Tenure:1929 - 1934
Select Productions:• The Wizard of Oz
• Peer Gynt
• A Comedy of Errors
• Major Barbara
Edgar Jocelyn Stone (1897-1977) was not just the fifth artistic director of Hart House Theatre, he was also a Hart House Theatre alumnus. Stone was born in the year 1897 in Toronto, Ontario to parents he described as “poor but honest.”1 What was remarkable, however, was that Stone became interested in theatre since his early childhood, owing to a nearly deadly accident.
As a child, a young Edgar Stone broke two of his ribs, and was consequently confined to his bed for rest and recuperation. His mother sought to distract him from his pain by giving him a magazine which had an article in it about how to create a Tony Sarg puppet out of a darning egg. It was this article which inspired Edgar to get involved with theatre—but with puppets. After all, his darning egg puppets led him to glove puppets; glove puppets led him to ventriloquism; ventriloquism led to an ownership of a puppet theatre. Stone’s skills in directorship, design, stagecraft, and lighting, like many others theatre people who came from Canada, were largely self-taught. The result was that by the time Edgar Stone was out of barely out of his teens, he was a regular vaudevillian in Saturday matinees.2
He never finished his education because he was too eager to enlist in the First World War, and ended up getting stationed on the west coast of Ireland, working with the comedian George Grossmith. His readjustment to civilian life and finding work in the theatre started out as a challenge, until Hart House Theatre opened in 1919. Almost immediately, Stone decided to work in Hart House Theatre as an actor and director of student productions, especially during the tenures of Roy Mitchell and Bertram Forsyth. But when Carroll Aikins suddenly resigned in 1929, Vincent Massey personally requested Edgar Stone to become the artistic director of Hart House Theatre. In 1929, however, Edgar Stone was already working an nine-to-five job for the Ontario Government Film Bureau, a small-time position he had held since 1927. Instead of refusing the position of Hart House Theatre’s artistic director, Stone took on both jobs at once, working five-to-nine Monday to Friday at Hart House Theatre. Stone’s interest in theatre and relative prosperity inspired him to marry the amateur actress Agnes Isobel Muldrew, an alumnus of the University of Toronto with an M.A. in biochemistry, in 1930, . She had not only participated in some Hart House Theatre shows, but she had also appeared in prize-winning Dominion drama festival plays such as The Poacher and The Cradle Song.3
Edgar Stone’s tenure at Hart House Theatre was marked, in some degree, by populism, spectacle, and student participation. He did not shy away from staging children’s shows, such as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, alongside epic and canonical dramas such as Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Goethe’s Faust. Since all of the aforementioned plays required a large cast, decorative sets, and complex lighting, it is no wonder Stone decided to increase student participation, a policy that had been gaining favour with the board of Syndics, as the University of Toronto had no established school for drama. But of course not all his were instant successes. Lawrence Mason, a critic from The Globe, derided Stone’s stagecraft of Faust as “gallantly attempting the physically impossible.”4 Stone was lucky, however: his production of epic dramas was greatly aided by the fact that major renovations were being made at Hart House to allow more space for backstage storage and rehearsal.
Between 1934 and 1935, he decided to leave Hart House Theatre to participate in establishing Canadian radio.5 Edgar Stone’s contributions to theatre in Canada move beyond Hart House Theatre, however. He became a pioneer in Canadian film, radio, drama education, and was one of the first directors of the Dominion Drama Festival (DDF), and plays under his direction won top awards. Locally, he founded the Central Ontario region wing of the DDF, the purpose of which was to develop acting and directorial talents in Toronto and Ottawa. His achievements led to his appointment in 1948 as Drama Adviser to the Community Programs Branch of the Ontario Department of Education. He died in 1977, thirty-one years after his wife.6
- Anonymous, Boxoffice (Toronto, Ontario), 111.24, Sep. 19, 1977: K-3. Herbert Whittaker, “Showbusiness: Elder Statesman of Young Theatre,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), May 30, 1959: 13. ↩
- Whittaker, “Showbusiness,” 13. ↩
- Anonymous, “Mrs. Edgar Stone: Singularly Gifted In Art of Stage,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), Feb. 18, 1946: 7. ↩
- Lawrence Mason, “Music and the Drama,” The Globe (Toronto, Ontario), Feb. 23, 1932: 10. ↩
- Partington, “Theatre: A Matter of Direction,” 96. ↩
- Herbert Whittaker, “Showbusiness: Elder Statesman of Young Theatre,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), May 30, 1959: 13. Anonymous, “Name Edgar Stone Drama Adviser,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), Nov. 27, 1948: 9. ↩