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Whittaker, Herbert

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Herbert Whittaker

Distinguished critic and designer, born in Montreal, Quebec in 1910, died September 9, 2006. His parents were British-born and he was raised in the Outremont neighbourhood. He studied at the École des beaux arts before becoming a stage designer. In Montreal, he designed productions of Shakespeare and Everyman for the Everyman Players. In Toronto he designed sets and costumes for the Canadian Players, including a stunning Inuit interpretation of King Lear in 1961 (dir. David Gardner with William Hutt as Lear); for Hart House Theatre; Crest Theatre; and Coach House Theatre. He continued to design until 1999, at the age of 89. His set and costume designs are notable for their art deco aesthetic, stylization, symmetry, and colour.

He also directed theatrical productions, particularly for the Montreal Repertory Theatre and Crest Theatre.

He began his career in criticism as radio editor and then was film, dance and theatre critic for The Montreal Gazette (1935-49). He was invited to take the same post at the Globe and Mail (1949-75). By 1952 he was concentrating his critical attention more on theatre until his retirement in 1975. However, after retirement and as critic emeritus, he continued to cover theatre for the Globe and Mail from New York and London and as he travelled to Russia, Greece, Israel, France, China and Australia.

Herbert Whittaker was appointed to the executive of the Dominion Drama Festival, and was the first national chairman of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, and founding chairman of the Toronto Drama Bench. He was also the founding chairman of the Canadian Theatre Museum in 1991.

He was a member of the Order of Canada and was awarded honorary degrees by York and McGill Universities. In 1982, he was awarded the Toronto Drama Bench Award for Distinguished Contribution to Canadian Theatre, which since 1995 is named in his honour.

His published memoirs are entitled Whittaker's Theatricals and Setting the Stage.

Whittaker's critical style was erudite, yet without pretension, and more encouraging than many other critics.

Further reading: Jennifer Harvie and Ric Knowles. "Herbert Whittaker, Reporting from the Front: The Montreal Gazette 1937-1949, and The Globe and Mail, 1949-1975," Establishing our boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism. Ed. Anton Wagner. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Profile by Gaetan Charlebois

Last updated 2018-07-03