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John Hirsch was born in Hungary in 1930. He came to Canada in 1947 at age 17 through the War Orphans Project of the Canadian Jewish Congress. This project worked with children under 18 who had survived the Holocaust but no longer had an adult to act as guardian. He was taken in by Alex and Pauline Shack, and their daughter Sybil, in Winnipeg and continued a close relationship with the family throughout his life.
In 1952, Hirsch graduated with a BA in English literature from the University of Manitoba. He established a puppet theatre before co-founding Theatre 77 with Tom Hendry in 1957. In 1958, Hirsch and Hendry amalgamated Theatre 77 with Winnipeg Little Theatre into the Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC). This theatre became the model for regional theatre through Canada and the United States. Hirsch was the first artistic director of MTC and stayed until 1966 when he then became co-artistic director at the Stratford Festival from 1967-1969. From 1974-1978, he was head of CBC’s television drama. Hirsch was consulting artistic director at the Seattle Repertory Theatre from 1979-1981. He returned to the Stratford Festival as artistic director from 1981-1985.
Hirsch is recognized as one of Canada’s most prominent theatre directors. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1967. He also received Obie, Outer Circle Critics' and Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Awards for his productions in the United States. The John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer was established by the Manitoba Foundation for the Arts in 1989 to honour him.
Hirsch died on August 1, 1989 in Toronto after being ill with AIDS.
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Revised by N. Courrier (September 2018). Revised by M. Horodyski (October 2018).