dobiE by invitation
Edgar who? well you might ask. hardly a household name, either
here in the okanagan or virtually anywhere else, unless you move in
theatre circles — highly rarified theatre circles. If, for instance, you
happen to be andrew Lloyd webber, then Edgar’s name is as familiar to
you as Cats or Phantom. Everybody who’s anybody, from the west End
to Broadway to Toronto’s King Street, knows the name Edgar dobie.
and just how did a boy from Vernon come to move
in such company? we decided to ask — Edgar.
Paul Byrne made the connection with dobie (who’s latest gig is
executive director of Trinity rep in Providence, rhode Island) through
his City and regional Magazine association colleague, John Palumbo,
publisher of Rhode Island Monthly (talk about six degrees of separation).
Palumbo has been helping dobie keep up to date on Valley news for
photo by Joan Marcus
the last four years by passing on his copies of Okanagan Life and he
recently arranged for the trio to meet over dinner in rhode Island.
here’s what the Vernon Powerhouse Theatre alumnus had to say.
28 SEPTEMBER 2006 • OKANAGAN LIFE
OKANAGAN LIFE • SEPTEMBER 2006 29
British producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh
(far left) credits Dobie with a key role in the
success of shows like Sunset Boulevard,
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Hal Prince calls his long-time friend a man
of taste and imagination with huge powers
of persuasion all matched by integrity.
Kudos From CollEaguEs
Dobie earns chorus of praise by PAul E. KANDARIAN
> To know Edgar Dobie, is to know quiet
proficiency and the utmost modesty, say
those closest to one of the Okanagan’s least
known but most successful native sons. Not
allowed us to be creative and financially pru-
dent — a very unique talent, thanks to Edgar.”
And, McConnell adds, “Edgar does it
all with the most calming personality I have
A man of equal theatrical import,
producer Hal Prince, has known Dobie for
years, working with him in Canada and
New York and keeping in touch with his
to mention outright theatrical management ever known,” while using “his consider- old friend during Dobie’s time at Trinity.
brilliance. He is, after all, an award-winning able national and international talents to “He has taste, imagination and
Broadway producer, now making his personal bring people and opportunities to Trinity huge powers of persuasion,” Prince
and professional home in Rhode Island. that we otherwise would not have.” says. “All of these qualities are matched
“Edgar is not an outspoken guy, he’s Curt Columbus, Trinity’s newest artistic by integrity, a rare combination.”
someone who has quietly made his pres- director and no theatrical slouch himself — Sir Cameron Mackintosh, British theatri-
ence known here in Rhode Island,” says John he comes most recently from Chicago’s cal producer of shows such as Les Miserables,
Palumbo, publisher of Rhode Island Monthly. Steppenwolf Theatre Company and follows at The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon,
“The guy is running Trinity Repertory Company, Trinity the legendary likes of Adrian Hall and also lauds Dobie’s contributions to the arts.
the biggest arts organization in the state. That Oskar Eustis — calls Dobie “one of the early “I have witnessed his exceptional
alone says he has a significant role in the arts.” forces in the theater movement in Canada” ability and expertise as a producer of live
Dobie’s resumé is glittering, to say and remarkable for the way he balances the entertainment,” Mackintosh says. “His par-
the least: Broadway producer of Sunset financial and the creative at Trinity Rep. ticipation was an integral part of the success
Boulevard (Tony Award for best musi- “What I find unique about Edgar is he of such shows as Sunset Boulevard, Joseph
cal), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor has an artist’s soul, a statistician’s mind, a and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Dreamcoat, Paul Simon’s The Capeman, and gunslinger’s steely nerves and really strong and The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
managing producer for the 1999 and 2000 supportive hands,” Columbus says. “He “Edgar proved again and again that the
Tony Awards. But try to get that out of him. has a very rare combination of gifts. He’s a level of his expertise in theatrical production is
“He’s very much unassuming and a quiet force on every scene imaginable.” extraordinary,” says James M. Nederland, pro-
just-plain-folks guy,” Palumbo says. “But once For six years Dobie was president ducer and chairman emeritus of Nederlander
people learn of that resumé, they’re taken of Andrew lloyd Webber’s The Really Organization Inc. “He has readily earned the
aback to see he’s accomplished so much.” useful Company, Inc., overseeing all North respect of his colleagues as evidenced by
Dobie’s influence on the arts scene has American operations. lloyd Webber has noth- his appointments to the Tony Administration
been dramatic, says Jack McConnell, a Rhode ing but the best to say about the man who Committee, the Executive Committee of the
Island lawyer and chairman of the Trinity Rep ran one vital link in his theatrical chain. league of American Theatres and Producers,
board, adding that Dobie has led the company “I’m very grateful for Edgar’s con- the board of the Actor’s Fund of America and
“to financial stability” while understanding “the tribution to the Really useful group over other fine industry-related organizations.”
benefits of a commercial operation and the the years,” lloyd Webber says. “He’s As important as all his accolades,
needs of a not-for-profit. This combination has a man of great talent and ability.” accomplishments and professional triumphs,
says RI Monthly’s Palumbo, Dobie is a friend.
