Martin Hunter

Martin Hunter Portrait
Artistic Director
1972 - 1978
Select Productions:
• Sergeant Musgrave's Dance (1970)
• Macbeth (1976)

Martin Hunter (1933 – Present) perhaps possesses the most “documented” histories of all Artistic Directors; his two memoirs (Young Hunting and Still Hunting) extensively detail his adventures in the world of theatre, business and politics. An actor, playwright, director, salesman, philanthropist, and brief member of the Department External Affairs, Hunter has lived a life as that of the characters he brought to life on the Hart House stage.

Born in 1933 in Toronto, his father Kenneth Martin Hunter was a successful paper magnate, who rose through the ranks to become President of the Buntin Reid Paper Company (a company Martin would later work with). Hunter had demonstrated from an early age an avocation for the theatre – he recalls after seeing a production of Cinderella at Margaret Eaton Hall (a company that earlier artistic director Bertram Forsyth had helped found) that he knew he “wanted to be a part of that magical world.”1 He began acting with the Toronto Children’s Players company (run by Dorothy Goulding Massey) at age six, and spent several summers in training at the Massey family farm/retreat “Dentonia Park.”2 His early years are also notable for his friendship with acclaimed cartoonist, Richard Williams (winner of an Academy Award for Who Framed Roger Rabbit) who produced numerous caricatures of Hunter.

Enrolling in Trinity College Hunter by his admission spent his years “socializing and partying when I might have been more profitably employed… in the libraries. But I had no regrets then and have none now.”3 Much of his time was also dedicated to the theatre where, as a young protege of Robert Gill acting in The Boy with the Cart and the Wild Duck. He was among a generation of Gill actors that included Leon Major, Donald Sutherland, Hal Jackman, William Hutt, John Douglas and George McCowan—a tight clique, as Gill readily offered, whose “entree was talent.” 4 Upon graduation in 1955 Hunter was recruited into the Department of External Affairs responsible for communications with Canada’s mission in Cambodia and Laos. However after his marriage to Judy Cunningham he decided to “bow to conventional expectations” and give into his father’s expectations that he join the paper company.5 He continued to pursue his theatrical ambitions, and at the 1967 Dominion Drama Festival was awarded “Best Canadian Play in the Festival” for Out Flew the Web and Floated Wide—called a “truly Canadian interior” by adjudicator Robertson Davies.6 Martin took this charge to heart, his productions of Hamlet (1972), Macbeth (1975) and The Cherry Orchard (1977) renewed the Theatre’s role in mentoring Canadian talent and included such actors as Reed and Dan Needles, Rod and Douglas Beattie, RH Thomson, and David Gardner. As Ann Saddlemeyer suggested, Hunter “restored Hart House to what it was in its earliest days, a true community theatre.”7 Hunter was also instrumental in the creation of the University of Toronto’s undergraduate drama program in 1973. With no money or official space Hunter conducted small classes on theatre practice out of the Glen Morris Studio Theatre. In its second year the course grew from eight to sixty-three students.

Following a third year that drew in nearly one hundred students the University announced that it would formally establish an undergraduate theatre program, although Hunter would not be invited to direct it and students would not be allowed to audition for Hart House shows.8 Throughout the 1970s Hunter continued to expand his educational efforts, launching the Toronto Youth Theatre in 1976 out of the Glen Morris Studio Theatre, as he argued “the best way to learn about the theatre is to be in the thick of it.”9 Hunter’s approach to directing was reminiscent of Robert Gill no-nonsense approach. Believing a good theatre director requires “a good eye, a good ear, a certain amount of intelligence, a lot of sensitivity and flexibility.”10 Saddlemeyer’s replacement Michael Sidnell had obvious disagreements with Hunter’s approach. Perhaps reflecting the growing divide between the academic and practical approaches to theatre education with Hunter’s contract ending in 1978 the Graduate Centre decided to leave the position of artistic director vacant. As Hunter suggested upon his departure, “theatre’s don’t operate without direction. It’s not that I”m so remarkable, but if you don’t replace me with a capable director you won’t be running this theatre in another two or three years.”11 

As Hunter predicted in 1978 the Graduate Centre moved out of Hart House and into the newly constructed Robert Gill Theatre (in the Koffler Centre), and by 1986 the Hart House Theatre was operating as a rental venue. In his life after Hart House, Hunter has continued to wear many different hats. Some of his many pursuits include; serving as a critic and culture columnist for publications like Toronto Life, Toronto Star and Canadian Art; writing profiles for CBC IDEAS on Robertson Davies and Sir Wilfred Laurier; and running his family’s charitable foundation the KM Hunter Charitable foundation. He continues to work on the Hart House stage, directing in 2005 Timothy Findley’s The Stillborn Lover (Findley had been longtime friend of Hunter’s) and staging his original work The Gentleman Caller, based on the life of Tennessee Williams, in 2011.


Show 11 footnotes

  1. Martin Hunter, Young Hunting: A Memoir (Toronto: ECW Press, 2008), 67.
  2. Ibid., 70.
  3. Ibid., 164.
  4. Young Hunting, 138.
  5. Martin Hunter, Still Hunting: A Memoir (Toronto: ECW Press, 2013), 18.
  6. Herbert Whittaker, “Hunter Big Winner in CODL Finals,” The Globe and Mail, March 20, 1967.

    Joining the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama as a Dramaturge in 1968 where he directed student production’s including Caucasian Chalk Circle and Man’s a Man. Upon Ann Saddlemeyer’s appointment to Director of the Graduate Centre in 1972 Hunter was asked to assume the role of artistic director. After two years of controversially employing a professional company for its full season, Hunter and Saddlemeyer determined to return Hart House Theatre to its former position as a dual community-student training ground, a move Urjo Kareda remarked that returned to students the feeling that “the university theatre belongs to them.”[6. Urjo Kareda, “Hart House Theatre Starts New Program,” Toronto Star, June 20, 1972.

  7. Still Hunting, 198.
  8. Ibid., 196.
  9. John Fraser, “Hunter Revives Youth theatre,” The Globe and Mail, May 12, 1976.
  10. Still Hunting, 190.
  11. Ibid., 230.