Stories about the Houses

For the 2013 Harold Awards, we collected stories from recipients in each House about the Founders. These are their stories:

by Ed Roy (1998 recipient, House of Johnson)

“The first impression I had of Ms. Johnson when I was introduced to her in the early 1990’s, when we were both oh so very young, (and she was even younger than I) was…odd…that Kirsten Johnson is odd…her looks were odd in a post-punk-braniac-uber-nerd mash-up kind of way that made her appear to be like the nightmarish off-spring of Yolandi and Nija from the band DIE ANTWOORS (of course this band didn’t exist back then but I wanted to provide a visual reference that would resonate now). Anyway she was kind of spooky but then again so was I and so i was fascinated by her. But not only because of her looks but also because of her interest and dedication to avant-gard theatre and her work with DNA theatre.  She was fearless and vital; an essential part of “the scene” and we eventually ended up working together as collaborators and co-hosts of the ground-breaking award winning collective WHITE TRASH BLUE EYES that was comprised of many early Harold Alumnists. Over the years since then I have had the delightful opportunity to see Kirsten perform in dramas and comedies (we did an improv show together) and see her use her unique oddness to great theatrical effect.  Her oddness, her intelligence, her talent and her looks all blossomed into the beautiful woman and mutifaceted artist she is today and I am more than happy to say I knew her when…”


“There are too many recipients from the HOUSE OF LUTHER HANSRAJ to mention who have praised him as a trailblazer in one way or another as actor, director, stage manager and production manager.  Luther Hansraj began his career with Black Theatre Canada and has gone on to bring his particular brand of magic to the Netherlands, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the USA where he was given a citation from the House of Representatives.   He was one of the first recipients of an African-Canadian Achievement Award.   Since 1997, Luther has also been touring schools as an actor, worship leader, trainer and mentor.”

by Barbara Fingerote (2002 recipient, House of O’Donnell)

“Darren O’Donnell is the very definition of alternative and independent theatre. His creativity knows no bounds. He is also a very sweet, thoughtful and lovely person. He has also done lots of amazing work with young people. Productions such as BOXHEAD and HAIRCUTS FOR CHILDREN are just two of his creations that have impressed me to no end.”

by David Ferry (2007 recipient, House of Taylor)

“In typical Harold style, I was on my way home from the Harold Awards (early filming day to get to bed for) when my predecessor called and yelled “Where the fuck are you!! I just gave you a Harold!” The Harolds truly came out of the second wave of alternative Toronto theatre …the neo-alts, and was a reaction to the Doras which had already become seen as too glitzy and mainstream. they did not reflect the grunge aesthetic (and i mean Grunge in the larger artistic sense) of the times. As with the famous Rolling Stones concert at the El Macombo back in the day, one should distrust a great deal of folks who claim they were at the first Harolds . Deanne Taylor is one of the canniest Renaissance artists I have come across in Toronto. She has truly been a force in non-traditional production. One of my strongest images of her comes from her work singing with and running the mayoral campaign for pop-feminist/alternative music group THE HUMMER SISTERS. She was campaign manager for these terrific actor/singers- Janet Burke/Jenny Dean/Marion Lewisand Deanne herself) and ran the campaign like a theatre production…the Sisters came in second in the mayor race in terms of votes…..and I remember their song “I’ve Got A Wide On For You”. Deann’s work in establishing VIDEO CABARET was ground-breaking not to mention her work with partner Michael on his history cycle. How many examples can we name of successful and artistically exciting theatre work in Toronto that gets remounted again and again. I put that down to Deann’s extraordinary will and skill as a producer.”

by Richard Feren (1995 recipient, House of Bettis)

“At the time of the first Harolds, the Toronto theatre was a more adventurous, chaotic and stimulating environment compared to today’s more cautious, career-conscious scene. Or maybe I’m just being a crotchety old man. There were more venues, more troupe-baesd companies, more cabaret-style events like “The 40 Tiny Performances” and “The TRC Soirees” where every artist in the business would appear to perform a brief sketch….and not just actors either. I mean everyone! Alot of people collababorated on provocative and bizarre projects for the sheer joy of discovering whether some new idea would work onstage. It all contributed to a lively, cross-pollination of people, ideas and different art forms. I encourage all you young whipper-snappers to try your best to emulate that vibe today. Merde from Richard Feren!!

