Ken Gass | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ken Gass

Ken Gass, director, playwright, producer (born at Abbotsford, BC 10 Sept 1945). Ken Gass is one of the key figures in the development of Canadian theatre.

Ken Gass

Ken Gass, director, playwright, producer (born at Abbotsford, BC 10 Sept 1945). Ken Gass is one of the key figures in the development of Canadian theatre. As founding artistic director of Toronto's influential FACTORY THEATRE in 1970, he vowed to "abandon the security blanket of our colonial upbringing" and to produce only Canadian work, a mandate to this day at that theatre.

Ken Gass graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1967 with a BA honours degree in theatre and moved to Toronto in 1968 to teach high school English. Although others were quick to adopt a Canadian-only policy, Factory Theatre Lab (as it was called then) became renowned as the "home" of the Canadian playwright and as a hotbed of experimental theatre.

During Ken Gass's first term as artistic director (1970-79), he helped launch the careers of playwrights such as David Freeman, Larry Fineberg, Michael HOLLINGSWORTH and George F. WALKER and worked with directors such as Bill GLASSCO, Paul Bettis and Eric Steiner.

His own plays produced during that period included Hurray for Johnny Canuck (1974), The Boy Bishop (1976) and the controversial Winter Offensive (1977). Set in Nazi Germany and filled with sex and violence, Winter Offensive received a critical drubbing and brought calls for cuts in public funding to Factory Theatre, leading to Gass's eventual resignation.

He took up a position as senior lecturer, acting and directing in the University College drama program at the University of Toronto, a position he has held for more than 30 years (an early student was director Daniel Brooks). He has also taught at George Brown College, Brock University and York University.

In 1984, Ken Gass founded the Canadian Rep Theatre, which presented the first Robert LEPAGE production outside Quebec and premiered 2 of Gass's own plays, Claudius (1993) and Amazon Dream (1995). In 1997, with Factory on the verge of bankruptcy, he returned to take charge there.

He has championed racial diversity at Factory, producing plays by First Nations, Canadian-Asian and Black writers. He has been an active director; his credits include John MIGHTON's A Short History of Night and Ian Ross's fareWel (1999), Belle by Florence Gibson (2000, 2002 and NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE, 2002,) Leisure Society by FRANÇOIS ARCHAMBAULT (2005, for which he won a DORA AWARD for outstanding direction) and a number of plays by George Walker, including the Suburban Motel series, Beyond Mozambique (2008) and Tough! (2010).

Ken Gass has written scripts for CBC-TV and has worked extensively in radio including the experimental work Terror, for the BBC (1981). He continues to write: Bethune Imagined premiered at Factory Theatre in 2010.

Among his awards are the Dora Silver Ticket Award for lifetime achievement (1997), the George Luscombe Award for theatre mentoring and a Toronto Arts Award (both 2001), and the Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts (2010).

Ken Gass is the father of award-winning film director and screenwriter Ed Gass-Donnelly.

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