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Honorary degree citation - Maurice Podbrey

By: Philip Spensley, June 1992

Mr. Chancellor, we honour Maurice Podbrey for his distinguished and dedicated contribution to the development and continued presence of English language theatre in Montréal and for his singular and significant influence upon the theatre in Canada, particularly for the exemplary support he has given to emerging Canadian playwrights.

Following an Honours B.A. in Political Theory and Government from the University of Witwaterstrand in his native South Africa in 1955, and a Diploma of Education from the Johannesburg College of Education in 1956, Maurice Podbrey obtained his formal theatre training at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in England. He worked as an actor throughout Britain from 1958 to 1966, serving as Artistic Director of the Chester Playhouse in 1964 and 1965. In 1966 he accepted the position as Assistant Director of the English Acting Section of the National Theatre School of Canada. En 1969, Maurice Podbrey devient directeur artistique et directeur exécutif fondateur du théâtre Centaur de Montréal, l'un des théâtres les plus fréquentés au Canada. Depuis ce temps, avec ses 23 années de bons et loyaux services, il bat tous les records de longévité des directeurs artistiques de théâtre au Canada anglais, d'abord, et même au Canada tout court!

Contrary to the practice of the other regional theatres which produced a safe and steady diet of plays by already proven playwrights from other societies and cultures, Maurice Podbrey declared that not only would Centaur produce Canadian plays, risky in itself, but that Centaur would actively seek to develop new playwrights by producing unproven works. Maurice Podbrey accepted the premise, articulated for years, that for Canadian theatre to come of age, it had to develop its own writers. In order to do that it had to give them an outlet on the country's main stages. While others paid lip service, Maurice Podbrey acted. The risks were enormous, but the investment was in the country's own artists, and the payoff has benefitted us all. The Centaur, through the leadership of Maurice Podbrey, has brought to prominence a who's who of Canadian playwrights. The list includes David Fennario whose internationally acclaimed Balconville was the first bilingual play produced in Canada, David French, David Freeman, Judith Thompson, Joanna Glass, Anne Chislett, Michael Cook, Thompson Highway, as well as several former Concordia theatre student play wrights such as Vittorio Rossi, Harry Standjofsky, and Colleen Curran. These are just a few. Artistic directors of other regional theatres across the country have followed Maurice's lead and now Canadian playwrights are produced regularly and everywhere. At the same time Maurice has introduced leading international voices on the cutting edge of English speaking theatre. For many years, long before it was popular to do so, he provided an outlet for the anti-apartheid South African playwright Athol Fugard and, more recently, the new and exciting Irish playwrights.

Maurice has also been active behind the scenes. For many years Maurice hosted the Québec Drama Festival, and provided a showcase for its best young English talent. He has served on the Boards of the National Theatre School of Canada, Place des Arts, the Themis Montréal Music Festival, among others. He gave direction and credibility to the Professional Association of Canadian Theatre (PACT) during its formative years, serving as its Chairman from 1979 to 1983. In 1983, he received the Vantage Arts Academy Award in recognition of "a consistently high standard of excellence and outstanding contribution to Canadian Theatre" and, in 1991, in further recognition of his service to Canadian culture, he was awarded the Order of Canada.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate, and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Maurice Podbrey, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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