End of season theatre awards honour NOWs Jon Kaplan

Its awards time in the theatre season, and while the best productions are being honoured at these ceremonies, theyre also.


Its awards time in the theatre season, and while the best productions are being honoured at these ceremonies, theyre also taking time to acknowledge the legacy and spirit of NOWs beloved senior theatre writer, Jon Kaplan, who passed away April 28.

The Dora Mavor Moore Awards have taken the NOW Audience Choice Award and renamed it the NOW Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award. Voting for this award closes Wednesday (June 21), and will be presented at the Doras ceremony on June 26. If you havent already cast a vote, you can do so here. Remember: you can vote for one of the current best production nominees or choose another show.

The Toronto Theatre Critics Awards will conclude its ceremony on Monday (June 19) with a special citation to Jon.

The upcoming Toronto Fringe Festival has named a tent in Jons honour. According to outgoing executive director Kelly Straughan, the Jon Kaplan Tent will be a place to both honour his memory and discuss theatre in the productive and inclusive way that Jon was known for.

Since Jons passing, theatres across the country have dedicated seats or plaques in Jons memory. These include:

Alumnae Theatre

Buddies in Bad Times

Canadian Stage Company

Coal Mine Theatre (Jon Kaplan Green Room)

Conferation Centre of the Arts

Crows Theatre

Factory Theatre

4th Line Theatre

Harold Green Jewish Theatre (hallway star)

Native Earth Performing Arts

Red Sandcastle Theatre

Shaw Festival

Soulpepper Theatre

Stratford Festival

Tapestry New Opera

Tarragon Theatre

Theatre Centre

Theatre Northwest

Theatre Passe Muraille

Young Peoples Theatre

(Thanks to Alex Poch-Goldin for compiling this list)

And last week, the Harold Awards an event Jon never missed honouring the best in indie theatre and named for the late patron Harold Kandel – marked his passing with speeches by director/dramaturge/administrator Brian Quirt and actor/playwright and Convergence Theatre co-founder Julie Tepperman. Both adapted their speeches to be included below.

A celebration of Jon’s life will take place on Tuesday, September 19, from 3 to 6 pm at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

***

I always thought of Jon as the anti-Harold. Or, as Harold without all the shouting.

Like Harold, Jon was loyal. He was always there he was a fan.

And, like Harold, Jon was full of opinions. The difference was that Jons were offered gently, thoughtfully, supportively, without all the shouting.

I had the great pleasure of standing in a lot of box office lines with Jon, especially at Fringe Festivals over the past 25 years, and at the Fringe Beer Tent, and in lobbies across the city during the rest of each year. What a pleasure those conversations were. I loved that we didnt always talk about the theatre that was such a passion for us both. Jon loved talking about travel, not just theatre, and we spoke of many places hed visited, and some wed both been to, comparing notes. He brought the same gentle, perceptive, eager, intelligent, generous observations to the places hed experienced or was planning to visit in the future. Each conversation was a treasure and a pleasure.

I last spoke to Jon after one of my own shows Anita Majumdars Boys With Cars at Young Peoples Theatre in late March, and I now realize how much it meant for Jon to be there to see the work, and for us to see him for what turned out to be the last time. He stayed after to speak with me, and then to Anita. I loved that he wasnt afraid to talk to you about your work. He didnt separate his enthusiasm and love for theatre from the work he saw or the people who created it.

It was all one for Jon, a beautiful accumulation of people and stories.

I miss you. We all miss you.

Brian Quirt

***

Jon Kaplan first laid eyes on me before I first laid eyes on him. I knew who he was from reading the theatre section of NOW Magazine religiously when it came out every Thursday, but had never met him. Unbeknownst to me, he had attended all of my final year shows when I was a student at George Brown Theatre School. Flash-forward to my first gig out of school an ensemble role in a production of (the original) Shakespeare In The Roughs Measure For Measure, directed by Sue Miner.

As is the way with indie Shakespeare in the park, before we even changed out of our costumes we struck our set and props in full view of the lingering audience. As I was going about my post-show duties, I noticed a tall, thin man watching me. In my memory he was watching me from behind a tree, like a stalker might spy on their stalkee…but more likely, in actuality, he was just leaning on a tree or standing near a tree. In any event, I noticed him staring at me, but pretended not to, and then I saw him approaching me. I braced myself for an awkward conversation with a stranger.

