David Hogan was on vacation when he heard a voice from his past on his voice mail.
“I said, I hear you’re doing Outlaw and if you haven’t cast the old fart yet, I’d like to do it.”
It was renowned Canadian actor and director Walter Learning – the man who gave Hogan, co-artistic director at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, his first role in the theatre after he finished school.
Hogan jumped at the opportunity to work with his mentor but then began thinking about it. “I said to (David) Rogers ‘How am I going to direct the great Walter Learning?’ and Rogge said ‘Moment by moment.’”
While they have remained in contact and Hogan considers Learning one of the members of his theatre family, it is easy to see why it might be daunting to direct him. Learning’s resume is impressive.
His first love is the theatre – Learning founded Theatre New Brunswick in 1968, was the head of the theatre division at the Canada Council for the Arts and has appeared in countless plays from Shakespeare to his current role at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, in Outlaw, by Norm Foster.
Learning reprises the role of Roland Keets – he was in the premier production of it.
Learning has also directed across the country, including at the VPP in the past.
But it was as head of the Charlottetown Festival Theatre that Learning gave Hogan the role of Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables.
Learning recalls meeting Hogan at the Simpson Avenue United Church in Toronto where he was in the middle of auditions for the play. Hogan’s brash attitude caught Learning’s attention.
It also caught the attention of his co-star who, after being on stage with five different Gilberts, said “I always liked David Hogan because he was a bad boy.”
Hogan says at the time, he had no idea how fortunate he was to work with Learning, who allowed actors to voice their opinions and preferred working collaboratively.
It’s the style that Hogan now uses at the VPP.
The pair are clearly happy to be working together in Outlaw, which takes the stage August 4. And Hogan says it is fantastic that Learning, now 77, leaves the director’s chair and returns to the stage with such ease.
“It’s easy for him to sit back and say go there and go there, but for a man – an artist – to say I want to get back into it… you get my applause…He throws himself into it.”
For Learning, it’s the natural thing to do. “It’s hard work but it is what I do,” he says.
“As actors it’s not something we chose to do, it is something we have to do.”