Urjo Kareda spoke softly in public but in private and in print wielded a big stick, using it to bring attention to high-quality Canadian drama.
The 57-year-old Kareda was artistic director of the Tarragon Theatre from 1982. He died December 26 of cancer.
Kareda's shyness in public settings was offset by his fierce devotion to new Canadian plays. He was theatre critic at the Star and later literary manager at Stratford in the 70s before taking over the Tarragon from its founder, Bill Glassco. Like Glassco, Kareda upheld the Tarragon's dedication to contemporary playwrights.
Among the careers he helped to establish or foster were those of Don Hannah, Judith Thompson, Ken Garnhum, Joan MacLeod and more recently Morwyn Brebner and Kristen Thomson. He also gave Toronto audiences a chance to see the works of Quebec's Michel Tremblay and Vancouver's Morris Panych.
Kareda wrote for several publications and was an arts commentator for the CBC, but it's his work at the Tarragon that best defined him. Under his leadership, the Tarragon provided the most reliable theatre season in town -- mostly premieres of Canadian works, with the addition of a play from the international rep by the likes of Wallace Shawn, Sam Shepard or Tony Kushner to round out the year.
A Tarragon success was an imprimatur for a new script, helping it get productions at theatres across the country.
Articulate, intelligent and passionate, Kareda championed several generations of Canadian theatre artists. He'll be missed by many.