Epstein bids adieu to the Guild

Eric Epstein is making his final stage exit from the Guild Theatre. After nine years and 32 Guild productions, Epstein is stepping away from his position as artistic director.

Eric Epstein is making his final stage exit from the Guild Theatre.

After nine years and 32 Guild productions, Epstein is stepping away from his position as artistic director.

What comes next for Epstein, who has been in the theatre business for almost 40 years, is unclear.

But he’s hinting at a move down south to continue acting and directing.

“I won’t be moving at any immediate time,” he said coyly.

“But it’s something that might come up, that might draw me away.”

That pull could come from Vancouver, the city that Epstein started his career in as an actor in the early ‘70s.

That’s where he attended theatre school at the University of British Columbia. It’s also where he started the Vancouver Shakespeare Festival in 1984, which later morphed into the well-known Bard on the Beach series.

But in his second year with the festival he was lured north, which was fortunate for Epstein because things started to unravel with his company.

It was running out of money and a bus strike hit Vancouver the opening day of the festival.

“Basically things weren’t working out for us,” said Epstein.

“At the same time I had an opportunity to go up north and work for the Guild. So I went up north.”

Epstein had been asked to fly to Whitehorse to direct Tartuffe, a play about a French imposter.

A longtime friendship with local musician, Dave Haddock, whom Epstein went to high school with, further encouraged him to take the trip. Haddock gave Epstein a place to crash while directing Tartuffe.

Epstein’s directing stint in Whitehorse marked the beginning of a 25-year relationship with the Guild.

Throughout the ‘80s Epstein continued to travel to the Yukon to work on Guild productions. At the same time he was being courted by the Frostbite Music Festival to direct their festivals.

Finally in 2000 Epstein decided to make the move up north where he was offered the position as the artistic director of the Guild.

Even with his previous experiences with the guild, the beginning of that role was a rocky one.

“My first show after being hired on was Chorus of Disapproval – it was the most challenging play to put on that you could ever imagine,” he said.

“But the fact that we pulled it off successfully opened up the level of things we could undertake at the Guild.”

Epstein widened the variety of plays on tap at the theatre.

That included adding musicals and politically charged plays to the bill, productions the Guild didn’t regularly immerse itself in.

“We put shows like the Accidental Death of an Anarchist in the shadow of 9-11 when people were afraid to laugh at anything and we actually made a couple Bin Laden jokes,” he said.

Other notable shows were Urinetown, Proof and Lysistrada, he said.

Scouting out professional actors to play the roles was also hugely important for Epstein especially because the Guild plays the role of a regional theatre company for the Yukon, he said.

“Other community theatres are more about process and the learning experience for actors,” he said.

“The Guild is a theatre primarily aimed at quality.”

In the 2003 production of Hair, Epstein brought in well-known indie musician Veda Hille as musical director for the show.

“She didn’t like the music at first but then ended up recording one of the songs from the show on her album,” said Epstein with a laugh.

As artistic director for the Guild, Epstein still kept his acting hat on, often appearing in many of the plays the Guild presented.

“I take the greatest delight in acting,” he said.

But theatre administration has been his forte lately.

While living in Whitehorse Epstein has had his finger in almost every theatrical pot in the territory.

That includes Nakai Theatre, Separate Reality theatre company, the Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble, the Yukon Arts Centre (where he is currently artistic director) and True West.

Epstein still plans to be involved with the Yukon Arts Centre for the 2010/2011 season and hopes to do future work with the Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble.

It’s a good time to be bringing in someone new to the Guild Theatre, he said.

Once Epstein leaves at the end of May, Katherine McCallum, who has been publicity and production manager with the Guild for the

past year, will step in to take his place.

“Katherine has great skills to bring people into the next decade,” he said.

It’s also a perfect time for Epstein to be moving on.

“This last season at the Guild has been a very strong one,” said Epstein.

“It’s a good wrap up for me. I cherish the Guild and will offer what I can in the future to ensure its health and growth.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com