From left to right: Carly Maga, Philip Akin, Karen Fricker and J. Kelly Nestruck
Philip Akin has been awarded the Canadian Theatre Critics biennial Herbert Whittaker Award for Distinguished Contributions to Canadian Theater at an awards presentation at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto where the Obsidian Theatre/ Musical Stage Company’s re-mount of Tony Kushner’s Caroline or Change was enjoying high praise. Originally presented at Berkeley Stage in 2012, the production went on to win several major awards.
In accepting the Herbert Whittaker Award, Akin noted that it held special meaning for him as the first graduate of Ryerson University’s BFA in acting in 1975. At that time Whittaker was the drama critic for the Globe and Mail.
“It wasn’t often that a reviewer for one of Toronto’s dailies would write about a university production, but every once in a while Herb Whittaker would do that. One night we heard that he was coming in to review our show and everyone was so excited. Afterward we all adjourned to a bar and then on to Fran’s until 2am in the morning when the Globe hit the streets. It was wonderful to read our names in the paper and hear what a professional critic had to say!”
Akin continued, “it was only a few weeks after my graduation that I got a call from the Shaw Festival inquiring if I’d like to audition for a role in Caesar and Cleopatra. The SF was an all white ensemble at that time and had no idea where to go to recruit black actors, so they asked Herbert Whittaker and Whittaker suggested me! There I was, just out of Ryerson’s theatre program and in rehearsal at the Shaw Festival. So this award really is a closing of the circle for me, and I’m very touched to receive it.”
As Obsidian Theatre celebrates its twentieth anniversary season, it is also a period of transition for Akin who steps down as AD at the end of June. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu will take up her responsibilities as the new artistic director at that time. But the Shaw Festival has become a mainstay in Akin’s career as a director over the past several years where he has mounted a number of highly praised productions including this season’s eagerly anticipated, Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress written in 1955. The Shaw Festival presentation will mark its Canadian premiere.