Happy Birthday
Jon Kaplan (1947-2017)

On the occasion of what would have been Jon Kaplan’s 70th birthday (May 17), The FLIPsters, with a little help from our PR friends, present a special edition FLIPSTAR. 

Drum roll please  . . . this week’s FLIPSTAR, someone who made the world a whole lot more awesome, is Jon Kaplan.

“Why wouldn’t I, Damien? I hope other media people don’t treat you that way.” Jon Kaplan, after I thanked him for reading my email and taking the time to write back, even if it was to say no. We didn’t work together very often, but it was always a joy. I will think about him at the Fringe forever and miss him very much.

I think of Jon as one of the last true critics. He wrote for the love of the art form, with no grandstanding or meanness. He was thoughtful, generous and informed. I always loved that he never came to the opening performance. He preferred to avoid the nervous energy of that night as well as the attention of the entire theatre community! A big loss and the end of an era.
Belinda Bale, National Ballet of Canada

When I first started doing PR as a freelancer I sent a note to Jon letting him know he’d be hearing from me. He wrote back to congratulate me and ask what I was working on, and I proudly sent him the press release. He called me five minutes later to give me advice on the release itself in terms of information and layout and what order the media liked to see the information in. And then he said he’d do something on that show. That was six years and three assistants ago, all of whom were introduced to the Kaplan template, as I call it. It’s a layout I use to this day. I will never forget Jon’s constant kindness.
Sue Edworthy, Sue Edworthy Arts Planning

Dora Mavor Moore Awards 2015 Audience Choice Award presentation – John Lauener Photography

Jon taught me so much about pitching theatre stories and being an arts publicist – and I’m sure that’s true of anyone who had the pleasure of working with him at NOW. The thing that’s most memorable about exchanges with Jon was just him being Jon: lovely catch up calls gabbing about what was on stage in the city, his latest travel adventure, how he was managing to stay on top of all things Fringe, or to get him booked into shows he wasn’t going to review but wanted to see before they closed (on the aisle and a bit closer to the back in the Bluma!); the encyclopedic knowledge he had of the talented artists in this community and his commitment to covering the person in the cast or company he hadn’t spoken to or profiled before; big hugs and a twinkling smile across the lobby; his annual trek to Shakespeare in High Park for a cast interview over lunch at the Grenadier Café (rain or shine!); his kind and gentle feedback on story pitches for publicists learning the ropes (no matter if the pitch was dreadful!); and the fact that he always, ALWAYS took the time to respond to invites, emails and calls with a thoughtful and considerate reply – no matter what. Actually, the thing that’s most memorable about exchanges and interactions with Jon is that they always left me with a smile.
Ashley Ballantyne, Luminato

When I started working in theatre after only doing film for many years, I was most touched by the sense of community and honoured to be able to become a part of it. I feel like Jon was sort of the soul of this community in a lot of ways – with his spirit of kindness and commitment to the work itself without any ego of his own coming to the table.

I haven’t talked about this much – but almost a year ago my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and it has been terrifying – luckily so far Dad has been able to find incredible treatment options that have been game-changing. I talked to Jon about Dad and he and I had really nice talks about practical stuff to do with living with cancer, and I hope I was a good ear for him. But most notably – after I told him – he always asked about my Dad. Every. Single. Time. Every time he emailed or I saw him or we chatted on the phone.

We were last in touch a month before he passed away when he emailed to apologize for being late wishing me a happy birthday if you can believe it. He updated me on how he was doing. He asked about my Dad.

I am so sad right now for the loss of Jon. But also heartened to read all the FB and Twitter posts – it is amazing to see how many people loved him, which he of course earned by being a great and truly compassionate man.

RIP Jon. We miss you.
Suzanne Cheriton, Red Eye Media

Jon Kaplan was the first journalist I ever met.  I was a lowly PR Assistant and was invited to join him and the two publicists that I worked with for lunch. He was sweet and kind and, most importantly, genuinely interested in me and what I had to say.  That genuine interest never wavered over the next 15 years and the many more conversations we would have. He was truly one-of-a-kind.
Jennifer Pugsley, Canadian Opera Company

I worked with Jon on the regular since my Black Theatre Workshop days back in 2008, up until this year. He was always kind, answered my many emails, and was enthusiastic about all the shows I promoted over the years, even though for five years they were all based in Montreal, and he could never actually cover them. He loved correcting my grammatical errors, and we would have back and forth conversations about sentence structure in a fun way. He was a great mentor to me.

