In Memory of Tom Kerr (October 1929 to March, 2020)

 

Interim Artistic Director of Persephone from 1979 to 1980, Tom Kerr taught, directed and influenced many of Canada’s leading theatre artists.

 

The fifth of eight children, Tom Kerr was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 3, 1929. At the age of three, his father’s untimely death caused the family to relocate to what the Scots call a “wally close”, a two room, cold water, walk up flat in a tenement in Glasgow’s Gorbals District which, at that time, was one of the most violent and poverty stricken slums in Europe. He spent the remainder of the Great Depression and most of WW2 there, transfixed by the Music Hall and Variety Shows at the local theatres.

Tommy bootstrapped himself out of The Gorbals at the age of 16, making his way alone from Glasgow to New York on a transatlantic steamer in the final months of WW2. From New York he made his way to Toronto, then Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. While living in the Alberni Valley, he worked as a logger, a longshoreman and a bartender while studying with Anne Mossman at her studio in Yellow Point. In between his blue collar jobs, his studies with Mossman earned him three Trinity College Degrees (Associate, Licentiate and Fellow of Trinity College, London) in The Practice and Theory of Speech.  He recently received an Honorary Doctorate from UBC Okanagan for his contributions to Canadian theatre.

He got his first teaching job in Dawson Creek in 1951. He always said “the first day I walked into a classroom, I knew I had found my home”. Sitting in that classroom on that first day were two students, Eric Schneider and Blain Fairman, both of whom became lifelong friends and would achieve acclaim as leading actors, Schneider on radio and major stages across Canada and Fairman on stages, film and radio in the UK. They were the first of many students and emerging, young artists he taught and influenced: Keith Dinicol, Gabrielle Rose, a very young Kim Cattrall, Barbara Williams, Brent Carver, Susan Wright, Rick Fox, Kim Coates and Del Surjik among them. Teaching and mentoring young and emerging artists remained his lifelong passion.

With a professional CV too lengthy to include here, Tom was a friend and protégé of the great 20th Century director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie. He was also a frequent director of shows at The Arts Club and Vancouver Playhouse and The Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, and was a member of the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame. He was the founding artistic director of Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, an interim artistic director of Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon, and was, on two separate occasions, the artistic director of Neptune Theatre, Halifax. He was a full professor and Head of the Department of Drama at The University of Saskatchewan. A longtime friend and collaborator of playwright John Gray, Tom was an early champion of Billy Bishop Goes to War, which was presented to huge success at Persephone Theatre in early January of 1979.

Tommy was a giant of a man who will be missed terribly by his friends, his family, his worldwide web of former students and his theatrical colleagues. He is survived by his friend, creative collaborator and partner of forty two years, Glen Cairns.

 

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