Theatre prof receives nation's highest academic honour

- Maria Lironi

As a child, Mary Kerr (theatre) spent many hours at her mother's Winnipeg dance studio watching the magic of the stage. "They had footlights where we put the shows on, and I used to sit in the audience at the end of the evening and look at the empty stage. It was my mother who taught me all the worlds that could be created there."

Her imagination has helped Kerr forge a distinguished career as a production designer in Canadian and international theatre, dance, opera, feature film, television, exhibition and special events design. It has also garnered her Canada's highest academic honour, fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), the country's senior national body of distinguished Canadian scholars. In the history of the RSC, Kerr is the only set and costume designer to be inducted into the society.

"It is an honour to be elected by one's peers to a society that contains many of my mentors and colleagues," says Kerr. "I am proud of the academic prestige such election accords my university and look forward to contributing to the national collegium of thought and endeavour that the RSC embodies."

"My training was to be a sculptor or a concert pianist," Kerr recalls. "But whiplash changed my path and so I ended up at the Medieval Centre in Toronto, and also studied with Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. To pass one course in medieval theatre we had to put on a class show-the PLS Society-and I was chosen as the designer simply because I could draw. The design created a bit of a sensation and one show led to another.

"I've been very, very lucky in that the right people liked what I did and imagined how they could use me."

And so began a lifetime of pouring colour and vibrancy-"kinetic art sculpture" as Kerr calls it-into the Canadian culture. Her award-winning artistically unique sets and costumes have been seen across the globe. They've also appeared on TV.

Kerr has worked in every type and scope of production medium and in collaboration with playwrights, directors, producers, choreographers and performers. This spring she designed Sweeny Todd at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Her next project is co-writing a show about writer Bella Chagall, the wife of Marc Chagall and the subject of many of his paintings. Entitled Bella: The Color of Love, the cabaret-style musical theatre piece is a joint venture between the Gershman Y, the Philadelphia Theatre Company and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Closer to home, Kerr's costume designs can be seen this fall in the Phoenix Theatre's production of Yerma, by Federico Garc&i#180;a Lorca.

With this appointment, 44 current or former UVic faculty members are fellows with the RSC. More info:


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Keywords: mary, kerr, elected, rsc, fellow

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