Former artistic director talks about love of Confederation Centre

Published on May 28, 2014

Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

©Guardian photo

While his years at Confederation Centre were not without controversy, former Charlottetown Festival artistic director Walter Learning says he loved every minute of his tenure there.

Speaking Tuesday as part of the centre’s Circle Around The Centre luncheon series, Learning spoke of the controversy surrounding the production of Are You Lonesome Tonight.

That production, which looked at the life of Elvis Presley, caused something of a stir because of some of the language in the show, in particular the use of the f-word.

Learning noted that Catherine Callbeck, then chairman of the centre’s board of directors, resigned from the board because of it. Callbeck returned to politics not long after that.

Learning said in a way he helped to create the first female premier in Canada.

Learning said he also generated a stir when he made changes to the festival’s production of Anne of Green Gables which reflected upon some of the darker aspects of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved novel.

The late Jack MacAndrew took exception to some of the changes Learning made and devoted a magazine article to saying as much.

“He ripped me apart,” said Learning.

Still, Learning said he had great respect and admiration for MacAndrew. He noted MacAndrew booked a number of touring productions from Theatre New Brunswick when he (Learning) was artistic director there.

MacAndrew died last Friday in hospital in Charlottetown. His funeral will be held this morning at St. Peter’s Cathedal at 11 o’clock.

Learning said he also owed a great debt to one of the centre’s founding fathers, Mavor Moore.

“Mavor was responsible for me going to the Canada Council. He was also responsible for me going to the Confederation Centre as artistic director.”

He said Moore put the role of the centre and its importance to the cultural life of the country into perspective for him one day by referencing his (Moore’s) experience of standing in the ruins of one of the great amphitheatres of ancient Greece.

“We stood in Memorial Hall...Mavor said ‘this too is beautiful, if you don’t love it, if you don’t care for it, this too will be lost.’”

Learning noted that 27 years ago this year he was in rehearsals for a season that featured Anne of Green Gables, Babies and Are You Lonesome Tonight. When he thinks of his years at the centre he said he thinks of all the people he had the pleasure of working with, of the cast, the crew and the centre staff.

“I loved every minute of being at the centre, I loved the people I worked with,” Learning said.

During Tuesday’s luncheon, former centre employee Ann Bond spoke with great fondness of her former boss, MacAndrew.

He was a friend, mentor and confidanteto so many at the centre, she said.

“This building is MacAndrew,” Bond said. “He put his stamp on this building.”

She said MacAndrew nurtured the centre through many of its growing pains and fought for his vision of what the centre should be. She said MacAndrew made a point of knowing everything that was happening at the centre when he was there and took an interest in everybody who worked there.

MacAndrew was toasted by all with champagne.