He didnt introduce himself, but instead opened with some kind words about the show, after which he complimented me on a couple of my performances in my theatre school productions. More than complimented, he recounted some moments from these shows in uncanny detail. I remember thinking, Oh no, do I actually have a stalker on my hands?! With this anxiety underscoring my half of our conversation, I cant imagine that I came across as particularly friendly or warm.

After he left, two people in the cast came over to me and said, You and Jon Kaplan were sure talking for a long time. What did he say? I was, like, That is Jon Kaplan?! As in the Jon Kaplan?!? That shy, sweet, slightly awkward, heart-on-his-sleeve man who I mistook for a weirdo theatre groupie was Jon Kaplan? The person whose previews and reviews I had been reading since moving downtown from the burbs at age 18, the reviewer who awarded the first Fringe show I ever wrote and produced Best Ensemble in NOWs Fringe Wrap-Up, the person about whom every actor I ever met said, Hopefully youll get an interview with Jon Kaplan.

I felt so embarrassed. I dont know what I was expecting, but not him. I guess up until that time I had a pre-conceived notion in my mind of reviewers as being cold, stern, unapproachable people. Boy was I schooled.

In the decade and a half that followed, I had the privilege of having many more (way less awkward) one-on-one conversations with Jon. They took place in Fringe line-ups, in theatre lobbies, while sitting together at a show, at brunch with his lovely husband Don viewing pictures from a recent trip.

My favourite Jon moment was when he invited me out for dinner when we were both in Stratford at the same time, then insisted we go to Balzacs after for Afogatos.

I said, Whats an Afogato? Jon smiled his beautiful smile, excited to be introducing me to one of lifes greatest pleasures: a scoop of ice cream drowned in espresso. Who knew?! Jon knew! And he smiled that gorgeous child-like smile again when I took my first taste, taking pleasure in my new-found pleasure. I have yet to go for an Afogato since Jons death. Ive seen them on cafe menus but havent been able to bring myself to order one because Im afraid that when I do, his absence will feel all the more real.

Another place his absence will be deeply felt is in theatre school audiences and classrooms. I had the pleasure of bringing Jon into various classes Ive taught over the years as a guest speaker. I always meant to record these sessions, but never did. Jons name was always top on my People to Look Out For in the Toronto Theatre Scene list.

It saddens me that people just entering theatre programs, and young actors new to the city, will not smile with recognition and anticipation when Jons name is spoken, that this next generation of theatre artists wont have the experience of being told, Jon is in the house, or of seeing him waiting for you when you emerge from the stage door after a show, or the pleasure of reading his writing, or sitting down with him for a thoughtful conversation about your show, or just about life.

It saddens me that now when I teach, I will soon start to have to explain who he was and all that he contributed.

My second last time seeing Jon was at George Brown Theatre Schools third year production of A Midsummer Nights Dream that my husband Aaron Willis directed. I had already seen the show, but my rehearsal in the neighbourhood had finished early and, knowing Aaron was there, I stopped by at the intermission. I had intended to just wait in the lobby during the second act and memorize lines, but as the people exited the theatre I looked up and saw Jon. We hugged and marveled together at the passage of time 16 years ago to the month he had seen Aaron and me in our third year production of the same play, just barely one year into our romantic relationship. He told me he was about to start a new radiation treatment, and even though the cancer had spread, he was feeling hopeful. He asked if I was coming in to see act two. I paused and he said, Theres an extra seat beside me… Well, how could I refuse?

As we sat in the theatre together I was aware of his reactions, not just his laughter, but his intake of breath when something magical happened. Twice he whispered to me when he was impressed with a student, Theyve come a long way since I first saw them.

It occurred to me then how remarkable it was that, despite his packed professional theatre-going schedule, he still made time to see these student shows, because he loved witnessing young artists thrive, and because he knew that it was in this place that he would first lay eyes on people who just might become part of his community, his extended family.

As the lights went down after Pucks final words, I heard Jon exhale, and I felt the power and beauty of his presence next to me and I thought how lucky I was to be sharing this suspended moment between blackout and lights up with the Jon Kaplan.

~ Julie Tepperman

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