Craig, John

John Craig, engineer, actor, theatrical director, educator (b at Toronto, Ont 20 Sept 1877 ; d at Gimli, Man 15 July 1946). An engineer by profession (with a BSc from the University of Toronto), Craig was a charter member of the Winnipeg Community Players, appearing in that organization's first production in 1921 of Galsworthy's The Pigeon. Without previous theatrical experience Craig quickly became an accomplished character actor, his portrait of the laconic backwoodsman in Merrill DENISON's Brothers in Arms drawing favourable comment from the playwright. Craig made himself indispensable to the Community Players through his mastery of stage management, and soon assumed responsibility for supervision and training of technical personnel. He built a reputation as a play director with critically admired productions of Ibsen's Ghosts (1925), John Masefield's The Tragedy of Nan (1926) and Ashley Dukes's Man with a Load of Mischief.

In 1928 Craig resigned his engineering job in Winnipeg and retired with his wife, Irene, to Oshawa, Ont, where he accepted the position of paid director of the newly formed Oshawa Little Theatre. His productions in Oshawa attracted the favourable attention of Toronto critics, and in 1930 he was invited back to Winnipeg to become the first paid director of the Winnipeg Community Players, soon to be renamed the Winnipeg Little Theatre. He reformulated the program policy, abandoning the art theatre program for a standard mainstream repertoire similar to that supplied by commercial theatre before the collapse of touring at the end of the 1920s. For 6 seasons he presented a balanced 6-play program, personally directing most of the productions. He produced such shows as Maugham's The Circle, O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, Ibsen's A Doll's House, Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion, Sherwood's The Queen's Husband, Sutton Vane's Outward Bound, Coward's Hay Fever, Will Gillette's Secret Service, Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen, Shakespeare's Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Taming of the Shrew, and Ibsen's Peer Gynt, with then Swedish-language journalist and editor Esse LJUNGH in the title role, all to impressive box-office response and high critical acclaim, some of it national. Under Craig's leadership the Winnipeg Little Theatre became recognized as an important leader in the Canadian LITTLE THEATRE MOVEMENT.

In 1936, losing access to the Dominion Theatre where Little Theatre productions had been presented, Craig's organization found itself in serious difficulty. A budget deficit developed and the Winnipeg Little Theatre was disbanded by its board of directors. Craig joined the teaching staff of United College, University of Manitoba, continuing to work with university and community drama groups. He and his wife continued to conduct workshops in drama and stagecraft until Craig suffered a fatal heart attack at one such workshop in 1946.