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Assassinating Thomson

Stratford Festival Forum Event | June 17 & 24

Creator and performer Bruce Horak, a legally blind painter, actor and playwright, paints the audience’s portrait live on stage as he explores the facts and fictions surrounding the death of one of Canada’s greatest artists, and shares the unique way he sees the world.

More information on Stratford Festival website.

June 17 & 24 | 10 am - 11:15 pm
Studio Theatre, Stratford

Audience portrait auctioned off to benefit PAL Stratford.

As published by The Stratford Beacon Herald, June 17, 2018.

No one sees the world the way Bruce Horak sees it.

Left with only one eye and nine per cent vision following the removal of several retinoblastoma tumours as a child, Horak has what he refers to as extreme tunnel vision.

On Sunday morning, Horak brought his unique perspective of the world around him to the stage at the Studio Theatre in Stratford as part of the Stratford Festival's festival forum series. Throughout his show, which he has called Assassinating Thomson, the actor-turned painter wove stories surrounding his disability, his search for purpose and identity as an artist, and his father's passing into a central narrative that told the story of Canadian painter Tom Thomson's mysterious death on Algonquin Park's Canoe lake in July, 1917.

While he told those stories, Horak also painted a portrait of the audience as only he could see it from the stage.

"I find (Thomson's) story quite fascinating. I find the parallels between myself and Thomson really leapt out when I first encountered his story," Horak said.

"…I'm a big believer in serendipity. When these little signs kept popping all along the journey (of writing this show) they just kept saying, 'You've got to tell this story and it's the perfect bookend and markers through your own journey.'"

Having begun painting portraits in his unique style back in April, 2011, Horak discovered storytelling as a way to keep his subjects entertained while he worked. During one such portrait session, his subject – a friend of his – asked Horak about his eyesight.

While telling that story, Horak began talking about Thomson – a topic he had been researching for a musical he had written about the Group of Seven – and it was through that conversation that Assassinating Thomson was born.

"And I realized after doing that, that these portrait sessions have been my practice," he said.

But according to Horak, painting a portrait of as many as 80 people in 75 minutes while telling an intricately crafted story is exactly as daunting as it sounds. While his experience as an actor has helped him with the storytelling aspect of his show, it has also helped him paint in that limited timeframe.

"What has happened has been just extraordinary; that experience of don't worry about the realism, just capture the feeling," Horak said. "…It's really fun, and it demands a lot of the background I have in theatre. It was a little bit of a conservatory program, but then I got into improvisation in Calgary with Loose Moose Theatre, and then I got into clowning with John Turner and Mike Kennard with Mump and Smoot. And those two schools really helped with painting, and with this, and with just simply going for it.

"It's like you can't think about it, you've just got to do it. Get out there and fail forward, and all of those great improv tools are really the basis of this. I think if I was really trying to come out here and paint a portrait, there's no way I could do it in 75 minutes."

At the end of his performance, Horak auctioned off the completed audience portrait for $300, which he said would be donated to the Performing Arts Lodge, an organization that connects senior artists across the country with affordable housing.

Horak will be back at the Studio Theatre in Stratford next Sunday at 10 a.m. For more information on Horak and to view some of his work, visit

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