Thursday, 9 May 2013

Congratulations to Joe O'Brien, recipient of the 2013 Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre

Theatre Ontario is thrilled to announce that the 2013 Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre will be presented to Joe O’Brien of Ottawa.  This award is presented by Theatre Ontario from the nomination by Ottawa Little Theatre, and on the recommendation of the Eastern Ontario Drama League.  The award honours individuals for sustained contribution to community theatre, generosity of spirit, involvement, and commitment to community theatre that is legendary within his/her region, helping community theatre flourish.  Joe will receive his award on May 19 at the Theatre Ontario Festival Awards Brunch in Kingston.

Joe O’Brien's passion for, support of, and commitment to community theatre began in the mid-1950s when, as a youth, he organized a drama club at Cambridge Community Centre where his acting and directing talents led him to win awards at the Eastern Ontario Drama League Festival.  Continuing his theatre studies at the Ottawa Little Theatre, he became a regular member of the famed Saturday Players, performing in and working backstage in Theatre for Children, graduating to the main stage at OLT in the late 1950s.  While learning and developing artistically, Joe conceived the idea and convinced the City of Ottawa to form the Ottawa Community Players as a direct program of the City's neophyte arts programming.

By the 1960s, Joe’s passion for community theatre saw him develop and promote Lakeside Theatre Productions, again under the auspices of the City of Ottawa. The group, growing from the original Community Players and attracting other local community theatre personnel, performed theatre for children throughout the Ottawa/Carleton region and the Ottawa Valley, and performed adult main stage productions for fifteen years.

Recognized for his contributions to the local community theatre scene, Joe was hired by the City of Ottawa as an instructor of theatre arts and creative drama.  As well as teaching children and youth, Joe produced, directed, and adjudicated city-run youth talent festivals, a birthplace for many local artists and performers.  In 1966, Joe was hired by the City to further develop the arts programs within the community.  Following an ever-evolving career in arts administration, Joe retired as Director of Culture for the City of Ottawa where he oversaw the delivery of arts funding and provided advice and resources to local community theatre groups. He returned to Ottawa Little Theatre to act, direct, and work backstage. He represents OLT as a group member of the Ottawa Community Theatre Association and at the Eastern Ontario Drama League, of which he is an active long-time member and supporter, acting for several years as its Northern Section Chair.

“Looking at the list of past recipients, I’m rather shocked and humbled,” said Joe.  “This award is more exciting to me than receiving a Best Director or Best Actor award; this award is about what I’ve been trying to do for fifty years.  I don’t know how to express my gratitude.”

The Michael Spence Award honours legendary contributions to community theatre in Ontario.  Past recipients of the Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre are Betty Coates, Joan McRae, Lillian Sievanen, Sharon Sproule, Anne Wilson, David Glover, Harry Houston, Hans Warmenhoven, Vince Mathewson, Arlene Watson, Gabe Ferrazzo, Val Hadley, Maureen Lukie, Beth McMaster, Ken Stephen, Lawrie Bonanno, Walter Maskel, Margaret Shearman, and Jo-anne Spitzer.  The award is named after Michael Spence, the founding President of Theatre Ontario.  Michael was active in community theatre at Hart House Theatre, London Little Theatre, and the University Alumnae Dramatic Club (now known as Alumnae Theatre.)  He was a member of the Board of Governors of the Dominion Drama Festival, a past President of Arts Etobicoke, and he continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of Theatre Ontario.

Read more about Theatre Ontario's Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre

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