Af­ter di­ver­gent the­atri­cal paths, pair share spot­light again

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE - KEVIN PROKOSH

IN 1983 Strat­ford Fes­ti­val artis­tic direc­tor John Hirsch part­nered the up-and com­ing Mon­trealer Steven Schip­per with bud­ding su­per­star di­rec­tior Des McAnuff for a pro­duc­tion of Mac­beth.

They be­came fast friends, Schip­per as­sist­ing McAnuff by day while spend­ing their off hours in the ar­cades play­ing a car rac­ing video game called Pole Po­si­tion. Al­most three decades later, the pair, who have taken very dif­fer­ent routes through North Amer­i­can the­atre ar­rived last week­end at the same spot, by both be­ing ap­pointed as mem­bers of the Or­der of Canada.

“When I think of us do­ing Mac­beth here, I don’t think we were very likely can­di­dates for the Or­der of Canada,” said McAnuff yes­ter­day from Strat­ford where he is the artis­tic direc­tor. “We spent a lot of time play­ing Pole Po­si­tion, try­ing to rack up the high­est score. We used to make all the lit­tle kids cry be­cause we kept beat­ing their scores.”

McAnuff, 60, is a two-time Tony, Olivier and Dora award-win­ning direc­tor whose pro­duc­tion of Je­sus Christ Su­per­star just closed on Broad­way. Schip­per, 57, has spent 23 sea­sons mak­ing the Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre one of the most suc­cess­ful re­gional the­atres in Canada.

“He’s the jumbo jet in­ter­na­tional high flyer,” says the lat­ter about the much dec­o­rated McAnuff who has taken Big River, The Who’s Tommy and Jer­sey Boys to Broad­way. “I’m the Air Canada re­gional jet but we both ended up be­ing hon­oured by our coun­try.”

In be­tween Mac­beth and the Or­der of Canada an­nounce­ment their road to­gether got bumpy and came to a dra­matic fork. Im­me­di­ately af­ter Mac­beth opened, the Amer­i­can-born, Cana­di­an­raised McAnuff left to take over the La Jolla Play­house near San Diego and took with him sev­eral mem­bers of his in­ner cir­cle and in­vited Schip­per to join him as his as­sis­tant.

“When Des wants some­thing there’s nothing like it,” said Schip­per this week.

The La Jolla gen­eral man­ager Alan Levy called him with a very gen­er­ous of­fer which Schip­per turned down in favour of stay­ing at Strat­ford. The phone calls con­tin­ued as the of­fer in­creased.

“On the last call he said, `Look I can­not go back to Des and say I failed. So what is it go­ing to take, just tell me and I’ll make it hap­pen. I can­not say no to Des.’”

He did, as Schip­per wanted to con­tinue his ca­reer in Canada and be as his own man. He knew if he went with McAnuff it would be the end of his mar­riage (he had mar­ried Win­nipeg ac­tress Terri Ch­er­ni­ack the pre­vi­ous year). He was well aware as­sist­ing McAnuff was a 24/7 job.

“I didn’t want to be some­one’s as­sis­tant for­ever,” said Schip­per. “I’m good in the co-pilot’s seat bit I as­pired to be­ing the cap­tain.

“I don’t thing Des talked to me for an­other 10 years.”

McAnuff cops to a shaky mem­ory of that pe­riod.

“That’s prob­a­bly true but I don’t hon­estly re­mem­ber that,” said McAnuff, who still lives in the fast lane and is work­ing on an opera about race car driver Ayr­ton Senna for the Metropoli­tan Opera in New York.

They even­tu­ally made up and McAnuff came to Win­nipeg to talk to MTC pa­trons.

“It would have been per­fect (for Schip­per to join him at La Jolla) but I think the peo­ple of Win­nipeg would agree he made the right de­ci­sion,” said McAnuff, who needed to rush off to work with Christo­pher Plummer on a new piece called A Word or Two (“I can’t be late for the Plum.”)

Said Schip­per: “It was one of the bet­ter de­ci­sions I ever made.”

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