Canadian theatre director Daniel Brooks, first Siminovitch Prize winner, dies at 64

By Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Daniel Brooks, a renowned Canadian theatre director who spent his decadeslong career pushing against the bounds of his medium, has died at 64.

A representative for his family said Brooks died surrounded by loved ones in Toronto on Monday, five years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 

His friend and frequent collaborator Daniel MacIvor said Brooks took the same approach to his work and life — one that centred creativity and communion.

“Daniel embodied the idea that the work was not really separable from our lives,” MacIvor said. “Not in that workaholic notion of work. It’s not an achievement-based work. It’s about engaging in curiosity and investigation, and developing as people as part of our work developing.” 

Brooks’s prolific career included time spent directing, writing, acting and producing.

“First and foremost, he was a teacher — without necessarily wearing that title,” MacIvor said.

He asked questions as a matter of course, and was comfortable even if they didn’t have clear answers, MacIvor said. There was always something to be learned in the asking.

“He’d never adhere to the rules of the system of theatre that we had, that had come from the British idea of how the theatre was supposed to work,” MacIvor said.

Theatre was not necessarily literary to Brooks, MacIvor said, though in 1992 he was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award in the drama category for “The Noam Chomsky Lectures,” co-written with Canadian theatre artist Guillermo Verdecchia.

“The legacy that’s being felt now is that … we don’t have to adhere to the rules of narrative, necessarily, in order to create engaging, compelling, accessible work,” MacIvor said.

In 2001, Brooks was the winner of the inaugural Siminovitch Prize, which recognizes artists who have made a significant creative contribution to theatre in Canada.

“With idealism and fearlessness, he has been eager to address complex issues in both contemporary and historical works. His theatrical rigour is infectious, challenging and inspiring the artists — notably actors and designers — whom he gathers into an investigative ensemble,” the jury wrote at the time. 

His work continued up until the very end. Last year, he wrote and starred in the one-person show “Other People,” an account of the time he spent at a silent meditation retreat after being diagnosed with cancer in 2018. 

And last month, he directed Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” for Soulpepper theatre company. 

Brooks’s family says a celebration of life will be held this summer. 

“There will be dancing,” they said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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