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What's in a name?

Honouring the faculty for whom our studios were named.

By Jeanette Reyes

Tony Abrams

Namesake of the former black box studio theatre on the 2nd floor of 44 Gerrard St East.

A bald person looks directly at the camera
a set in a small black box theatre resembles a dinner.

Abrams Studio Theatre, formerly on the 2nd floor of 44 Gerrard St. E - famous for the support pole that grace the middle of the playing space. Here, pictured with the set for Balm in Gilead, for the 2014/15 Season, directed by Philp Akin, set design by Brennan Emon.

When I took trips to the library for archives, almost every single show had the credit “designed by Tony Abrams.” He was the jack of all trades, specializing in costume, set, lighting, and sound design. 

Tony Abrams was born in England and was an exceptional student from the get-go. When he was young, he strongly preferred listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on the radio, rather than the popular music of the time. Around the age of 15, he watched a live opera for the first time and, from then on, fell in love with music and theatre. He initially pursued education and got his diploma. Tony would teach during the day, and attend school in the evenings to obtain the requirements to turn his certificate into a degree. While this was going on, he was still involved in amateur theatre. As soon as X started offering theatre school courses, Tony applied as a mature student in 1977. After graduating from the production program,  he stayed at the school, immediately becoming a resident set and costume designer and part-time instructor. Faculty members saw the potential he had, as he was very dedicated to creativity and design.  He had a strong passion for teaching. In 1989, he became a regular faculty member. He was a freelance designer and helped establish the Associated Designers of Canada (ADC). He would also dedicate extra time after school or on the weekends to teach students about opera, painting, or decoration since some of those courses were not offered for credit. 

a stuff pinked snake looks silly coiled on the floor

Missing: Pink Snake

Tony Abrams was a key figure in designing the sets and costumes that went on stage at the school. In almost every article I could find about our past productions, his name would always be credited as the designer of the shows. He always hid strange artifacts into his sets, often including this pink snake. The school's mascot has been missing for years; if anyone has any stories of other sneaky stuffed animals or information on the snake's whereabouts, please connect with us!

Best Friends

Jean Charles Black recalls “My Tony” - as she calls him - as her best friend.  He  had a great sense of humour and accompanied her many times when travelling with students to London and Russia. Because he would often design for productions, he and Jean would collaborate to make the best costumes. Both were quite stern, as they believed in hard work and dedication to bring the best results. They made workdays into fun days, being able to hang out with one another doing the things they love most -costume and design! 

Two people look at a drawing of a mole in a fancy suit.

Tony Abrams with friend and fellow faculty member Jean Charles Black discussing design ideas. Photo courtesy of X Archives and Special Collections.

Tony's Legacy

Tony Abrams taught right up until his passing, at the age of 54 on December 1st, 1996. He passed away exactly 25 years ago, during the the 25th anniversary year of the school leading up to the winter break. That year, Tony designed the set and costumes for Romeo and Juliet and Lysistrata. Bob Vernon (past carpenter) took over the final design tasks for the pieces in Tony’s honour. The entire school attended his funeral. When he passed, Peter Fleming (current staff member) inherited his office and has kept many of his things in his honour. 

Tip: If you pass by Peter’s office today and spot a giant “W,” ask him about it!

Tony’s dedication to education and theatre embodies what the school continually aims to achieve with all it’s students. Tony Abrams passed away at an early age, and many saw his potential. At his passing, staff and faculty collectively decided to name the studio theatre after him. His yearning for education would inspire other students to continually achieve their dreams in the performing arts. 

A plaque reads "Tony Abrams. 1942-1996, May his passion for life live on through us all". A picture of Tony Abrams in the middle

Photo of the plaque that was displayed beside the entrance of the Abrams Studio Theatre. Photo courtesy of the School of Performance Archives.

*The Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force has submitted its final report with recommendation to develop principles to guide commemoration at the university and to respond to the history and legacy of the university's namesake. Included in the list of 22 recommendations agreed to by the university's administration, is the call to change the university's name.