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Don Rubin
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Don Rubin

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Professor Rubin became enamoured of theatre at an early age and was one of the first graduates of the High School of Performing Arts, the first performing arts high school in North America and a school made famous by the film and television series Fame. At Performing Arts, he majored in acting. His studies included work with a range of early Stanislavski teachers along with subjects such as improv, voice, ballet and modern dance.

At the age of 15, he became an apprentice at the Capri Theatre on Long Island where he worked closely with actors such as the Hungarian stage star Lili Darvas, the Yiddish comedy star Menasha Skulnik and early television stars such as Arnold Stang and Sheppard Strudwick. During that same season, he was cast as the young Peter in Francis Lederer’s touring post-Broadway run of The Diary of Anne Frank. He later played the role in the national tour.

A year later, working part-time as an office boy at Show Business Newspaper (located across the street from Performing Arts High School), he found himself a published theatre critic at 16 when the paper included a piece he had written about a new off-Broadway play by a Canadian playwright named Patricia Joudry called Teach Me How To Cry. “It was a way for a teenager to get free theatre tickets,” he later recalled. “That they published what I wrote and continued to do so for several years after was a bonus and a way into a whole new career for me.”

 
 


Studying theatre at Hofstra University with Shakepeare scholar Bernard Beckerman, Rubin also became Arts Editor of the student newspaper and eventually Editor-in-Chief. After graduation, he became a journalist and arts critic with the New Haven (Connecticut) Register and began writing weekly columns on theatre covering openings both across New England and on Broadway. A member of the Drama Desk critics circle, his Master’s Thesis from the University of Bridgeport was on the emergence of the new Regional Theatre Movement in North America, a study that took him to regional theatres in Canada as well as the United States. His work in New Haven also allowed him opportunities to work with critic Robert Brustein at the Yale School of Drama and with the emerging Long Wharf Theatre.

In 1968, Rubin was offered a position as Theatre Critic with the Toronto Star. In preparation for his work with the Star, Rubin took a summer post as director of Public Relations with the emerging Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake bringing to Niagara for the first time critics from the New York Times, the Village Voice and the Boston Globe. Back in Toronto that fall, he was asked by CBC Radio to become its Toronto theatre critic and he soon found himself working with a number of radio hosts including Alex Trebek who would later leave Canada to become host of the television series Jeopardy. Rubin eventually declined the full-time position at the Toronto Star, opting instead for a free-lance journalistic career as theatre critic.

It was at this same time, that Toronto's York University was seeking someone to teach theatre criticism in its brand-new Department of Theatre. Rubin folded this into his schedule and a year later – having helped to create this new academic program at York – he was asked to join the program on a full-time basis. He has been teaching at York ever since. Chair of the Theatre Department between 1979 and 1982, in 2005 he co-founded York’s MA and PhD programs in Theatre Studies, a program he chaired for three years.

Throughout his academic career as a theatre historian, he continued working actively as a theatre critic, theatre editor and cultural animator. In 1971, he helped to found a student-faculty journal for writing on Canadian and university theatre subjects called the York Theatre Journal. Interest in the publication was considerable and three years later it transformed into a genuine national quarterly – the Canadian Theatre Review, the first professional theatre journal in the country’s history.

Rubin edited CTR for its first 32 issues bringing to both the professional and the academic theatre community over the next decade some 4000 pages of critical studies on Canadian theatre practice and history. Working with a national editorial board that included such legendary figures as George Ryga, Michael Cook, John Juliani, Peter Hay (founding editor of Talon Plays) and Marion Andre, Rubin also brought into being the first biographical work on the new Canadian playwriting of the period – Canada’s Playwrights: A Biographical Guide; the archival series Canada on Stage documenting theatre activity from coast-to-coast, and as publisher, a four-volume critically-acclaimed series called Canada’s Lost Plays (edited by Anton Wagner and Richard Plant) and memoirs such as Toby Ryan’s Stage Left: Canadian Theatre in the Thirties. Through this work, Professor Rubin helped to bring into being a whole new area of scholarship -- Canadian theatre studies.

During a sabbatical year in Paris, Rubin – then President of the Unesco-affiliated Canadian Theatre Centre of the International Theatre Institute -- was approached by the ITI and asked to help create a multi-volume twentieth century theatre encyclopedia. From 1985 to 2000, he worked with ITI and Unesco, and numerous international theatre communications organisations including the International Association of Theatre Critics, the International Federation for Theatre Research and The International Association of Performing Arts Libraries and Museums to create a six-volume, internationally acclaimed series under the title, the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre.

Published by Routledge in London and New York between 1994 and 2000, the series was the largest international cooperative publishing venture in the history of professional theatre involving more than 160 countries. WECT’s editorial centre was located at York. To complete the first volume, Rubin was named Walter F. Gordon Research Fellow, one of the most prestigious research fellowships at York. The year away from teaching allowed final work on the first volume to be completed.

Following the conclusion of the WECT project, Rubin continued to work as a professor of criticism and Canadian theatre while also establishing new courses in African theatre and drama, an interest that emerged for him during his work on the encyclopedia.

“Emerging cultures interest me enormously, “ he said. “Especially post-colonial cultures. I saw what happened in Canada. The pattern has repeated in many other parts of the world including sub-Saharan Africa. The endorsement of our African volume by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, one of Africa’s greatest dramatists, gave me the confidence to offer my own courses in African theatre and drama. The opportunity to lecture in various parts of the continent and then to teach for an extended period of time at the University of Stellenbosch in post-apartheid South Africa has brought all of my work together in a very special way.”

As well, Rubin returned to work within Canada with the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. That association had begun its life through Rubin’s efforts in the 1970s (along with Globe critic Herbert Whittaker and Star critic Urjo Kareda) as the Toronto Drama Bench. He became national president in 2006 and continues in that position today.

He has been a key organizer of five different international theatre conferences in Canada. These include a meeting of magazine and journal editors from around the world in connection with the Montreal Olympics in 1976; a scholarly conference on New Directions in Theatre in 1979 featuring Polish director and theorist Jerzy Grotowski; in association with the ITI in Montreal and Toronto in 1985; with eastern European scholars and critics in 1991; and with critics from 15 countries in Toronto-Stratford-Niagara in 2009.

In 2014, he is chairing an international conference on the Shakespeare Authorship Question in Toronto for the Shakespeare Fellowship (on whose board he serves) and the Shakespeare Oxford Society. The Authorship issue is one that has attracted his scholarly attention since 2008. He taught a course on the question at York in 2012.

Since 2007, he has been a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics International Executive and helped to launch the IATC’s new webjournal, Critical Stages, of which he is an active editorial board member.

Professor Rubin is married to the poet and novelist (and theatre critic) Patricia Keeney. Together, they have four children and six grandchildren. They make their home today in a 160-year old two story log heritage house in the township of Georgina north of Toronto where they write and publish world-wide.

 

 

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