Susan Benson becomes Order of Canada member
Theatrical career marked with award and book
Susan Benson was named a Member of the Order of Canada on June 27 for her extensive contributions to Canadian theatre as a set and costume designer, notably with the Stratford Festival.
Benson and her husband, lighting director Michael Whitfield, have lived on Salt Spring for the past five years. Working both together and individually, they have created the visual aspect of multiple acclaimed productions in Canadian ballet, opera and theatre.
“I’m very proud to get it. It’s very nice at this point in my life,” Benson said of the honour.
Benson is even more touched by the way she was named to the order. Her name was put forward by Donald Stuart, who is a fellow member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. The nomination was supported by three outstanding Canadian women: former prima ballerina and current artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain; Veronica Tennant, the filmmaker, director and former principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada; and Martha Henry, the acclaimed actor, director and 57-year veteran of the Stratford Festival.
“These three women are very well known in the arts, so I found that very special,” Benson said.
Though her nomination to the Order of Canada has apparently been in the works for at least a year or two, the announcement timing comes at a particularly apt moment. An in-depth book about Benson’s long history at the centre of Canadian theatre culture was just released this year. The Salt Spring launch with author Patricia Flood took place at Mahon Hall on June 21. It was preceded by a Toronto launch and will be followed in August by a number of events during the Canadian Institute of Theatre Technology’s conference in Whitehorse.
“I’ve never been up there so I’m quite looking forward to it,” said Benson.
While Benson was deeply involved with the book’s creation, the Order of Canada was happy news. She has already received a package with a booklet on 50 years of history of the award and a pin that she can wear on special occasions. The investiture ceremony date and location have not yet been set.
“You know, you go through life and you think, ‘I just do my job.’ But suddenly these two things happen that are very nice,” Benson said. “I’m just very pleased and surprised to have received it.”