The York University Magazine

YorkU Summer 2009

The alumni magazine of York University

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S TA G E compelled to accept. “It helped to ease my defector guilt,” jokes the 1976 York theatre grad who has spent the past eight years revitalizing two of America’s leading university drama schools. L The truth is she vowed 25 years ago to help Des McAnuff if and when he took over the artistic helm at Stratford. The two crossed paths there in 1983. Legendary artistic director John Hirsch had recruited Bradley as communications and special projects director and lured hotshot McAnuff home from New York to direct Macbeth. “It was a hugely formative period in my career,” says Bradley. “Working for John was a wild and unfor- gettable ride. It was an ambitious time for the festival.” In high school a decade before, Bradley had served as a casting intern on McAnuff’s musical Silent Edward at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. At Stratford they recon- nected. “We share a similar esthetic. We admire bravery of aspiration, technical accomplishment and intellectual daring. We both want theatre to create heat and be compelling.” Now she’s trolling New York and the international theatre scene for directors, actors and companies fitting that esthetic to help McAnuff “take a revered and cherished Canadian institution to even greater heights.” It’s all in a day’s work. Attending plays is part of the other job Bradley accepted last year – arts professor and chair of the drama department of New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, situated right on Broadway. By March, she’d floated at least a dozen ideas across the festival transom, including notes on a stunning new production of Othello. Strat- ford audiences could see the fruits of her labour as early as next year. “But I’m trying to incubate relationships for 2011 and five years beyond that.” Bradley has devoted her entire professional life – as producer, programmer and now educator – to fanning theatrical creativity, to making theatre happen. The daughter of a big- band musician turned agent, Elizabeth Widdess fell under theatre’s thrall at age four when she saw Helen Hayes in The School for Scandal at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. An exceptional student, she skipped Ontario’s Grade 13 to enter York’s theatre program in 1972. Directing appealed to her until she realized there were so few women in the field that “the only way I could direct what I wanted would be to produce it 26 YorkU Summer 2009 ast December, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival appointed New York City-based Elizabeth Bradley senior artistic associate. That’s a fancy title for global talent scout. There’s no money and only modest glory in it, but no matter, she felt utterly myself.” After making the dean’s list in 1976 and newly wedded to Keith Bradley, a York theatre production professor, she managed a couple of small theatres, then headed to Broadway to apprentice with Doris Cole Abrahams, producer of Tony Award-winning plays Equus and Travesties. She wanted to be like those storied American producers who find and champion a play, then bring it to glorious life. “That was the impulse that led me to New York.” Back in Toronto in 1981, she was managing famous Cana- dian actors like Roberta Maxwell and Nicholas Pennell when John Hirsch called “out of the blue”. He’d heard about the 26-year-old’s New York training and knack for managing theatres and promoting artists. Would she join his senior team? “John was a hard man to refuse and the allure of Stratford was irresistible.” After Hirsch exited Stratford, so did she, to produce and tour independent commercial shows like The Mikado and HMS Pinafore and B-Movie, The Play. However, “it was always a cash- flow arabesque,” and Bradley, by this time mother of a pre- schooler and an infant, soon settled for 10 less-peripatetic years as program director, then first female general manager and CEO, of Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts. In 2001, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh invited her to apply for head of its renowned drama school. “I didn’t think they were serious,” says Bradley, but she agreed to an inter- view “more or less as a lark.” Ten days later, they offered her the tenured position, unfazed by her lack of postgraduate degrees. “It was a very, very maverick hire,” she says. “I’m fond of saying I have taken an honours BFA from York a very long way.” Five years later, more students than ever were clamouring to enrol in the drama school and Carnegie Mellon rushed to renew her appointment. Bradley had diversified a traditional program, brought in international artists and created a festival for student work. During this time, she also helped launch the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts as founding artistic director, chaired the International Society for the Performing Arts, provided programming advice to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre and won a Queen’s Jubilee Gold Medal for outstanding contribution to the arts in Canada. No wonder Tisch came knocking in 2008. Bradley takes time to swim, enjoy her husband’s home cooking, and catch up with daughter Bronwen’s career as a publicist and son Ben’s music studies. But theatre compels her more than ever. “I have been privileged to witness indelible work,” says Bradley. “Every time I have one of those moments, I’m infatuated all over again.” Y

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