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Honorary degree citation - Elsa Bolam

By: Ana Cappelluto, October 2012

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you Ms. Elsa Bolam, theatre director, educator, and champion of the arts.

Elsa Bolam est née à Newcastle upon Tyne, dans le nord-est de l’Angleterre. Les habitants de cette région sont surnommés « Geordies », et cette appellation aura son importance dans la vie de Mme Bolam!

After attending Dame Allan’s Girls’ School, she was educated at Leeds and Durham Universities, receiving an Honours degree in English Literature and a Diploma in Education, before going on to gain a Master of Arts degree in Drama from Syracuse University, New York, where she spent three years as a Graduate Assistant, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship.

On returning to England she spent two seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company, as Assistant Director at the Aldwych Theatre in London. During the sixties she directed numerous productions at theatres throughout the United Kingdom before becoming a BBC Television producer in the 'Plays' Department. In 1968 she emigrated to Canada, and with her husband Maurice Podbrey, where she co-founded Montreal’s Centaur Theatre the following year. Montreal is a fiercely competitive theater market and acquiring the resources to build and sustain Montreal’s major English regional theatre is an accomplishment!

As a mother of two children, Alison & Nicholas she raised a family while pursuing a burgeoning career in theatre. She has directed and taught at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, Concordia University Theatre Department and the National Theatre School of Canada, where she was head of the English Technical Section from 1975 to 1980. Elsa is well acquainted with regional theatres across Canada where she has directed over eighty productions. In 1980 she founded Geordie Theatre Productions, affectionately known as Geordie throughout the community, a professional theatre company devoted to touring plays to local elementary and high schools, but also on occasion presenting small-cast productions for adults. Under her leadership, the company gradually expanded its operations, and while remaining rooted in Montreal, proudly served isolated English speaking and aboriginal communities across the province of Québec, including the far North. Elsa is especially proud of Geordie’s reach into these communities, for so many of these audiences a Geordie performance is their first experience of professional theatre! The montage you see contains many images from Geordies renowned tours.

Geordie means a great deal to Concordia! So many of our Fine Arts graduates, actors, designers, technicians and stage managers have had their first professional engagement in a Geordie production.

Pour le court-métrage Vicky, qu’elle a réalisé pour le compte de l’Office national du film du Canada, Mme Bolam a reçu le Blue Ribbon Award de l’American Film and Video Association à New York. En 2002, elle a remporté le Women of Inspiration Award d’Avon Canada pour les arts et la culture. En 2003, elle a été décorée de la Médaille du jubilé de la Reine Elizabeth II. Cette distinction est décernée aux Canadiens et Canadiennes qui ont contribué de façon exceptionnelle et exemplaire à leur communauté ou au pays.

In January 2009, Elsa was deeply honoured when she was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In October 2010 she received the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Award for service to the community, and was also made a Life Member of the Quebec Drama Federation, and Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. In the Spring of 2006, after 25 years with Geordie, she resigned from her position as Artistic Director. Despite her retirement Elsa’s entrepreneurial instincts are alive and well: She is currently pioneering ACCORD, a pilot project for ELAN the English Language Arts Network.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you, Elsa Bolam so that you may confer upon her the degrees of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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