My first memory of Paul Bettis is from a performance of POWWOW UNBOUND’S notorious play “STAGE” at Buddies when it was on George Street. The stage actually chased the audience across the room at the top of the show, then at one point it split apart into 4 pieces. Near the end, we put the pieces back together again, shooing audience members out of the way in order to accomplish this task. One night, a strange fellow refused to move out of the way for the longest time; we later learned that this strange fellow was none other than Mr. Paul Bettis. My last memory of Paul was in 2005 when he graciously agreed to play the role of the Canada Council Jury for a live staging of our grant application (which was written in script format). Though I never really worked directly with Paul, he was always a big fan of my work and frequently offered moral support and creative encouragement. For that I will always be thankful to him.”

by Bob Wallace (1995 recipient, House of S.Johnson)

“Sherrie made it clear in her comments when she presented me with my Harold that my book, PRODUCING MARGINALITY: THEATRE AND CRITICISM IN CANADA, helped her to better understand Canadian theatre. As an American new to Toronto, she approached Canadian theatre without preconceived notions. Perhaps this accounts for her interest in new methods of play creation. For Sherrie, everything was new here, and she was open to learning, which led her and her collaboraters to experiment with production and performance, most notably under the auspices of DA DA KAMERA and THE 6 STAGES FESTIVAL.. I was impressed with how she navigated the complicated dynamics of the company DNA and especially the demanding aesthetic that Hillar Litoja required of everyone involved. Sherrie was always cool and collected, and always seemed to smile no matter what the circumstance. The productions she helped to create in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s are some of the most memorable I have seen in this city.”

by Andrea Lundy (1998 recipient, House of Ross)

“The early Harold’s were as they are today– a party to celebrate those who often don’t get to be recognized. In 1995 I was 29 years old and experiencing a vibrant theatre scene—experimental, supported by audiences. We were more content with our run-down spaces than we are today. Theatre was less of a business and more of a lifestyle–but maybe that is because I was in my ’20’s and not so much because of theatre in 1995. Nadia Ross in the 1990’s was a very present, grounded eclectic artist in the early stages of developing her aesthetic. We worked together on productions with Daniel Brooks and Daniel MacIvor as well as early STO UNION PRODUCTIONS. There was never anything commonplace about Nadia Ross or her work. She challenged all forms of theatre.”

by David Duclos (1995 recipient, House of MacIvor)

“It was the highlight of my time at the Theatre Center that Daniel MacIvor gave me the Thumb of Harold. Honestly, there was, and is, no on more passionate, informed irreverent, and discriminating. It was a huge hour. And, adds Caroline Gillis (frequent collaborator and House of MacIvor 2011 recipient) In 1995, Daniel was probably hanging out at the College Street Bar or Ted’s Collision (with me) unless there was an opening of a new play and then we’d be drinking at the reception where we could get some free food, unless we were in Halifax doing Oleanna together in which case we’d be drinking at Thackeray’s Bar simultaneously praising and cursing David Mamet. Or perhaps we’d be drinking together at the Epicure Cafe after rehearsals for EXCERPTS FROM THE EMO JOURNALS which he helped direct with fellow Harold Founder Nadia Ross. It was a performance piece that 10 people saw and 4 people liked. It was an exciting time and the beginning of his company Da Da Kamera with Sherrie Johnson (another Harold Founder) where he was moving toward an aesthetic of an almost bare stage and minimal props—small theatre that didn’t necsessarily aspire to be “big”.”

by Ron Kennell (1996 recipient, House of Ryder)

“I have such admiration for Lisa Ryder. She paid me one of the highest compliments I have ever received on my first job at Theatre Passe Muraille and that compliment has gotten me through many a hard professional time. I always wanted to do a play with her but by the time I was more established in the biz, the bright lights of TV and film had called on her brilliance and , of course, that gorgeous smile and graceful demeanor. It’s nearly 20 years later and I still fantasize about working with her.”

by Leslie Lester (1995 recipient, House of Knaapen)

“I remember the Toronto theatre scene in 1995 to be intimate and generous. It was pre-digital: word of mouth didn’t mean worLd. I was thrilled and honoured to be in the original group of recipients. Of course i knew Harold so it meant a lot. Jacoba Knappen is a force…the original hard worker…a blond warrior”.”

by Eileen O’Toole (1995 recipient, House of Stanley)

