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Canadian Mime Theatre

Professional mime company, founded in 1969 by Adrian Pecknold and Brian Doherty. Doherty, founder of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, had been impressed by Pecknold’s performance as Lucky in the Stratford Festival production of Waiting for Godot in 1968. He envisioned a resident mime company in town to complement the highly verbal plays of George Bernard Shaw, and invited Pecknold to realize his dream of creating a mime theatre. Pecknold, a graduate of L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris, was an accomplished actor with a keen interest in physical theatre. Doherty financed the venture with the sale of a drawing by Lawren S. Harris; and the company turned the upper floor of an old fire hall into an intimate 100-seat theatre. Pecknold invited a fellow Lecoq graduate, Harro Maskow, to join him, and the two constituted the nucleus of the company—the first professional mime company in Canada— as Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director respectively.

The Canadian Mime Theatre began performing in the summer of 1969. To begin with, their shows consisted of brief vignettes introduced by placards— the conventional form of mime shows. Beginning in 1973, these were augmented with longer works created by the company, including an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and a commedia play, Three Cuckolds (1973); The Lamplighter and The Circus (1974); and Red Noses and Beyond Words (1976).

As well as performing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the company toured extensively, beginning with a tour of communities in Northern Canada in 1970, continuing with cross-country, school and international tours, and climaxing with a successful three-month world tour in 1976, which took them to New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, London and Glasgow.

In 1974, the company founded the Canadian Mime School, under the direction of company member Myra Benson.

In 1971, the company purchased a derelict theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was renovated at great cost over the next four years and restored to its former name, the Royal George. The stress of constant financial difficulty and the pressing need to raise funds took its toll, ultimately leading to a breakdown in relations among the Artistic Director, the Board of Directors, the administration, and the other members of the company. In 1976, Pecknold resigned and the board replaced him with an English mime artist, Wayne Pritchett, whose term began on January 1, 1977. When the new Artistic Director set out to choose which of the company members he wanted to retain and which to dismiss, all of them (five actors including Harro Maskow and the company’s stage manager) quit in protest. Within a matter of months they had reconstituted themselves as Theatre Beyond Words.

Under Pritchett the Canadian Mime Theatre carried on until 1979 when it, and the school, ceased to exist. In 1980 the Royal George Theatre was purchased by the Shaw Festival.

Further reading: Adrian Pecknold. Mime: The Step Beyond Words, for the Actors of Dance and Drama. Rev. ed. Dundurn, 1988, which has an excellent photo of Pecknold in multiple exposures on p. 45.

Profile by Robert Nunn.

Last updated 2011-12-01