News & Events
Tribute to Malcolm Black
The AFC remembers supporter Malcolm Black, a director, actor, writer and teacher who passed away last year at the age of 89.
Black was born in Liverpool, England and trained at the Old Vic School in London before immigrating to Canada in 1956.
Black made a name for himself in Canada’s theatre scene, serving as artistic director at Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, Theatre New Brunswick and Theatre Plus.
“Malcolm was instrumental in a lot of theatres. He was a theatre maker from Vancouver to Fredericton to Toronto” says actor, teacher and director John Bourgeois. “There is not a week that goes by that I don’t meet an actor not just of my generation, but also the generation before mine that owes their career to (Malcolm).”
At the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, Black directed and produced the company’s first homegrown production in the 1960s. One of Black’s son Trevor says that his father’s main mandate there was to showcase new Canadian plays, new Canadian art and new Canadian actors.
“He wanted to make sure that everyone always had a good start to their career, from playwrights to actors, and other artists,” Trevor says.
During his tenure at Theatre New Brunswick (1978-84), Black established Canada’s only bilingual touring Young Company. It was at the Young Company that Bourgeois met Black.
Black was not involved in directing any of the plays that Bourgeois was in so the two only incidentally connected, but years later, Black went to see a show that Bourgeois was directing in Toronto. Based on that show, Black hired Bourgeois to direct a production at Theatre Plus, where he was now artistic director. That began a number of “creative and fruitful collaborations” between the two.
“Malcolm was quite a remarkable man. He was one of the most culturally sophisticated men I knew. He had wide-ranging tastes in music, opera and dance,” says Bourgeois. “He was a great art lover and he had great taste. That’s what I enjoyed so much about Malcolm; hanging around him was an education in art and what makes life worthwhile.”
Actor Marcia Tratt also met Black when he was artistic director of Theatre New Brunswick. Though Black wasn’t directing her show, the two got to know each other a bit and became close friends.
She describes him as “irascible, very witty, very funny and very talented in what he did and his knowledge of the theatre.
“He had a huge knowledge of all things theatrical and everybody who worked with him pretty well always wanted to work with him again because he was such an actor’s director. He really knew how to speak to actors and make them feel like their opinions were important and their thoughts on their characters were important,” Tratt says.
“Malcolm created a very safe environment where you felt you could explore the play you were working on.”
Trevor Black says his father was a “very loving, caring father” who was dedicated to his job.
“He always believed in the art of theatre and always wanted to make something special out of every production that he did,” Trevor says.
Outside of his love of theatre, Black also loved travel and art, a love that he shared with his son.
“He wanted show me the world,” Trevor says. “We have been all over Europe and Latin America … I have been to about every major art gallery there is and it wasn’t just about ‘oh, let’s go look at the paintings’, but also ‘let’s go look at where the paintings were made.’” For example, father and son went to the nunnery where Van Gogh recovered after cutting his ear off.
Trevor says that his father had a passion for fostering young talent, something that is evident in his continued friendships with actors that he encountered early on his career.
“He hired me for several shows when he was the artistic director of Theatre New Brunswick and when he took over at Theatre Plus in Toronto,” Tratt says. The two also worked together at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia where Black worked later in his career.
“I would say he was one of my best friends,” Tratt says.
“We had a wonderful friendship and mentorship,” Bourgeois says. “He mentored me, especially when I was younger, and then it became a slightly more equal relationship as I matured, as well.”
Malcolm’s affinity for young actors was one of the reasons he chose to support The AFC throughout his career and with a bequest.
“He always said to everybody, ‘don’t donate to anything but The AFC,” Trevor says.
Bourgeois says Malcolm chose to donate to The AFC because “he loved actors. He really loved their personalities and he appreciated just how vulnerable they were to the vicissitudes of the economy and work opportunities.
“He was always fairly organized with his own personal life … He always managed to work, but he appreciated how difficult it was to take on a creative life, especially an actors’ life which is freelance and job to job, and some of his actor friends were in dire straits from time to time and I think he was always looking for a way to help them out with a job or any other way he could.”
“(Malcolm) believed in the greater good and being able to share your wealth and good fortune with those who need it,” says Tratt. “I am not surprised that he left money to The AFC because he often talked about how important it was to look out for everybody in your business because there is no real safety net in the acting community other than things like The AFC.”
The AFC is grateful to Malcolm Black for leaving a legacy that will assist entertainment professionals in times of crisis.
To learn about planned giving, please visit our website or call us at 1.877.399.8392.
Special thanks to Lascelle Wingate, the executor of Malcolm Black’s estate, for her assistance with this article.