Herbert William Whittaker

Herbert William Whittaker, critic, set designer, director and writer (born at Montréal 20 Sept 1910, died at Toronto 9 Sept 2006). Herbert Whittaker studied theatre design at L'École des Beaux Arts in Montréal. Influenced by his parents and impressed with British travelling companies, Whittaker was active by 1933 as a theatre designer with several companies in Montréal, including Everyman Players, West Hill High School, Little Theatre of the YMHA-YWHA, the Negro Theatre Guild, the Montreal Repertory Theatre and the Shakespeare Society of Montreal. He moved to Toronto in 1949 where he worked with the Jupiter Theatre and the CREST THEATRE, and, in 1961, designed the Canadian Players' Inuit-inspired King Lear with William HUTT as Lear. He also gained a reputation in Toronto as a director, primarily from productions staged at the University of Toronto.

Throughout his career in theatrical production Whittaker was involved in many first productions. In 1938, while still in Montréal, he designed the first Canadian production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. He directed premieres of Robertson DAVIES' Jig for a Gypsy (Crest, 1954), Graham GREENE's The Living Room (Crest, 1954), Brecht's Galileo (Jupiter, 1951) and Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love (1999).

Although committed to creating theatre, Whittaker's major contribution to Canadian culture was as a theatre critic. Between 1937 and 1949 he reviewed dance, film and theatre for the Montreal Gazette before moving to Toronto, where he became the theatre critic for the GLOBE AND MAIL. Until his retirement in 1975, Whittaker chronicled Canadian theatre as it shifted from its amateur roots in LITTLE THEATRE and the DOMINION DRAMA FESTIVAL, through the rise of the STRATFORD FESTIVAL and the CANADA COUNCIL in the 1950s, to the emergence of modern Canadian drama in the years after Canada's Centennial in 1967.

Whittaker's criticism was informed by a desire to encourage and promote Canadian theatre, in contrast to his contemporary, Nathan COHEN of the Toronto Star, whose approach was harsher and more analytical. Whittaker's advocacy of Canadian drama helped to fashion the theatre scene today.

Whittaker served on the executive of the Dominion Drama Festival (1957-68) and the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE (1976-82), and was cofounder of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association (1985). For all his contributions to Canadian theatre he was awarded the ORDER OF CANADA (1976), and honorary degrees from York University (1971) and McGill University (1991). Each year the Canadian Theatre Critics Association awards the Herbert Whittaker Drama Bench Award in his honour. He continued to lecture and publish on the theatre. His book Setting the Stage: Montreal Theatre, 1920-1949 was published in 1999.