George Luscombe, founder of Toronto Workshop Productions and one of Canada's major alternative theatre practitioners in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, died Feb. 5 of heart failure, according to the Toronto Sun.
TWP was known for such productions as Ten Lost Years, Chicago 70, Coming Through the Slaughter and The Wobbly.
Mr. Luscombe, who was born in 1926, left TWP in 1986, the Sun reported, and taught at the University of Guelph until failing health forced him to retire.
TWP was one of first and few alternative theatres in Toronto, and Mr. Luscombe, known for his abrasive manner and politically-charged works, liked to develop collaboratively, with imput from company members.
The Sun reported that he was strongly influenced by experimental director Joan Littlewood (Oh, What a Lovely War!), his teacher in Great Britain. “TWP was the really politically active theatre in Toronto,” Canadian theatre director and historian Richard Ouzounian told Playbill On-Line Feb. 8. Although the TWP company disbanded, the space was preserved and is now the home the city’s gay and lesbian theatre company.
“He was incredibly feisty, irascible,” said Ouzounian. “He never lost his fine anger. Until the very end he cared deeply about political concerns and that theater could be a political force.”
When Mr. Luscombe appeared on the Toronto theatre scene in the 1960s, Ouzounian observed, “It was like a tonic, because ‘Canadian theater’ at that point was British imports, American imports or Canadians trying to write like British and American writers.”
And while Americans’ alternative theatre tended to expose problems and issues of the day, Mr. Luscombe’s work explored the current and the past: Ten Lost Years was about the Depression years in Canada, and The Mac Paps was about Canadian servicemen in the Spanish Civil War.
“He always had an acute sense of history,” said Ouzounian, who added that Mr. Luscombe “energized” an entire generation of theatre artists, including actor-writers like Eric Peterson (Billy Bishop Goes to War).
According to the Sun, in 1997 he told an interviewer, “You need to get young people out to see the country...there’s a lot wrong here that needs to be dealt with, and you won’t do it by seeing Phantom of the Opera.”
Luscombe is survived by his wife, Mona, and daughters Karen and Nadine.
-- By Kenneth Jones