The Confederation Centre of the Arts community is mourning the passing of Joseph Fenwick “Fen” Watkin, O.C.
Watkin was a founding member of the team that brought Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™ to life in 1965 and was a driving force within The Charlottetown Festival for more than 40 years. Watkin passed away Thursday in Toronto. He was 96 years young.
“Fen will always be remembered for his kindness and humour,” offers Adam Brazier, artistic director of Confederation Centre. “His love of music and storytelling kept him engaged in the theatre throughout his celebrated life. He was a blessing to everyone who had the pleasure of working with him.”
Joseph Fenwick “Fen” Watkin was a virtuoso pianist and a highly accomplished arranger, conductor, and musical director involved in more than 200 original Canadian productions. He served for 12 years as associate music director of The Charlottetown Festival and 28 years as music director, spanning more than four decades from 1965 to the late 2000s.
The Toronto Symphony, CBC variety shows, and countless community theatre projects also benefitted from Watkin’s talents. As a mentor and coach he inspired generations of amateur and professional performers. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 2005 for his considerable contribution to musical theatre.
Dean Constable, general manager of theatre at the Centre, fondly remembers Watkin, with whom he collaborated during the musical director’s final season leading Anne™. “Working alongside Fen you immediately realized that he was at the heart of those who had built The Charlottetown Festival,” Constable recalls. “He had a wonderful, gentle demeanour, and a terrific sense of humour, but rest assured if you were doing something wrong musically, he would see it corrected. The Canadian musical theatre community has lost an instrumental member and friend and we are grateful for his many contributions.”
Watkin first served as associate musical director at The Charlottetown Festival from 1965-77 alongside John Fenwick during a thriving era for musical theatre in Canada. Working with then artistic director Alan Lund, both Fenwick and Watkin conducted the orchestra for Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™ and dozens of other productions, such as By George!, Kronborg 1582, Johnny Belinda, Singin’ & Dancin’ TONIGHT, and many more. Watkin became musical director in 1978 and continued to lead in this way until the mid-2000’s, including national and international tours of Anne™.