Chuck Childs has been a strong advocate for the English Montréal theatre community for many decades. His role as Centaur Theatre’s General Manager has placed him as a leader in the arts scene in Montreal. His passion and dedication to this city’s thriving artistic community and his efforts to reach across the divide to our francophone collaborators has earned him the prestigious Prix Sentinelle, presented to him by the CQT (Conseil Québécois du Théâtre).
Centaur Theatre is so proud to have Chuck at the heart of our organization. Artistic Associate Rose Plotek sat down with Chuck to ask him a bit about his life in the theatre and what this prize means to him.
What made you pursue life in the theatre?
Well, school was never something I thought was a particularly good idea for me. My grade nine homeroom teacher wrote in my report card, “Is school really the best place for Charles?” But that started to change when I took industrial arts, which was woodwork and metal work, and in the second year it was technical drawing. One day that teacher gave me his keys, said take the tools you need and go to the stage and install the four doorknobs that are needed in the four doors. It was the set of Harvey. It was great fun! I liked that much better than being in class. I didn’t get the doorknobs done during that class period but he signed me out of my next classes so I could finish. Then I was truly hooked! I went on to work on the stage crew of that show. But it didn’t improve my schoolwork …
I ended up going to a private boarding school, and it was the best thing for me. Within two months I was building the set for Oliver on Sundays in the basement of the chapel. And I stage managed the show, and was involved in all the theatre stuff from then on. The school was very forward thinking and I got a huge amount of support. When it came time to decide if I was going to go on to become a civil engineer, which is what I have all the aptitudes for, my choice was to go to Waterloo, which had the best engineering program in the country but it took five years to do that degree OR there was a brand new technical theatre program at Ryerson, that was only two years long!
My father said “Is this what you really want to do?” I said “Yes! I really love it and I want to do a job I really love”, and he said, “Well it’s not the most secure profession and I don’t think it pays very well. And I’ve noticed that you like nice wine and food, and are you sure this is what you really want to do?”, and I said, “It will be okay because every day I will get up in the morning and WANT to go to work”. And my father said, “Fine!”
So I went on to Ryerson in the production course. It was in fact the first year they were offering this program. After two years of that program I went on and started in the business. I’ve been incredibly fortunate, I’ve been unemployed for maybe four weeks in the last forty-seven years!
How did your theatre journey in Montreal start?
I started at the then Saidye Bronfman Centre (now the Segal Centre) as a stage manager. When the Assistant Stage Manager left, my boss hired Anne Clark, who had done a year of training at the Banff Centre. During the first show we did together it was clear she was a far superior stage manager than I would ever be, so she took over my job and I became Production Manager for the company. I was there as production manager for five years. During which time I asked that stage manager to marry me and fortunately for me she agreed!
It was around that time that Maurice Podbrey [Centaur Founding Artistic Director] called me and said they were looking for a production manager. Centaur had just finished its ninth season, the last four years of which were after the building’s renovations. I joined at the beginning of the tenth anniversary season.
I was Production Manager through until the early 90s and then a lot of transitions happened. It was a difficult time, when a lot of government funding was cut and we received no funding increases. We needed to trim back the organization and unfortunately we needed to let some people go. I told Maurice he’d need a General Manager to make sure that what those folks had been doing was being taken care of, to make sure that things were still getting done. Maurice said, “Great; you do that!”
To be a little corny about it, for those who are given a lot, a lot is expected. I feel lucky and it’s that sense of responsibility, as someone who’s somewhat of a leader in the Montreal English community, I have a responsibility to do what I can to support the community, to put my focus on theatre and the arts in this city, and support future generations.
What does it mean to you to be receiving this award from CQT? You are the first Anglophone to receive this award, what significance does that have?
I have to say I was completely stunned and very, very honored. There are very impressive people in Quebec culture who have been given this award in the past and being the first Anglophone means a lot. I was very touched.
I was very moved to be recognized by CQT because one of the things that I’ve worked the hardest at is the rapprochement between the English and the French communities, and that has happened despite the fact that I really don’t speak French well. I speak more French now than I did ten years ago and up until the pandemic, we had French classes here at the theatre two days a week, which was very helpful.
I’ve always felt it’s a shame that we don’t work closer together. And it is difficult because we work under two different collective agreements and that fundamentally means we work differently. And consequently there is always a sort of a lack of understanding from both sides. So I’ve worked very hard at trying to understand the French system and how it’s evolved and at the same time, try to articulate how our system works and how it has evolved. Today I feel that that rapprochement is happening, now more than ever. I’m so encouraged that Centaur is developing projects with French companies. I can see all the work over the years of reaching out is truly paying off.