Ken and Morris

Morris Panych

Ken MacDonald


The Overcoat

About Ken

About Morris


Ken was educated in Vancouver where he graduated from the Art Education Department at UBC in 1972 and received his teaching certificate. He taught high school art for five years before leaving the profession and setting off on his own, beginning as resident designer for the Belfry Theatre.

From the Shaw Festival Brochure:

In his sixth season with the Shaw Festival, Ken MacDonald designed the set for the Morris Panych adaptation of Hotel Peccadillo. Last season he designed the set for Design for Living. His other recent credits for The Shaw are You Never Can Tell (2005), Nothing Sacred (2004) and The Coronation Voyage (2003). He first joined The Shaw in 1980 for Puttin on the Ritz.

Ken has designed at many theatres across Canada. He has designed for all the major theatres in Vancouver (The Vancouver Playhouse, Arts Club Theatre, The Vancouver Opera) as well as many productions at the Tarragon Theatre and Canadian Stage in Toronto, and an opera at the Banff Centre.

Ken has designed the premieres of the plays 7 Stories, Vigil, Ends of the Earth, Lawrence and Holloman, Earshot, The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl and other plays by Morris Panych. Other selected credits include: Hysteria, Amadeus and Sweeney Todd (CanStage) and Hamlet, Art and Arsenic and Old Lace (Arts Club, Vancouver). Most recently Ken designed Habeas Corpus for CanStage. His opera credits include Susannah,The Rakes Progress and The Threepenny Opera (Vancouver Opera).

He designed the set for The Overcoat, a non-verbal piece first developed at Vancouver Studio 58, which then went on to the Vancouver Playhouse and CanStage. It was recently brought back to CanStage for a second run, due to its success and acclaim. In 2004 the Barbican Centre in London hosted the CanStage production of The Overcoat for five performances as part of its BITE (Barbican International Theatre Events) series. The play began a US tour in January 2005 and most recently appeared at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. He has also adapted The Overcoat for CBC television.

The recipient of a Gemini, 16 Jessie Richardson Awards and two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, Ken has served as an art director for music video and a designer for film. He is a frequent collaborator with director Morris Panych, as he will be at The Shaw this season with Hotel Peccadillo.


Morris graduated from Creative Writing at UBC in 1977, and had his first professional production in 1982 with Last Call for Tamahnous Theatre in Vancouver. Since that time, he has written twenty plays and adapted half a dozen others. He has twice won the Governor General Literary Award for Drama, The highest honour for playwriting in Canada.

Morris has directed eighty plays. He has also directed for film and opera, as well as music video. His acclaimed film of The Overcoat won an honourable mention at the Prix Italia

from The Canadian Encyclopedia:

Morris Panych, playwright, director, actor (b at Calgary, Alta 30 June 1952). Twice the recipient of the Governor General's Award for Drama (in 1994, and again in 2004 for Girl in the Goldfish Bowl), Morris Panych has emerged as a major figure in Canadian theatre. He is a driving force in the Vancouver and Toronto theatre communities.

Panych came to public attention for his two-hander (a play for two actors) Last Call A Post-Nuclear Cabaret (1982), which he wrote and in which he starred. The show was revised for CBC television, bringing Panych to national attention. He has since gained world notice; his play Vigil (1995, renamed Auntie & Me) played in London's West End in 2003 and in Paris in 2004 as well as in the US and in more than 30 Canadian cities. What many consider his first major play and one of his best, 7 Stories (1989), was staged in Japan in 2003. The Overcoat (1997) toured Canada after its 2001 Vancouver Playhouse remount, and has since toured the US; it has also been adapted for video by Principia Productions (2001, directed by Panych) and broadcast on the CBC.

Panych's plays reflect a humorous, dark world full of absurdist allusions. While an early play like The Story of a Sinking Man (1993) seems too directly imitative of Samuel Beckett (a man slowly sinks out of sight into the stage floor as he meditates on life and his own psychoses), the majority of the plays bring marvelously fresh and quirky observations of an existential and neurotic world, and there has been a clear maturation in style and subject through the work. Panych has, some critics contend, a tendency to bypass character development by resorting to one-liners, preventing deeper engagement. Later plays like Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, however - while no less funny than the quick-paced earlier work - show Panych more in control of his characterizations and exploring more than surface oddities. In a CBC interview in 2004, he pointed out that what fascinates him is the daily struggle of ordinary people with life's bizarre minor annoyances rather than the major social or political issues of the moment (as, for example, in the monologue Earshot, 2001, about a man driven almost mad by neighbouring noise filtering into his tiny room).

Although Panych is interested in the small and particular, he also repeatedly explores the large theme of death. In Vigil a man visits his apparently dying aunt (though the ending surprises). In 7 Stories, a Chaplinesque man aims to throw himself off a building ledge while observing the hilarious, shallow urban lives of the building's tenants; he is saved from physical death by a flight into a metatheatrical universe, a movement into art itself, where he "forgot my own story."

A similar but less positive end seals the fate of another nameless man in Panych's The Overcoat, his hugely successful reinterpretation of two short stories by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol. Co-conceived with Wendy Gorling, this wordless show eludes genre, becoming something other than (and, in fact, more than) ballet, movement theatre, mime or drama. Using characteristic filmic allusions and based in music by Shostakovich, the piece concludes a series of wordless shows built at the highly regarded Vancouver theatre school, Studio 58. Without words, these shows tap directly into the theatrical and performative, allowing the spectator to recognize - or miss - the sources, and to understand Gogol's simple narrative of a character's hopeless desire to be loved by the totalitarian society that rejects him - or to "write" another plot line onto the visual action. The play is set in an unnamed, apparently eastern European city (as is Panych's favourite of these movement shows, The Company, 1995). Panych's settings are generally undefined and somewhere at The Ends of the Earth (1994, the title of the play that earned his first Governor General's Award). His plays are set in psychological and always intensely theatrical locations, thanks in no small part to stunning set designs by Ken MacDonald.

Since 2000, Panych has directed extensively: opera, contemporary and period drama, as well as his own work. He has also acted on television (notably, The X-Files), and continues to write, the activity that most interests him. Indeed, his announced goal is to achieve his best writing. Multi-talented, driven and highly self-critical, Morris Panych will certainly continue to evolve, but he has already attained a significant place in Canadian theatre.


Sets from Design for Living

Shaw Festival 2006