Walter John Learning

Walter John Learning

  Walter John Learning, director, actor, playwright (b at Quidi Vidi, Nfld 16 Nov 1938). Learning received his BA (1961) and his MA (1963) from the University of New Brunswick, and studied at the Australian National University, Canberra, from 1963 to 1966. He returned to Canada in 1966 and taught philosophy at Memorial University for 2 years.

Learning began his career in professional theatre as the general manager of Fredericton's Beaverbrook Auditorium (1968), where he founded THEATRE NEW BRUNSWICK (1969), a company dedicated to touring its professional productions throughout the province, and a Young Company (1975) that brought theatre to the provincial schools. He remained as TNB's artistic director until 1978. During his years in Fredericton, he collaborated with Alden NOWLAN to write 3 plays: Frankenstein: The Man Who Became God (1974); The Dollar Woman (1977); and The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca (1978). Since then, he has written and directed for CBC television and edited an anthology of stories.

In 1978 he was appointed theatre officer at the CANADA COUNCIL. During his 4 years in that position, he was responsible for all activities related to not-for-profit theatres across Canada. He also oversaw the introduction of the Venture Capital Fund for commercial theatre projects, and administered a budget that increased from $7.9 million to $13 million.

As artistic director of the VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE THEATRE CO (1982- 87) - a job described as "a real monster" by his predecessor, Roger Hodgman - Learning came close to doubling subscription sales. He eliminated an inherited deficit by selling a property owned by the company and acquiring a new fully equipped production centre. He continued to use the civic-owned Playhouse facility for his mainstage series and developed a series of alternative productions at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and the Waterfront Theatre.

Learning moved to the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in 1987, where as artistic director of the CHARLOTTETOWN SUMMER FESTIVAL he immediately injected a note of controversy into the placid Confederation Centre with his production of Are You Lonesome Tonight? and by making changes to the ongoing Anne of Green Gables. He remained in that position until 1992.

During the next 3 years, Learning worked as a freelance actor, director, and broadcaster in Canada and Australia. He introduced Australians to the work of popular Canadian playwright Norm Foster.

In 1995 he returned to Theatre New Brunswick as executive producer. He undertook to revivify a theatre encumbered by a large deficit, declining subscription rates, an aging facility, and a community far less interested in theatre than during his earlier tenure at TNB. He remained at TNB until 1999. An administrative mainstay of regional theatres since 1968, Learning continues to practise his theatrical craft internationally.