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Gray, John

CTE photo
John Gray

Playwright/composer/performer born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1946.

He was raised in Truro Nova Scotia, and graduated from Mount Allison University with a B.A. in English, and from the University of British Columbia with an M.A. in theatre (directing).

John Gray co-founded Tamahnous Theatre which went on to produce his most celebrated work, Billy Bishop Goes to War (Vancouver East Cultural Centre, 1978).

He moved to Toronto in 1975, working with Theatre Passe Muraille as composer and occasional director. He began his career as a writer in 1977 with 18 Wheels, an imaginative existential musical about the lives of truckers which premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1977, directed by the author. Rock and Roll (National Arts Centre/Vancouver East Cultural Centre, 1981) is a dramatic Bildungsroman and an unsentimental appraisal of "the best time of our lives playing in a band."

The next of his works to reach national prominence was perhaps most symbolic of Gray's concerns over cultural sovereignty: Don Messer's Jubilee was a celebration of the unassuming little TV show that CBC had broadcast to great success and then cancelled when the network wanted to move with the times (despite the fact the show was still popular).

In 1998, he performed in Bishop again, opposite Eric Peterson at Canadian Stage and the National Arts Centre. In 2011, thirty years after its creation, the Soulpepper Theatre Company 2009 production of this quintessential Canadian play again travelled across the country, with Eric Peterson and John Gray reprising their roles, directed by Ken Dykstra.

Other plays include: Bongo From the Congo (Vancouver Children's Festival, 1982, directed by the author), The Magic Star (Vancouver Heritage Festival, 1983, the author), Better Watch Out, Better Not Die (Vancouver Playhouse, 1985, Tom Kerr), Health, the Musical (Vancouver Playhouse, 1989, Larry Lillo), Amelia: The Girl Who Wants to Fly (National Arts Centre, 1994, the author).

Gray has won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, the Chalmers Award and the Governor Generalís Award (all for Bishop...) and the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Rock and Roll.

He has also written several fiction and non-fiction works, including two novels, a collection of essays entitled Lost in North America: The Imaginary Canadian in the American Dream (Vancouver: Talon, 1994), the screenplay for the film Kootenay Brown (1990), and a series of satirical music videos for CBC's The Journal. He lives in Vancouver.

Sources: Jerry Wasserman. "John Gray with Eric Peterson," Modern Canadian Plays Vol 1, 4th ed. Vancouver: Talon 2000; Robert Wallace and Cynthia Zimmerman. The Work: Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights. Toronto: Coach House, 1982.

Profile by Gaetan Charlesbois and Anne Nothof

Last updated 2020-07-17