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Robin Phillips, R.I.P.

While he was here this past weekend, Edgar my ex learned that Robin Phillips, one of his best friends and colleagues, former Stratford Artistic Director, had died on Saturday July 25. Almost 30 years ago, Ed was pushing through the merger of two Toronto theatre companies to become Canadian Stage when he met Robin. Eventually, he produced the “Macbeth” that Robin directed with Glenda Jackson and Christopher Plummer, which should have been a huge hit but which fizzled on Broadway. He and Robin worked together several more times as director and producer, and were close friends for years afterwards.

I worked with Robin once myself, not as an actress, but as his assistant for a weekend on a new play workshop. It was an eye-opener. The man was such a fierce perfectionist, so hardworking, coiled and intense, always brilliant but sometimes unbearable, it’s amazing he lived as long as he did. He used what I came to call “the theatre of abuse” – he pummelled actors into working the way he wanted them to work, and often, his methods worked incredibly well and drew out emotions and skills actors didn’t even know they possessed. Sometimes, however, they were defeated instead, and I fear that other directors, far less brilliant, learned his methods without the incandescent genius behind them.

When we visited as a family, he was lively, warm and open, he and Joe in their beautiful farmhouse in the Ontario countryside – interested even in our children, in my thoughts and career, in everything. The kids loved him. I know that many in Canadian theatre did not; he came here at a time of intense nationalism in the arts as elsewhere, and his very Britishness, not to mention that he was a supremely visionary and talented and yet difficult man, led many to dislike him. But most of the time, he was so very good. I remember a production – “King John”? – in the Patterson Theatre he’d designed himself at Stratford, clean, spare, profoundly moving. He brought a new expertise and pride to the theatre artists of this country, and left behind a generation who’d been transformed.

Thank you, Robin. I hope you received as much pleasure as you gave.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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