History of LITF

The history of the Liverpool International Theatre Festival started out a little bit like a Busby Berkeley musical:­ “My dad’s got a barn…let’s put on a show!” In 1988, a Liverpool business improvement organization hired a young woman, Bernadette Jordan, and gave her the specific task of finding a way to increase business during the tourism “shoulder season.”

She was given a desk in Liverpool’s old Town Hall, which was also home to the beautiful Astor Theatre.  One day, over what turned out to be a momentous coffee, Bernadette wondered aloud to Astor manager John Bird whether there was “such as thing as theatre festivals, and do they draw people?” 

Within days, the two had set up a meeting with Eva Moore, executive director of the Nova Scotia Drama League (now called Theatre Nova Scotia), to explore the possibility of holding a theatre festival in Liverpool.  At the time, Moore was serving as president of Theatre Canada, and had been elected to the board of the International Amateur Theatre Association (IATA).  In addition, she had recently attended the very successful Great Canadian International Theatre Festival in Halifax, a ten-day event featuring plays from every province and seven countries.

In the meeting, Moore proposed a biennial competitive amateur international festival as a partnership between the NSDL and a local committee in Liverpool. And with that, the proverbial seed was sown.  Finding the buy-in within the community was initially a challenge, but once Betty-Lou Hemeon signed on as the festival’s administrator, things began moving forward!

With Hemeon’s tireless efforts, as well as the work of Moore as Artistic Director and a huge team of willing volunteers, the first Liverpool International Theatre Festival was held on Victoria Day weekend in May 1992.  Twelve theatre companies attended the first festival: Ireland, Britain, the country of Georgia, Alaska, and Saskatchewan each sent a troupe, and seven Nova Scotia theatre groups also attended.  This first festival was an enormous success; the town of Liverpool and the festival players came away impressed, enriched, and enlightened by each other.

In 1994, Moore invited the IATA Council to meet at LITF, which gave the festival further recognition and credibility around the globe.  In fact, IATA President Hugh Lovegrove noted that although he had attended festivals throughout the world, he had never encountered more gracious hosts nor more beautiful settings than he had found in Liverpool.

During Moore’s last years as artistic director, Murray Kirkpatrick took the reins as president of the festival.  One of his key achievements was to develop the volunteer base in order to “soften the blow” of Moore’s imminent departure.  With his guidance, the core volunteers developed their knowledge and capabilities and became what they are today: a competent and dynamic group experienced in fielding a world-class event.

LITF  continues to be recognized as one of the premiere festivals in the world of amateur theatre.


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