“He’s a great guy who’s become
“…he has an artist’s soul, a statistician’s a great friend,” Palumbo says. “I’m on
mind, a gunslinger’s steely nerves and the board of Trinity, but I know Edgar
as a guy you like to have lunch with and
really strong supportive hands.” catch up on the non-Trinity world.”
30 SEPTEMBER 2006 • OKANAGAN LIFE
s a kid growing up in
Vernon, where were you
first exposed to the theatre?
I was blessed to go through
a school system that really
encouraged and made arts available
starting right at the junior high school
level. So when I had to pick an art elec-
tive — I think that was going into grade
eight — there was band, there was fine
art and there was this new course being
offered called drama. I picked drama.
Early on you were involved
with Powerhouse Theatre
— how did that happen?
The (drama) teacher, Patty English … was
very involved with getting a community
theatre off the ground — the Powerhouse
Theatre. She invited her freshman grade eight
students to come down and pitch in. I gave
up my Pee wee hockey practice and changed
it for rehearsals at the Powerhouse Theatre.
How did this experience
influence your later career?
Through the span of junior high school
right through to graduating from Vernon
Senior Secondary, I was involved every year
in some form of production or project. It
could have been lighting board operator
or being in the chorus of a musical or just
helping on the set — all of those things. I
was a fairly behind-the-scenes person …
after my second year at U.B.C. I took
a year off school and came back to teach the
drama class on a special letter of permission
from the school board because the won-
derful high school drama teacher, Martin
Palmer — who I learned a lot from, learned
a deep appreciation of theatre, language and
theatre’s literature — took a year’s sabbati-
cal. That’s when I did Butterflies are Free …
Back at university I had a great
experience running the summer stock
program. … as the manager … I ended
up working for the theatre department
as a stage carpenter and electrician for a
year and made enough of a nest egg to be
able to go and complete a Master’s degree
at the University of Leeds in England.
What was it like when you took on
your first major job at the National
Arts Centre in Ottawa? Young
man from small-town B.C. —
Yes, the New Play Centre (now the
Playwrights Theatre Centre, in Vancouver)
and then to ottawa where I worked with
angus Jones who recruited me to be the
OKANAGAN LIFE • SEPTEMBER 2006 31
really had a
in mind. I
like to say
has been by
general manager for the English-lan-
guage company …. They were interested
in promoting new work and they had a
resident company … central to a lot of
co-productions with a lot of the major
regional theatres from across the country.
It was a great experience working there.
For six years you were president
of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really
Useful Company, overseeing all
North American operations. How
did you make the connection
with Lloyd Webber?
I was the managing director at Centre Stage
and then we merged with a company called
Toronto Free Theatre. I got a call one day
from garth dravinsky who had acquired the
rights to Phantom of the Opera for Canada.
we produced two productions of Phantom in
Canada — in Toronto and a touring produc-
tion. and so I got to know andrew through
producing those shows. also, we were given
the rights to produce the first stand-alone
concert of his whole body of work. It was
called: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber …
then I got a call asking me if I’d be interested
in becoming the first president of the really
Useful Company based in North america ….
I think we eventually had six productions of
Phantom running, two of Cats and we pro-
duced Sunset Boulevard … there were a couple
of productions of Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolour Dreamcoat … . we were busy.
32 SEPTEMBER 2006 • OKANAGAN LIFE
During that period you made quite
a connection with the Tony Awards
including a win for Sunset Boulevard
and a stint producing the show.
Yes, the Tony was for best musical … little
did I know that a couple of years later I’d be
managing producer of the Tony awards ….
I formed my own company and with the
Tony awards and these other two projects
(The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Paul
Simon’s The Capeman) there was a nice
convergence of work … . (The split with
Lloyd webber) was certainly amicable.
What was the headiest experience
in those years? What was the
I would say there would be two moments.
The one was the call from garth dravinsky
to say that he wanted to build a fully inte-
grated commercial production company and
network of theatres in North america … .
garth’s … an individual, he’s one of those
people who thinks in enormous, broad terms
and he made a tremendous opportunity avail-
able to me. That was really important. It
was a defining moment in a career for me.
and the other one was the New Play
Centre. Val hawthorne making that offer to
have me join her as only the second employee
of that company and to see theatre at its
most vital where new ideas materialize … .
It was thrilling to be around and helping to
provide the resource to make that happen.
Those are key moments and key steps.
I’ve never really had a career plan in mind. I
like to say my career has been by invitation ….
With such a high-octane life have you
managed to maintain any connection
with your roots in the Okanagan?
we went back in November … to see my
parents and I have four brothers — three
of them are still living in Vernon and they
have families. So we checked in on them. It’s
been wonderful for me to see the increase
in the number of wonderful restaurants
and all the developments along the lake.
and I actually followed the development of
the Performing arts Centre in Vernon and
all that through the articles (in Okanagan
Life). You guys have great arts coverage.
These days Edgar doesn’t have much time
for visiting the Valley. Along with his day
job at Trinity Rep, this “behind-the-scenes”
guy is a member of the National Corporate
Theatre Fund and the Advisory Board of
the Actors Fund, sits on the board of Rhode
Island Citizens for the Arts and acts as a
consultant for River Productions, Inc.
Talk about small town boy makes good.
OKANAGAN LIFE • SEPTEMBER 2006 33