Founded in Thunder Bay in 1971 by British director Burton Lancaster as Magnus Theatre Northwest, it was northern Ontario’s first professional theatre company. With actors from Lakehead University and Confederation College, Lancaster toured children’s plays. In 1973, he rented the 181-seat Slovka Community Hall, which was renamed Magnus Theatre, and presented a full season of adult plays. For the next three years, he produced a variety of works, including plays by Shaw and Shakespeare, and some Canadian plays, such as Of the Fields, Lately by David French.
Maurice Evans was Artistic Director for the 1977-78 season, premiering a play set in Thunder Bay, entitled Leonard Brady by Michael John Nimchik, and directed by Lancaster. Tibor Feheregyhazi was the A.D. from 1979 to 1983, producing more Canadian plays by French, John Murrell, Erika Ritter, and Michel Tremblay. Brian Richmond was A.D. from 1983 to 1987, producing several premieres of Canadian plays, such as I Love You, Anne Murray (1983), Fire (1984), As Time Goes By (1985), all by Paul Ledoux and David S. Young; and Gone the Burning Sun (1983) and The Shipbuilder (1984), both by Ken Mitchell. In 1987 Michael McLaughlin became A.D., followed by Alberta actor and director, David Mann.
Mario Crudo was A.D. of Magnus Theatre from 1992 to 2017. He initiated summer programming, and strengthened the Theatre in Education initiative. In the 2002/03 season, Magnus toured Who Cares? by Eleanor Albanese and Crusader of the World by Arthur Milner to thirty-eight schools in fourteen communities in northern Ontario. Crudo’s 2005-06 season featured Darrell Dennis in his own monologue Tales of an Urban Indian in a co-production with Native Earth Performing Arts; and Einstein’s Gift by Vern Thiessen.
The (Post) Mistress by Tomson Highway had its world premiere on the mainstage of Magnus Theatre on January 27, 2011. Highway set the play to music during his tenure as Playwright-in-Residence in the 2008/2009 season.
Since 2017, Thom Currie is the Artistic Director, continuing the theatre's focus on Canadian works. The 2019-20 season included This is How We Got Here, a new play by Keith Barker; The Birds and the Bees by Mark Crawford; Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor; and Screwball Comedy by Norm Foster.
Through its New Play Development Program, Magnus Theatre assists Canadian playwrights with their new work through assessment of scripts, workshops, public readings, and full productions.
A new theatre was opened in 2001 after a successful $5.5 million campaign. Magnus in the Park is attached to the historic Central School House (1884), which houses the administrative offices in Waverley Park heritage district.
In 1998, Magnus received the Lieutenant Governor's Award for the Arts from the Ontario Arts Council Foundation, which recognizes the theatre’s strong private sector and community support.
Web site: www.magnus.on.ca
Source: Stephen Johnson. “Magnus Theatre Northwest,” Oxford Companion to Canadian Theatre. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1989.
Profile by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University
Last updated 2021-04-09