One of Canada’s greatest stage actors — and certainly Cranbrook’s greatest actor — has been recognized for his career and body of work with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.
“One of Canada’s most versatile actors, Brent Carver is known for the sensitivity, emotional honesty and charisma he brings to every role, from Shakespeare classics to new Canadian works, and from intimate cabaret performances to blockbuster musicals,” the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards website announced last week. “In a career spanning over 40 years he has dazzled audiences and critics across Canada, the United States and the UK.”
Carver spoke to the Townsman last week about his winning the award.
“I was quite surprised by it,” he said. “I feel kind of encouraged to keep going.”
Lifetime achievement aside, there are many who think that at this stage of his career, an actor like Carver would be in his artistic prime.
“I hope so,” he said. “I left Cranbrook in 1969, and I was performing all through school, of course, then I started — luckily — making a living at it, around 1971 or so.
“I feel really grateful that I’ve been able to make a living at it.”
Toronto has been Carver’s home for many years, but his roots in Cranbrook are deep. And he appreciates the vibrancy of the local theatrical communities, students and adults.
“I was there in 2007 — I performed at the Key City Theatre with a number of students who were there at the time, and also a number of alumni of the drama program,” he said. “It was great to be part of that. It’s a vibrant (acting) community, with lots of passion.
“I hope they always feel fulfilled in what they’re doing, and love what they’re doing. That’s the gift of it all.”
In a notoriously fickle profession, Carver has kept himself fairly busy. He recently finished a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet in New York, with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. Carver played Friar Lawrence. The production was made into a feature film.
“It’s a new thing that they’re doing, called Broadway HD, and they’re recording Broadway shows — you film a couple of performances, just before the show closes, with nine or 10 cameras, then you put it out.
“It already played in (movie) theatres in North America in February and March. Then it will be out on DVD.”
Starting in June or July, Carver said, he will be appearing in a Stephen Sondheim musical called “Company,” the plot of which revolves around Bobby (a single man unable to commit fully to a steady relationship, let alone marriage), the five married couples who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends.
“And I’m going to be working with a group called the Art of Time Ensemble,” Carver added. “They’re a beautiful orchestra — strings and woodwinds — so it’s going to be quite an interesting project and I’m looking forward to that.
“But since December I haven’t been that busy, and over the years I’ve learned that six months of not busy is six months of not working — hopefully you use it for study time and all that stuff.
“Sometimes you’re working, and you can’t take a particular job because they overlap, or whatever.”
Carver has an impressive résumé of stage credits, from stages all over Canada, New York, Stratford, Los Angeles and London. Some of his performances include Don Carlos, High Life, Tartuffe, The Story of My Life, Vigil, Larry’s Party, The Elephant Man, Cyrano de Bergerac, Richard III, Man of La Mancha, As You Like It, Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler on the Roof, Elizabeth Rex, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Foxfire, The Pirates of Penzance, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Parade, and Kiss of the Spider Woman (for which he won the Tony Award). His cabaret show, Brent Carver in Concert, sold out at Soulpepper’s 2013 Winter at the Young series. He is a founding artist of Toronto’s Theatre 20.
Film and TV appearances include Lilies, The Tale of Teeka, Ararat, The Event, Deeply, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Elizabeth Rex, Young at Heart, Twice in a Lifetime, and The Wars.
Carver’s awards and honours include a Toronto Arts Award, Tony Award, two New York Drama Desk Awards, Theatre World Award (New York), four Dora Mavor Moore Awards, two Genie and four Gemini Awards, ACTRA Toronto Award, Sterling Award (Edmonton), and City of Cranbrook Award.
The Lifetime Artistic Achievement award recognizes artists for their outstanding body of work and enduring contribution to the performing arts in Canada. These national awards are presented in the categories of theatre, dance, classical music, broadcasting, popular music and film. Nominations for this category are open to the public.