitting the occasion, it was also a theatrical show with local artists performing show tunes — both original or cheekily altered — in tribute to Schipper. Debbie Maslowsky kicked things off with a Fiddler on the Roof medley squarely aimed at Royal MTC’s most-treasured demographic. (Instead of singing Tradition, the lyrics were changed to “Subscriptions.”) Most of the tunes were chosen from other Royal MTC productions from the past, including straight interpretations from the musical Million Dollar Quartet (which saw another local actor, Laura Olafson, blow the doors off a sizzling interpretation of Fever) and The Drowsy Chaperone (allowing Jennifer Lyon to belt As We Stumble Along).

Tony Award-winner Len Cariou, himself a veteran MTC artistic director for a single season in 1975, was joined by his wife, Heather Summerhayes, for a Schipper-centric rewriting of the song Pretty Women, from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. That happened to be the show that compelled Cariou to cut short his tenure at MTC, he acknowledged in an interview prior to the show, recalling how he had added a provision in his contract.

“The only thing that would break the contract would be a Broadway show that was offered,” Cariou recalled. “That was part of our deal. And lo and behold, Sweeney Todd came into being.”

Cariou marvelled at Schipper’s three-decade tenure: “It’s absolutely extraordinary for someone to do that.”

Indeed, Schipper leaves an extraordinary legacy, which includes helping create an endowment fund worth $19.8 million guaranteeing the health of the institution for the foreseeable future, according to Royal MTC’s board of trustees chairman-elect John Guttormson.

The event was a conclusion to a week of Winnipeg showing its love for Schipper, including him being the featured honouree at the Negev Gala on Monday and throwing out the first pitch at a Winnipeg Goldeyes game on Tuesday.

“Nothing was more fun or more stressful than throwing out the first pitch at the Goldeyes game,” Schipper said.

“Having practised a bit, I couldn’t get the ball over the plate more than a couple of times out of 100 tries,” he said. “Somebody upstairs was looking out for me.”

Schipper will take up the role of executive artistic director at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ont., at the beginning of the 2019-20 season.

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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