Acadia’s Festival Theatre Stage named for Bawtree and Bernhardt

Wolfville, NS, June 29, 2017 – The Festival Theatre stage at Acadia University will be named for two former faculty members whose careers inspired countless performers and audiences. The Michael Bawtree and Colin Bernhardt Stage recognizes two men who together contributed more than 30 years to teaching and mentoring Acadia theatre students while thrilling Wolfville audiences with their own on-stage performances and productions.

“Michael and Colin established a new paradigm for performance at Acadia and in Wolfville,” said Ray Ivany, Acadia President and Vice-Chancellor. “They brought their worldwide experience and reputation to our community and permanently changed the course of our performing arts community. The Atlantic Theatre Festival was a courageous endeavour and Acadia’s Festival Theatre is its legacy. Naming the Shakespearean-style stage in their honour is a fitting tribute to their vision and lifetime commitment to their craft and to each other.”

Michael Bawtree joined Acadia in 1990 as Director of Drama following a lengthy career as a performer, writer, director, educator, and arts administrator.  A graduate of Worcester College, Oxford, Bawtree emigrated to Canada in 1962 and, among his many accomplishments, went on to work with two of Canada’s most renowned arts organizations: the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Banff Centre. He has written and directed numerous plays and musicals around the world and in 2002 was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for his service to the community. In 1994, he led the founding of the Atlantic Theatre Festival, overseeing the conversion of Acadia’s former hockey arena into a world-class, 504-seat thrust stage theatre, and serving as its Artistic Director until 1998.

On retirement from Acadia he founded and led the Joseph Howe Initiative, set up to commemorate the 200th birthday of Joseph Howe in 2004. He portrayed Howe on numerous occasions, in Canada, the USA and the UK, and wrote a successful young person's novel, Joe Howe To The Rescue, to introduce him to younger generations. The first volume of his memoirs, As Far As I Remember, was published in 2015, with a second volume, The Best Fooling, due out later this year. He has also been an active member of the Wolfville Historical Society, developing and executing their summer programs from 2014 to 2016.

Colin Bernhardt was a Theatre Arts professor at Acadia, directing plays and teaching voice and acting from 1986 until his retirement in 2006. He was a regular faculty member at The Banff Centre, teaching there for 32 years. Colin provided the first inspiration for the Atlantic Theatre Festival, then served alongside Michael Bawtree as a co-founder. A brilliant and much-loved teacher, he worked with thousands of actors, singers and communicators in every possible discipline throughout his career: his work in fact went far beyond the teaching of voice, and was credited by many of his students with changing their lives.

In 2001 he published So to Speak: A Personal Approach to the Voice, a book aimed at 'actors and others'. Actor Christopher Plummer described it as a text “no young actor should be without.” His unpublished manuscript, The Writer's Voice, telling the story of one of his annual visits to Banff to work with writers, is due to be published later this year.

Born in Calgary, Bernhardt trained as an actor at Vancouver City College. He performed for four seasons with the Stratford Festival and elsewhere, but in 1974 changed course to attend the University of Guelph, where he received his first degree in 1976. He went on to Ontario Teachers College, gaining his BEd before embarking on his career as a teacher. He died far too young in 2012.

"This is a wonderful honour for Colin and myself, recognizing the part we played in the development of this beautiful theatre and its stage - which was described by actor Helen Burns as 'like a bird about to take flight.' The successful establishment of the Atlantic Theatre Festival in 1995 was due not just to us, but to the powerful support of Acadia at that time, to the superb theatre artists who worked with us, and to the entire Valley community and beyond. It was always Colin's dream – and mine as well – that one day the theatre would once again perform the function for which it was designed, as the home of a theatre festival of international stature. I sincerely hope it is Acadia's dream, too!"

A formal naming ceremony is planned for the fall of 2017 to which members of Bawtree’s and Bernhardt’s extensive network of colleagues and the Nova Scotia arts community will be invited.

Festival Theatre Stage

In 1995, thanks to approximately $2 million in funding from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as from many corporations and individuals, the Atlantic Theatre Festival Society mounted its Founder’s Season in a newly-renovated, 504-seat facility featuring a thrust stage modeled on the Stratford Festival, the only stage of its kind in Atlantic Canada. Now designated the Festival Theatre, the facility is home to a broad range of community events, performances and concerts, including Acadia’s Performing Arts Series, the St. Joseph’s Stage Prophets, Women of Wolfville, Fezziwig Society, and many local public schools.

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