Theatre director, critic, Urjo Kareda dies of cancer in Toronto at age 57:
TORONTO (CP) A much-loved director of the Tarragon Theatre and "father figure" to two generations of Canadian playwrights, died Wednesday morning at his Toronto home of cancer.
Urjo Kareda was 57.
"He was a father figure in so many ways," said Albert Schultz, director of the Soulpepper Theatre.
"Nobody else in the past 20 years had such a profound influence on a generation of writers and actors. It was impossible for me to come up with a new idea without asking myself, 'What would Urjo think of this?'"
Born in Tallinn, Estonia, in February 1944, Kareda arrived in Canada at the age of five.
He studied English literature at the University of Toronto.
Even as an undergraduate, recalls actress Clare Coulter, Kareda "was totally committed to theatre."
They performed together in 1962, when Kareda was a freshman student, in Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.
Kareda did graduate studies in English at Cambridge University, returning to Toronto in 1970.
After a brief stint as the Toronto Star's film critic he succeeded the legendary Nathan Cohen as theatre critic.
There he quickly made his mark not only as a reviewer, but as an intellectual capable of taking a leadership role in Canadian theatre.
"He knew what was good," said Coulter. "When he was the Star critic, we were working at Theatre Passe Muraille and Trinity Square. Few people wanted to know about us at the beginning. Then Urjo would write these reviews that would knock us off our feet about how important this little theatre was, and how important it was to get down there and see the work we were doing. He helped create our audience."
Kareda remained a critic all his life, specializing in later years in opera, a field he mastered with characteristic thoroughness.
But by 1975 Kareda had grown impatient with being an observer, and applied to newly-arrived Stratford Festival director Robin Phillips for the post of literary manager.
For five years he did research which gave new authority to Stratford's Shakespearean work, and encouraged the theatre to master a wide variety of classical writers.
In 1980, when Phillips abruptly left Stratford, Kareda was appointed together with actress Martha Henry to run the theatre.
There ensued a brief chaotic period, at the end of which they were dismissed by the board of directors.
Kareda severed his connection with the festival at that point and returned to Toronto, where he worked briefly in CBC's radio drama department.
In 1981, he became artistic director of Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, where he worked for the rest of his life.
Despite exhausting radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer during the months of November and December, he attended the Tarragon's Christmas party in mid-December.
The Soulpepper Theatre dedicated its Wednesday performance of A Christmas Carol to Kareda.