Alvin J. Shaw
Alvin John Shaw (director, producer, professor) was born on 30 August 1921 in Owen Sound, Ontario to Norman L. Shaw and Edith Shaw. When he was two years old, his mother passed away, leaving him to be raised primarily by his grandmother (“Biographical Sketch”). He attended the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute and was a frequent participant in school drama productions (Shaw, Drama Scrapbooks: Vol. 1).
From 1942 to 1946, he served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War (Vol. 4). After completing his service, he studied at the Khaki University of Canada in Britain for a year, an overseas college organized by the Canadian Army. He was active in the theatre community there and was vice-president of the Dramatic Society (Vol. 1). Shaw continued his university education back in Canada at the University of Toronto. There, he joined the Dramatic Society, working extensively under director Robert Gill at the Hart House Theatre to perform in over fourteen productions (Vol. 2). Shaw began to develop his directorial skills during this time. While he did not wish to pursue an acting career, he did desire to contribute to the larger theatre community and to artistic education. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950 with honours, earning a Bachelor of Arts and receiving the W. J. Andrew Award for outstanding contribution to drama during his years there (Vol. 2).
Immediately after, Shaw began working at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton as a professor of Romance Languages (Vol. 3). He quickly established himself as a creative force on campus, aiding in the development of UNB’s radio station and programming. He became chairman of the university’s radio production committee to help students organize radio plays and schedules, beginning with the broadcast of a documentary-style show titled “The Story of UNB” (Vol. 3). The next year, he was elected the new director of the Drama Society (Vol. 3). His focus for the theatre community at UNB was accessibility and creating spaces for students to be involved in the arts regardless of their future career plans. Shaw would also work to challenge his young actors through theatre, unafraid to tackle shows with difficult or controversial subject matter. Examples include his work on Antigone in 1954, described by one local reviewer as “yet another ambitious production” where Shaw demonstrated his acting talent as well as his directorial ability (Vincent 12). Similarly, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 1966 was specifically noted for its exceptional audience reception (“Today Last Day” 16).
During his time at UNB, Shaw’s work in community theatre would spread to the whole province. In 1953, he was appointed as a governor of the Dominion Drama Festival (Shaw Vol. 5), and then as regional chairman for New Brunswick in 1955 (Vol. 6). The Dominion Drama Festival was a national competition that focused on helping to foster amateur theatre in Canada, starting with regional events that led to an annual festival where awards were given to the best productions (Gardner). That same year, Shaw received the Canadian Drama Award for the contributions he was making to community theatre in Canada (Vol. 6). He was also elected as president of the New Brunswick Drama League and was chairman of the annual Dominion Drama Festival theatre conference (Vol. 6). Shaw worked to establish Fredericton’s theatrical scene as an equal of others in Canada, helping to solidify connections with other Atlantic Canadian companies, such as Neptune Theatre in Nova Scotia, and fostering community theatre in areas that otherwise did not have opportunities to participate in the arts (Vol. 17). He eventually was appointed to the position of vice-president for the Dominion Drama Festival in 1969, transitioning the organization to its new form as Theatre Canada (Vol. 27). With this shift, Shaw attempted to put emphasis back on the festival part of the event, wishing to pull away from unnecessary feelings of competition and instead strengthen Canadian community theatre through cooperation.
In the latter half of his career, Shaw was part of the board of governors for not only the Fredericton Playhouse but also for the National Theatre School (“Alvin John Shaw”). He was an early supporter of and contributor to Theatre New Brunswick, whose co-founder Walter Learning was a former student (Vol. 26). His first production with the company, Inadmissible Evidence in 1969, gained praise for “get[ting] behind the theatre and deal[ing] with the problems of existence itself” (R. P. 5). In 1980, Shaw was awarded the first-ever New Brunswick Drama Award for his work in the community. Over the term of his employment at UNB, he led the Drama Society to forty-three awards and four national-level competitions (“Alvin John Shaw”). At his retirement in 1988, he was named professor emeritus (“Alvin John Shaw”).
Shaw continued to live in Fredericton until his death on 9 April 1992 (“Biographical Sketch”). His vision of accessible community engagement in theatre continues through two scholarships at UNB, the Alvin Shaw Memorial Scholarship in Theatre and the Alvin Shaw Memorial Scholarship in Drama Production (“Drama Scholarships”). In addition, two academic prizes bear his name: the Alvin J. Shaw Prize in Theatre Arts and the Alvin J. Shaw Prize in Spanish (“Alvin J. Shaw Prize”).
Georgia MacNaughton, Fall 2019
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Shaw, Alvin J. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 1. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 2. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 3. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 4. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 5. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 6. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 17. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 26. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Drama Scrapbooks: Volume 27. Personal scrapbook, Ser. 1, Sub-ser. 2. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
---. Theatre Awards. Personal collection, Ser. 4. UNB Archives & Special Collections, Fredericton, NB.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
“Alvin John Shaw.” UNB Archives & Special Collections. 2014. U of New Brunswick. 23 Oct. 2019 <https://unbhistory.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Alvin_John_Shaw>.
“Alvin J. Shaw Prize in Spanish.” UNB.ca. 23 Oct. 2019. U of New Brunswick. <https://www.unb.ca/academics/calendar/undergraduate/current/awards/search/alvin-j-shaw-prize-in-spanish.html>.
“Biographical Sketch - Alvin Shaw Fonds.” UNB Archives & Special Collections. 19 Dec. 2001. U of New Brunswick. 22 Oct. 2019
“Drama Scholarships and Prizes.” UNB.ca. U of New Brunswick. 23 Oct. 2019.<https://www.unb.ca/arts/departments/english/undergrad/drama/scholarships.html>.
Gardner, David. “Dominion Drama Festival.” Canadian Encyclopedia. 25 June 2014. Historica Canada. 29 June 2020
R. P. “Play Well Received on Opening Night.” Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 12 Feb. 1969: 5.
“Today Last Day for Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman.’” Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 1 Feb. 1966: 16.
Vincent, Betty Lou. “‘Antigone’ Proves Ambitious Effort.” Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 24 Nov. 1954: 12.