In Memoriam: Daniel Brooks (1958-2023)

May 26, 2023 by Pia Kleber

Daniel Brooks, University College Drama Program’s (UCDP’s) most illustrious alumnus, has left us. Part of some of the earliest cohorts of the UCDP, Daniel stayed its loyal friend until the very end. Indeed, he was going to write the first chapter of its planned history, cancer permitting. He has left too soon, and with his passing, all who knew him along with the larger theatre community and other UCDP alumni, mourn the loss of a great artist, a rigorous and curious thinker, a most loyal friend, and an extraordinary human being.

Daniel’s career includes too many accomplishments to list in full. He was known for his collaborations and worked with a wide range of artists, including Daniel MacIvor (on numerous solo shows), Rick Miller (on Bigger than Jesus), Michael Ondaatje (on a play adaptation of Divisadero), as well as John Mighton, Don McKellar and Tracy Wright (The Augusta Company). He also directed plays by Beckett, Sophocles, Ibsen, Mamet and Goethe, the musical Drowsy Chaperone, as well as the Noam Chomsky Lectures (with Guillermo Verdecchia), Insomnia, The Eco Show, The Good Life, and Pokey Jones, and worked as the co-Artistic Director of the Augusta Company and the Artistic Director of the Necessary Angel (2003-12). Among the many awards Daniel Brooks received are Siminovitch Prize and University College’s own Alumni of Influence Award. As a writer, performer, and director, Daniel has helped to shape Canadian theatre history.  

On a personal note, it has been a true pleasure to become Daniel’s friend after meeting him as a student. We met regularly over the past 40 years to discuss our projects and ideas alongside our lives. Daniel had the ability to absorb, like a sponge, new theatrical ideas from around the world and to transform them into completely new ‘Daniel Brooks’ versions. His criticism and questions were always constructive and engrossing. Some years ago, when he was chosen as the recipient of a grant given to the UCDP by the French Government to work in a French theatre, Daniel ended up working with the late Roger Planchon, first on a stage version of Molière's George Dandin, and then on a film of the same play. In a gracious act of reciprocity, he later returned to his alma mater and directed Euripides’ play The Bacchae (2002) in collaboration with the late Paolo Consiglio, a preeminent Italian mask maker, and Jean-Jacques Lemetre, Ariane Mnouchkin’s renowned composer. The production was one of the unforgettable theatrical highlights in the UCDP’s history and it will remain among my cherished memories. 

Throughout his life, Daniel stayed involved with students, giving workshops, mentoring, and offering opportunities to be part of his cast. Toronto was fortunate to have seen his last work, a seminal production of Chekov’s The Seagull, which reflected in its brilliant staging Daniel’s deep engagement with Chekhov’s text and helped him to come to terms with his mortality. He was at peace without ever giving up. While the history of the former University College Drama Program must now be written without him, Daniel Brooks will certainly hold a special place in it. He will also be terribly missed.

~ Pia Kleber

Please see The Star, The Globe and Mail, and The Winnipeg Free Press for additional obituaries.