Ken Livingstone, theatre director, designer, teacher (born at Glasgow, Scotland 21 Jan 1945). Ken Livingstone was the first graduate of Canada’s first MA course in theatre (University of British Columbia [UBC], 1967). He taught and directed at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), led his own company in a decade of groundbreaking stage productions in London, Ont, then freelanced briefly in Toronto and elsewhere before launching the first theatre program at MEMORIAL UNIVERSITY OF NEWFOUNDLAND and contributing largely to the theatrical life of NEWFOUNDLAND over the next quarter-century.
Emigrating with his family to Montréal in 1956, Livingstone discovered theatre in high school there; his first drama club audition won him the leading role in a play directed by young Marion André, destined to head some of Canada’s most important stage companies. At Bishop’s University, Livingstone came under the mentorship of Arthur Motyer, a seminal figure in the theatre life of Quebec and New Brunswick. After graduation from Bishop’s and UBC, Livingstone co-founded the Gallimaufry Theatre in Vancouver and launched a lifelong reputation for productions that pushed boundaries.
By the time censorship issues sank the Gallimaufry in 1969, UWO had hired him to establish a drama course in its newly built Talbot Theatre. When the university’s priorities changed, the course never materialized. Livingstone resigned but stayed in London and over the next decade astonished audiences with shows that ranged from nudity and rape in Life Class to sweetly intimate song-and-dance in The Fantasticks and heaving bosoms and flashing swords in Zastrozzi. He became known for discovering young talent: director Jim Warren, dramatist Peter Colley, and actors Geraint Wyn Davies, Dominic Cuzzocrea, Chris Potter and Craig Gardner are among dozens of notable Livingstone alumni. His first theatre in London, a tiny former chapel rechristened the Gallery, was followed by the New Space in a disused carriage house, then by Centre Stage, built to his own design in a downtown office tower.
More than 50 productions in London were followed by several in Toronto that earned him 3 DORA AWARD nominations as outstanding director and 1 as outstanding designer.
In 1986 Memorial University invited Ken Livingstone to create a theatre course and design a theatre for its new School of Fine Arts at Grenfell College in Corner Brook. He became the first head of the theatre department and eventually director of the school itself.
In Newfoundland, as in BC and Ontario, he alternately scandalized and enchanted audiences. His first production for Memorial, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by close friend Michael ONDAATJE, outraged some with its violence, sex and language. His second, Twelfth Night, delighted them with lucid, lighthearted classicism.
With risqué challenges, such as Marat/Sade, “Ken always knew where the line was drawn,” chuckled Prof. Adrian Fowler, who hired him for Grenfell and later became principal of the college. “I don’t think he ever went over it, but he always got as close to it as he possibly could.”
Todd Hennessey, a student in Livingstone’s first class and then chair of the theatre program, recalls works of luminous beauty, including off-campus site-specific productions of Shakespeare that “were simply incredible,” such as a Midsummer Night’s Dream staged at sunset in a meadow overlooking spectacular Trinity Bay. “The ‘fairies’ were all local men, most of them former fishers displaced by the collapse of the cod fishery. At the end of the production, the audience was led back down a path lit only by the torches held by these former fishers, turned actors.”
Livingstone has directed and designed more than 150 productions, including at least 40 for Memorial and as many in other venues, such as Rising Tide Theatre in St. John’s. In 2001 he designed and directed West Moon by Newfoundland poet/playwright Al Pittman, touring it across Ireland with some of Newfoundland’s finest actors and musicians — the first Canadian professional production to tour that country. In 2003 his staging of Blue/Orange for Montréal’s CENTAUR THEATRE won the Académie Québecoise du théâtre’s Masque award for best English-language production.
In May 2006 Ken Livingstone was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council’s Hall of Honour.