Steven Schipper with Limmud co-ordinator Judi Shuster

By MYRON LOVE

One of the speakers at this year's Limmud, held the weekend of March 2-3 was Steven Schipper.

 

Heaven for Steven Schipper has been working as a theatre director for the past 46 years. Addressing a crowd of about 50 – quite possibly the best- attended presentation at Limmud this year – the soon-to-be-retired artistic director of the RMTC recounted his beginnings and some of the highlights of his life in the theatre.
It was as a student at McGill that he was bit by the acting bug. He recalled - with humour – his early reviews and soon decided that his true calling was behind the scenes rather than front and centre.
“I believe that plays are the most effective way to bring about peace in the world,” he said. “A play ought to tell a story involving conflict and resolution. It should be a simulation of real life. It should be an expression of the human condition.
“My view is that a play only happens when the artists and the audience come together in a theatre to share acts of imagination. The quality of the play is determined by the quality of the audience. It doesn’t matter whether the theatre is the main stage at the RMTC or at an outdoor venue at a summer camp. Everything that comes before is prelude.”


He added that he believes that plays happen in the moment. Acting happens in the moment. The actor sounds most authentic when he reacts to the situation as it unfolds on stage.
Schipper accredited the success of the RMTC to a team effort uniting the artists (including the support personnel behind the scenes) and the members of the audience. Team members also include the stage designers, craftspeople and the house and box office staff,  who all work to prepare the audience to be in the best possible frame of mind.


He noted that over the past 60 years, the RMTC has set a high standard for great plays to be performed in front of a sophisticated audience.
He also pointed out that a sense of loving consideration for others permeates the RMTC productions. “It’s all about the actors onstage helping each other,” he noted. On stage at the RMTC, you will never see, for example, an actor picking up a chair to use for himself.”
Schipper expressed his gratitude to local psychiatrist Michael Eleff for helping him – in 1991 - to see the deep truth in “Romeo and Juliet” – families coming together in the face of unimaginable tragedy – and in many other plays over the years.


When asked about his decision to retire at this time, he replied that he determined his retirement date several years before. “What I envisaged,” he recounted, “was spending winters in Israel and summers at our cottage at the lake. Terri (his wife) however has other ideas.”
So, Steven and Terri will be relocated to Brampton, Ontario, where he will be the executive artistic director of the Rose Theatre. The couple are keeping their home in Winnipeg though.