Brent Carver: Memory and the power of performance

Brent Carver: Memory and the power of performance

As a teenager growing up in a one-TV-channel world (later two-channel) I dimly recall lounging in front of a black-and-white television watching one of three things — the Beachcombers, Hockey Night in Canada, and whatever else the CBC would have on offer instead of the first two.

My TV memory is dominated by Bruno Gerussi and Guy Lafleur — but there are other atoms drifting around in there, so indistinct that I wonder if they weren’t dreams.

One of the shows I idly watched for a brief time, just because it happened to come on while I was sitting there in the basement on the farm, was a variety show called Inside Canada. It was meant to be hip, in a pre-disco ‘70s way, it featured four actors — two male and two female — and included comedy and song and dance numbers.

Inside Canada didn’t run for very long, nor is there any cult internet or DVD presence — or really anything about it at all for posterity.

Only last week, upon the news of the death of Brent Carver, arguably Canada’s greatest actor, did I find out that he had been among one of the cast members of Inside Canada. And then, one of those indistinct atoms suddenly fissioned into a clear memory. I don’t recall ever having a memory experience like it.

Suddenly, I remember Brent Carver clearly, on the screen of my black-and-white TV. The gaunt, curly-haired actor and his co-stars were performing a cool dance routine, and singing “What’s The Buzz” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Carver is the only performer who I remember on Inside Canada for those few seconds of clear memory (for the record, the other stars were Ruth Nichol, Patrick Rose, Diane Stapley — all Canadian actors with long successful careers).

This incident speaks to me of the power of performance. An actor on a small black and white screen created a moment that become permanently embedded in the recesses of my mind, waiting to be triggered into memory recall.

My encounters with Brent Carver weren’t many, though I had heard of him (Inside Canada aside) before I moved to Cranbrook; for his Tony Award in Kiss of the Spider Women. I saw him in Cranbrook a couple of times, when he returned for a workshop here, or a theatre anniversary there, and got a glimpse of the great gifts he possessed.The Townsman followed his career though the 2000s, from his role in Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex; his part in the experiment that was the musical Lord of the Rings (the show flopped, but the critics agreed that Carver was fantastic as Gandalf); his triumph in The Elephant Man; to his Governor General’s Performing Arts Award For Lifetime Artistic Achievement. I interviewed him a couple of times for this newspaper, and found him gentle, engaged, humourful and polite. I regret I never got to see him in his natural element — on stage in the West End, Broadway, or Stratford. A giant, a star …

Rest in peace, Brent Carver. May Canada produce someone like you again soon. But that’s pretty unlikely.