One memory that really sticks out is when I was doing PR for an indie theatre client that I greatly admired. They were presenting a huge show in a warehouse, and it was definitely a risky undertaking. I think there was a lot going on that week, so I wasn’t able to get a print preview. I was devastated. I wanted so much for my client’s show to succeed. I called Jon and I think he could feel my sadness and desperation, and he said he would find a way to write a preview, even though he was swamped with shows that week, and probably had to beg his editors for space. But he got it done, and my clients were happy, I was happy, and the show got the coverage it deserved.

He was a gentle, soft-spoken guy, who had a deep passion for the arts, and really understood the importance of my job as a publicist. He was not just a media person I emailed, but a friend who continuously cheered on the shows I covered.
Ashley Belmer, Creative Ashley B.

Early 90s Fringe Festival Lottery Party with Valerie Buhagiar and Diane Flacks – Polaroid by Gregory Nixon

We all know there was no one like Jon. No one in Toronto who saw so much theatre, who knew so many artists, who had that big, welcoming smile, and who knew how to give support and critiques alike with the same thoughtful manner. As a publicist, he was the first choice of any artist inquiring about profiles or reviews, and the impact of his support over the years cannot be overstated. As a friend, he was there to share tea dates and brunch, special trips to the opera or a play he knew I would enjoy, and photos from his latest travels. He knew my family, and became like family. I will miss him every day.
Katie Saunoris, Soulpepper 

Jon was such a beautiful human being. I am so grateful to have known him. He was one of the kindest, most lovely people I have ever met. He was so warm and thoughtful and generous. Every December 27 he would call or email me to wish me a happy birthday and every December 14th he emailed to wish my husband Glen and I a happy anniversary.  We often met for lunch and he always made sure to pick a spot where there would be plenty of vegetarian options for me. He took me to the opera. We always sat together when he came to see shows at Young People’s Theatre or Théâtre français de Toronto. When he called to book tickets or just to see how I was doing, we had long, meaningful chats. We laughed, shared stories and even cried together. Although I knew he was very sick, I was in shock and completely heartbroken when he died. I did not think he would go so soon. We exchanged emails just a few days before he passed.

What started as a professional relationship 20 years ago turned into a wonderful friendship. I am so proud to have been Jon’s friend. I will miss him terribly.
Josée Duranleau, Duranleau Communications

The outpouring of love for Jon is testament to how much he meant to the community – and how much he gave. He gave with love, integrity and respect over and over and over again, championing both veteran and emerging artists with all of his huge heart and soul. And he treated publicists like people!

As a publicist, working with Jon was a pleasure. I looked forward to not only chatting to him about the shows I was repping, but how his last trip was, what both of our next trips might be – and getting life tips: “Echinacea! Echinacea!” and “Take time for yourself!” are two that would recur more than once.

He started at NOW at the beginning – just over 35 years ago. I started in arts PR around that same time (OMG!). So in a sense, we grew up together in this business, but on different sides of the street, so to speak. But with Jon, you never felt that. You always felt you were on the same team.

He was as sincerely disappointed as I was on the rare occasions that he was unable to do a story on an artist or show that I pitched to him. How could someone be so genuinely nice but also gently tough when he needed to be?

The disorientation, emptiness and sadness around his loss goes deep. He is profoundly missed. Unlike so many things in this world, Jon was truly one-of-a-kind and truly irreplaceable.
Dianne Weinrib, DW Communications

I do not remember the first time I met Jon, over 30 years ago, but I do remember my first cover stories with him; Daniel MacIvor on October 15, 1992 and Diane Flacks on February 4, 1993. All of us–Diane, Jon and me–were so excited about the cover that we met at Future Bakery in the Annex at what felt like sunrise to wait for the NOW truck to deliver the papers hot off the presses! There were countless cover stories that followed, and each time the second call of my day would be to Jon (the first to the artist) to discuss the final photo chosen, what didn’t make it into the story, and more recently, the extra audio clips posted online. The excitement never wavered, for me or Jon!

Happy Birthday my friend. Rest in peace in your very own aisle seat. You will be in our hearts forever.

A very special thank you to Dahlia Katz for the beautiful photo of Jon featured at the top.

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