Mary Kerr

Mary Kerr
Emeritus Professor
Theatre Design

BFA University of Manitoba, Doctor of Canon Law Honoris Causa University of Manitoba, FRSC: Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

Area of expertise

Design: stage design (costume and set), Canadian theatre, dance, ballet, opera, musical theatre, film, television and special events design

Areas of Research & Creative Activity

  • Set and costume design: theatre, musical, dance, opera, film, television and video
  • Cultural anthropology, Marshall McLuhan, visual communication and cultural aesthetics in the 20th, 21st century.
  • Spectacle, special event and exhibit design.
  • Children's entertainment. 

Brief Biography

Mary Kerr has a distinguished career in Canadian and international theatre, dance, opera, feature film and television, as well as exhibition and special events design. As a production designer she has created for such companies as The Canadian Opera Company, The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The New Zealand Opera, the Danny Grossman Dance Company, The National Ballet of Canada, The Shaw and The Stratford Festivals, and most of this country's regional theatres. She was Production Designer for the 1994 Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

Professional acknowledgements include seven Dora Mavor Moore Awards (14 nominations), three Sterling Awards, A Houston Film Award, and 5 Gemini and Gemineaux nominations. Mary has represented Canada at such juried international design competitions as the Prague Quadrennial (1983, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2019), and been a finalist in World Stage 2005 (Toronto), and 2009 (Seoul, Korea). Mary is one of seven designers featured in Natalie Rewa's Scenography in Canada (U of T Press, 2004).

Design credits in television include The Toy Castle, a children's dance three-season series that is shown on PBS and around the world, and which in 2003 won a Gemini Award for Best Children's program and Gemini and Gemineaux nominations for best television set and costume design, The Tommy Hunter Show, Sharon, Lois and Bram and The Big Top Ballet. She is the subject of an archival collection at the Metropolitan Toronto Library and The Paris Opera Archival Museum. 

Mary's world premières include George F. Walker's Nothing SacredIf We Are WomenThe Big Top Ballet and Anne of Green Gables for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Christopher Butterfield's dada opera, Zurich 1916, at the Banff Centre. Other acclaimed productions include Can Stage's The Three Penny Opera, and The Desert Song and Private Lives at the Shaw Festival. 

Mary co-wrote, designed and is producing a new musical, Bella: The Colour of Love, about Marc Chagall's wife, Bella. This was originally commissioned by The Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011.

 Selected Recent Professional & Creative Achievements

  • Bella: The Colour of Love, Production Designer: Brussels, (2015), Toronto and NYC, (2014)  Warsaw, Poland (2013), The Art Gallery of Ontario, (2012), Philadelphia Theatre Company, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, (2011) Philadelphia, USA
  • Eurydice, Production Designer, Phoenix Theatre, Victoria (2012)
  • Sweeny Todd, Production designer, Dir: Bob Baker, Citadel Theatre. Edmonton (2010)
  • Copper Thunderbird: Invention, Inspiration and Transformation, Legacy Gallery, Victoria, BC. One-woman show of the Production Design and making of Copper Thunderbird at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa along with paintings of Norval Morrisseau. (2008)
  • Copper Thunderbird: Invention, Inspiration and Transformation, Legacy Gallery, Victoria, BC., One-woman show of the Production Design and making of Copper Thunderbird at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa along with paintings of Norval Morrisseau. (2008)
  • Copper Thunderbird, Production Designer, Dir: Peter Hinton, National Arts Centre (2007)
  • Wind in the Willows, Production Designer, Dir: Brian Richmond, Phoenix Theatre (2007)
  • The Toy Castle. Production Designer. Sound Venture Productions/Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Broadcast around the world on YTV, PBS, the Nursery Channel, Channel 12, TV12 (Israel), including India, Mexico, Singapore, Arab Territories, and Great Britain (2000-2013)
  • The Big Top. Production Designer. CBC/ Norman Campbell, Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1989-03)
  • Danny Grossman Dance Theatre. Production Designer. 28 world premières between 1975 and 2000 with international tours to Great Britain, U.S.A., France, Cuba, and Russia.
  • Creative Process of Mary Kerr. Art Director. May Street Productions/Bravo! TV. Shown at film festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Into The Woods. Production Designer. Dir: Bob Baker, Citadel Theatre (2000)
  • Expo 1986: First Pavilion in the Canadian Pavilion: Production Design, Vancouver, BC.

Recent awards and honours 

  • 2020: Awarded the Canada Council for the Arts $50,000 Molson Prize for 'outstanding achievement in the fields of the arts, the humanities or the social sciences to the cultural or intellectual heritage of Canada.'...The first stage designer to be awarded this prize.
  • PQ 2019, Kerr was honoured by her design peers as Canada's nominated 'Design Legend' and featured in the international design of the world exhibition: Fragments.
  • 2015: Costume at the Turn of the Century: 1990-2015: at the AA Bakhrushin Central State Theatre Museum, Moscow: June 15-August 1, 2015. An internationally curated exhibition that featured 2 of my designs: the three Penny Opera and Zurich 1916
  • World Scenography: Volume Two: (1990-2005) was published both in print and on-line under the auspices of OISTAT in 2014. 3 shows were profiled from this time period.: The Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremonies, Zurich 1916, and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
  • World Scenography: Volume One: (1975-1990) was published both in print and on-line under the auspices of OISTAT (The International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians) in March 2012. This is a significant publishing event and establishes an international standard-of-reference for Set and Costume Design. Mary was one of 9 Canadian designers selected for inclusion, with 3 shows being profiled: The Three Penny Opera, Nothing Sacred, and In the Land of the Spirits.
  • 2011: Doctor of Canon Law, Honoris Causa (2011) St. John's College, University of Manitoba, and Winnipeg. Dr. Kerr was invited to give the Convocation Address.
  • 2010: Named a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada, (FRSC) the highest honour given for scholarly achievement in Canada (2010). Dr. Kerr is the only set and costume designer to be elected to the Royal Society of Canada.
  • Profiled in the 2008 Banff Centre publication Inspiring Creativity: 75 Years of Creation at the Banff Centre.
  • Nominated for British Columbia Distinguished Academic of the Year Award in both 2003 and 2004.
  • One of seven featured designers in the first published book on Canadian Stage Design: Scenography in Canada (2004), Natalie Rewa.
  • A Bravo Fact Film: Mary Kerr: The Creative Process, Dir: Hillary Jones Farrow, shown CTV and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
  • Served as a Siminovitch juror for the Design competition, the Canada Council, BC Arts Council Council, Dora Mavor Moore committees, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council think tank on the future of Canadian Theatre.
  • Elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. (RCAA)(1997)