In Memoriam: Ker Wells

Our dear colleague and friend Ker Wells passed away. His wit, intelligence, and generosity will be sorely missed. He brought genuine care and warmth to the School for the Contemporary Arts, which he shared with his fellow faculty, staff, and students alike.

It's difficult to articulate the loss we feel, so we're grateful for this moving obituary by Ker's sister, Jane, which we're sharing here:

Obituary for Ker Stewart Wells
May 31st, 1964 – August 30th, 2019 New York
Loving Husband, Son and Friend

On Friday August 30th, our beloved Ker died from pancreatic cancer. Ker was so central to so many of us, to how we saw and made art, hosted dinner parties, told stories, remembered jokes. His way through the world was fundamental to how we use our time here: for labour, for pleasure, for the joyful work of creation; but most importantly, in the company of people we love.

He leaves behind his adored wife Marianne Rendon; sisters Emily and Jane Wells, brother-in-law Rob Howard and nephew Hugh; parents-in-law Bob and Val Rendon. He will be profoundly missed by his uncle Chris Wells and aunt Lynne Douglas; by dear cousins and many many friends far and wide.

Ker was born in Munich, Germany and lived with his family in Europe until 1974 when they returned to the family farm in Alberton, PEI. This was the beginning of a lifelong connection to the natural world, a fascination with wild things, and an opportunity to teach himself about everything, from pig-rearing to carpentry, from snaring rabbits to planting trees. Although he never lived at the farm as an adult he devoted hours of "holiday" time repairing things, re-siding the barn, and planting trees. His final sustained project was killing that goddamned patch of knot weed invading the bushes beyond the back porch, a porch he had rebuilt a number of times, most recently in May (only May!).

Carpenter; wood chopper; caretaker of house plants and small animals; bread baker; collector of wild creature skulls and scavenger of scrap lumber; expert manipulator of copper tubing; relentless reader of the New Yorker - and rememberer of everything he read. And if he didn't remember it, he invented an equally convincing, if not better, account. And nobody in my life will ever be a better story-teller. (With apologies to all of you who are excellent storytellers, yourselves.)

Ker attended Westisle High School in Elmsdale, PEI and then Mt. Allison University, graduating in 1985. It was at Mt. A that he really discovered performance. His world revolved around Windsor Theatre, his shared student house at 88 King Street, and the marvellous group of friends he met there.

Ker went onto the acting program at the National Theatre School, and again forged deep lifelong friendships with his classmates. After graduating from NTS in 1988 he became a founding member of Primus Theatre in Winnipeg, with whom he performed, taught, and travelled extensively. The impact of Primus Theatre's performances and workshops has been felt far and wide; for those fortunate enough to see their work, it was an unforgettable experience.

After Ker left Primus he formed Number Eleven Theatre in Toronto, an opportunity to direct and create work in collaboration with a new group of actors; to find his artistic voice and follow that silver thread of curiosity and creativity that was uniquely his. In the years following Number Eleven, he continued to direct and collaborate with many fine companies and artists, too many to name here. However he returned most frequently to what he long felt was his artistic home with NaCl in Highland Lake, NY.

Ker continued to work as an actor periodically, after he left Primus, most notably in The Confessions of Punch and Judy with Tannis Kowalchuk and in his solo performances Living Tall and Swimmer 68.

In 2013 Ker graduated from the MFA program at York University, and shortly thereafter was hired as Associate Professor of Theatre Performance at Simon Fraser University's School for Contemporary Arts in Vancouver. And there, once again, he found and forged a community of like-minded souls - but it was only when he met Marianne that he began to feel it was home.

Ker's artistic influence has been powerfully felt as a teacher: transformative experiences, encounters with students and performers, amateur and professional, and community members, all charged by his dedicated attention, his tremendous physical and creative energy, and the singular pleasure he took in play. He taught and directed for a number of years at the National Theatre School of Canada, Humber College, and finally at SFU where he was recently granted tenure.

If we draw a line through the places Ker lived, worked, and taught, stringing yarn and placing pins, you would see the land mapped from coast to coast to coast; and at each pin, there would be a deep orange glow: at each pin he steadfastly made friends, expanded circles, fell in love, and invariably formed a rich community of dear companions, none more nor less dear than those of the previous home.

Ker's last great creative adventure was the River Clyde Pageant, which allowed him to spend a few glorious and (exhausting!) summers in Prince Edward Island, developing this joyous collaboration with the many wonderful people of New Glasgow and surrounding communities.

Being directed by Ker, or taught by him, simply being present with him, was not without effort. He was an effortless host, could simultaneously make the guacamole and the dinner, get you a beer and tell you a remarkable and funny story.

He was entertaining and gracious and made you feel like you were at the best dinner party going that night. But his demands on himself were huge, on every plain. He was rigorous and exacting, as a thinker and as an artist. He dedicated himself physically, emotionally, psychically, to every undertaking, be it making a fine wooden box for his mother, directing a show, reading The BFG to his nephew or baking bread.
With such fullness in our midst, how could we not want to do the same?

In lieu of flowers, cook a great meal with friends, have a beer at the end of your day, learn to tell a really good joke, plant a tree.

Charitable donations can be made to the Ker Wells Memorial Fund at Simon Fraser University to establish a student award in Ker's name.