“Sarah Stanley found out at the last minute that she was unavailable to attend that first presentation, so she gave the job of announcing her choice to her good friend and working partner, Patrick Connor. When I heard of Patrick’s death late last year, of course I remembered the shows we did together and I remembered that first Harold Awards night. It took place in the back of Cameron House. I was sitting with Patrick and some playwright whose name escapes me at the moment. At one point before the show starts, Patrick slyly patted his jacket pocket and told us he was presenting for Sarah Stanley. She was busy at some big-wig theatre meeting with the gods of King Street or something. As it was the first year of the Harolds, all I knew about it was that it was a “secret award” and that all around me at the Cameron House was what i considered the creme de la creme of the Toronto fringe theatre scene. I personally didn’t hold any regard towards the event one way or the other…. I was bullied into attending by….some fucking playwright whose name I can’t remember… and we ended up sitting with Patrick Connor. So….like the asshole I know I can be, I asked Patrick if my name was on the envelope. He just turned to me and curtly said “NO!” I felt as high as the stool I was sitting on. Then Patrick gets up and starts to read this letter from Sarah Stanley. Suddenly I realized that she was describing my show LESTER’S GIRLFRIEND. I jump up and cry “THAT”S ME”. And that fucking playwright whose name I can’t remember pulled me down to my stool and says “Shut up, O’Toole!” Patrick finished the letter and I was so pleased that Sarah Stanley wished she’d have thought of my show herself. I cried and Patrick presented me with my award. That playwright will kill me if he ever finds out that I don’t remember his name….his office was the patio of The Last Temptation Cafe in the Market…big guy…thick glasses…he’s on Facebook for Chrissakes!! And, for the record, like Harold himself, my statue dissolved into dust but memories linger on, don’t they! PS Oh my god, I just remembered! THE FUCKING PLAYWRIGHT”S NAME IS NED DICKENS!!!”

by Sky Gilbert (1995 recipient, House of McKellar)

The Harold’s website speaks of the subversive nature of the awards. I think this is important to remember when thinking about the theatre scene in 1995 and Don McKellar. I’m sorry I can’t remember much about the actual ceremony. But I do remember how radical we were. If you look at the photo of the first Harolders, you will notice they have one thing in common; they are not simply doing alternative work (i.e. work by producers who are cash poor and not comercially oriented) they are doing work that has radical form and content. There’s only one way to say it; we were a bunch of lefties. This also harkens back to Harold’s politics. Harold wasn’t just a charming/abrasive and lovable old man, he was a huge leftie – his clothes were covered in activist pins and when young he was very active in union politics. We had, back then, something that everyone on the web is searching for these days: content. We had something to say. And most often that something was feminist and anti-patriarchal (Nadia Ross, Paul Bettis, Kirsten Johnson) and anti-capitalist (Don McKellar, Darren O’Donnell, Paul Bettis, Deanne Taylor).

On a personal level, Don McKellar was handsome, charming, witty, and a brilliant and radical theatre creator. I had been a huge supporter of The Augusta Theatre Company which he ran with Tracy Wright and Daniel Brooks, and I was quite flattered to receive a Harold from him.

By the way, I think I am the only person in the world to have 2 Harolds. I can’t remember how I got the second one, but it was a broken thumb with a bandage on it!

A symbol of something?

Alex Poch-Goldin

I am going to talk about Alex and the theatre scene in the context of Stephen Seabrook’s Xcess of This and Platform 9’s production of Das Rheingold. We did a workshop and then a production at the old Theatre Centre when it was across from CamH. Stephen got together a grand troupe of artists of whom Alex was one. We had been turned down by the councils for the production so it was only the exciting vision of the project and the glory of our collective relationship that fueled us.

But I must go to a specific incident with Alex that cemented our bond. My job as producer and co-writer was to phone up everyone I knew and get them to save their old fluorescent tubes for me. I would go around and pick them up regularly. For you see, every night of the run 8-10 fluorescent tubes would fall en masse from a secret compartment in the ceiling and smash on the floor amidst a flash of lights and crescendo of weird and wild music. Then Loge, Alex, and the other performers would walk through crunching the glass for the rest of the show. But that’s not the highlight, that is merely the set up.

Later on in the show, Loge is conniving something from someone and he drops to his knees to give even more insistence to his dubious plea. And of course he kneels right on the glass which had been scattered farther that night. He never flinched but I sure as hell did. As he got up and walked away, I was ready to leap to the rescue, being so producer-ready that I would pick the glass out with my bare teeth if I had to – we had no insurance for such acts of Godlessness, as you can imagine. And then he walks back towards us and I can see the blood starting to seep down from each knee, but show must go on. Now the drips only went down a little way, and of course after, they became badges of honour in green room. Ah, mythology.

Now that’s real theatre I said to myself, and I survived. The worst of times become the best of times. It is this type of transformation which is at the very heart of the Harolds. The Harolds has stood as a beacon of hope and celebration for the last 18 years. I have come to each and every one of these events and it is always a grand night. It is always a night where blood on the knees is really love in the heart.


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