The year was 1973. Calvin Rand escorted Queen Elizabeth II into the Shaw Festival Theatre, the site of the annual arts festival in Niagara on the Lake that he co-founded with Canadian playwright Brian Doherty.
The Shaw Festival quickly grew to become a destination for theater-goers on both sides of the border. Among the biggest names to attend performances were Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“It was great fun. We got dressed up in beautiful dresses and got to attend the cast parties after the opening nights,” Rand’s daughter Robin Ellis recalled in a phone interview.
However, despite all the bi-national excitement over the great new festival, Ellis says her father’s primary focus was on his wife Patricia and their five daughters.
“[Dad] didn’t act like a big man around town. He was humble about it,” Ellis said.
Rand’s connection to Niagara on the Lake was rooted in his childhood. It is a tradition that started with his grandfather, George F. Rand, founder of Marine Trust Co., which became Midland Marine Bank. From a young age, Calvin Rand would spend every summer at their family home there. The tradition continues generations later. His daughters now bring their children and grandchildren.
Rand and Doherty founded the Shaw Festival in 1962. Since then, it has become a vibrant theater destination for 250,000 people a year.
When the Shaw Festival was in its earliest stages, Ellis remembers the production crews taking furniture from their home to use on stage.
“We’d go to a show and our living room chaise or patio furniture would be on set.”
Rand always remained on the Shaw Festival’s Board of Directors, but shared his time and talent with other arts organizations in Buffalo.
He was instrumental in starting the Burchfield Penney Art Center, served as a trustee for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, was the chair of the board of trustees for the Irish Classical Theatre, and was an adjunct professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University at Buffalo.
Scott Propeack, Associate Director of the Burchfield Penney, wrote about Rand’s deep interest in, and concern for, the Buffalo community.
“All of us in the cultural community will certainly think back about that time, at that event, when Calvin said something funny and the times that he challenged others to step up and support all of us,” Propeack said.
Today, Rand is being remembered as one of the fathers of arts and culture in the Buffalo and Niagara region.
“Calvin and people like him play a huge role in the growth and the stability of what we have. We have an incredibly vibrant theater community in Buffalo, and [Calvin] had a lot to do with that,” Tony Conte, former President of Shea’s Performing Arts Center, said in a phone interview.
This season, Shea’s launched a new partnership with the Shaw Festival. Shaw will send select productions to 710 Main Theater.
“[The collaboration] reminds us of the vision and leadership of Mr. Rand and his contemporaries which have enabled live theatre to flourish in our communities,” Michael Murphy, President of Shea’s wrote in a statement.
Calvin Rand passed away peacefully in his home on December 31st, 2016.
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