Imagination Society Founders

Howard and Joan Golberg

The story of Joan and Howard Golberg’s association with Centaur Theatre is one of enduring passion and steadfast dedication that began more than 45 years ago.

Howard’s love of theatre dates back even farther to his childhood when he and his parents took in the big touring musicals like My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Guy Street in downtown Montreal. He had close relatives living in New York City at the time so he also attended a fair share of Broadway productions, which cemented his lifelong love of theatre. 

Howard was actually responsible for introducing Joan to theatre in the 1970s when they went to NYC for the weekend. From the moment the house lights went down Joan was totally engaged, to the point where she screamed out loud during a particularly spine-chilling scene. 

From then on theatre was a vibrant part of Howard and Joan’s social and cultural activities. Not only do the two keeners make regular pilgrimages to NYC but they also take frequent trips to Ottawa to catch plays at the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company(GCTC). When they travel abroad, they like to make a pit stop in London so they can check out what the Brits are up to in the West End.

The couple had been attending Centaur plays religiously since its seventh season (1976) so when Fergus Keyes, Centaur Theatre’s Chairman approached Howard about joining the board, he agreed enthusiastically. As Howard and Joan became more cognizant of the inner workings of a non-profit theatre company and contributed to its progressive betterment, they evolved from audience members to proactive members of Montreal’s theatre community at large. In 2016 Howard assumed the mantle of Chairman of the Board for three seasons and though he misses being as intimately involved with Centaur as he was during his board years, the pair’s devotion to Centaur is unwavering. 

Each of them enjoys different aspects of the theatre-going experience. As Howard puts it, “I watch the play but Joan lives it!” Joan likes to come out of a play with a smile on her face and feeling good. She also loves Centaur Theatre’s social activities, such as the Dinner with Friends events and the annual fundraising gala

For Howard, theatre is more than entertainment; it’s a learning experience. It introduces new interpretations of history, provokes self-reflection, and stimulates critical thinking. He is very proud that Centaur’s creative output embodies these values in addition to promoting local artists and presenting new plays alongside classic and contemporary masterworks. “Theatre is important, especially now during lockdown. Instead of streaming movies or watching television, we watch as much virtual theatre as we can.”

In the four and half decades that Joan and Howard have been coming to Centaur, choosing their favourite experiences out of so many memorable performances is a tall order. The 1979 world premiere of Balconville, written by David Fennario, Montreal’s ‘enfant terrible’ of theatre at the time, immediately came to mind as they both exclaimed, “Fabulous!” More recently, the 2017 production of Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story held them spellbound. They were astonished to learn that Shaun Smyth, (portraying Fleury in the one-man show), had to learn to skate to create the illusion of being a professional NHL player, delivering the shocking, rollercoaster of a story on skates for the duration of the play. They also like to stay for the informative post-show talkbacks and found that one particularly fascinating. 

Their different perceptions watching a play often baffle Howard, prompting him to wonder occasionally whether they saw the same play at all! He’ll rave about something that didn’t grab Joan’s attention at all or she’ll gush about a play that allowed him to catch a few winks. But that never stops them from coming back year after year because, as Joan says, “It’s been part of our lives for so long, we just have to continue supporting Centaur. When Centaur initiated the Imagination Society, we knew it was time to go beyond making an annual donation and subscribing every season.”

It’s no surprise that Howard and Joan’s long-time love affair with Centaur inspired this lively couple to become two of the first twenty patrons to bequeath Centaur Theatre in their wills, thereby becoming founding members of the Imagination Society. In so doing, they hope to encourage other Centaur Theatre patrons to transform their fervour for theatre into a meaningful gift that enables theatre to not only survive, but to thrive long into the future.