Tributes paid to ‘immensely talented’ founder of Edmonton theatre group

Face Front Inclusive Theatre CEO Jon French has died aged 56

Jon French (credit Face Front)
Jon French (credit Sam Carpenter)

Tributes have been paid to the co-founder of a “groundbreaking” Edmonton theatre group that has provided a platform for disabled actors for over 25 years.

Jon French, who helped establish Face Front Inclusive Theatre in 1998 and continued to run it as joint-CEO, died aged 56 on Monday (1st) following a short illness.

Based in Edmonton Green, Face Front creates accessible theatre for schools and the public, with disabled and non-disabled performers, putting on shows and activities that “transform the lives of disadvantaged people” as well as highlighting social injustice.

Jon was also a director of Broken Silence, a drama group run by Face Front for disabled adults, and most recently co-directed The Hero Next Door – a professional show for young audiences which toured nationally last summer.

Jon was an Enfield borough resident all of his life, living in Palmers Green.

Annie Smol MBE, a Face Front co-founder and previous artistic director, said of Jon: “His legacy will live on through the many productions that he was a part of and the many lives that he enriched.

“Jon was an immensely talented, and creative theatre-maker, actor, facilitator, choreographer and director. And he was an exciting, compassionate, witty and intelligent colleague who will be profoundly missed.”

Ray Downing, Face Front’s current artistic director, said: “Having just celebrated 25 years of Face Front Inclusive Theatre, we have had the opportunity to reflect upon all the wonderful and ground-breaking work that has been achieved by all the people who have passed through our doors – and Jon French was a constant, steadying, and creative presence throughout it all.

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“Whilst the performing industry has lost a legend in the field of dance and theatre, we feel the loss of an esteemed colleague and a most excellent friend.”

Jon French on stage (credit Face Front)
Jon French on stage (credit Face Front)

Catrin Thomas, a Face Front trustee and co-founder, said: “Jon embraced Face Front in the same way that he embraced life, with dedication, loyalty, and humour. He immersed himself in every project with creativity and commitment. Words cannot express our loss.

“He was more than just a colleague, he was an ally and a friend. He will be sorely missed by all of us in the Face Front family.”

Roger Cowe, chair of trustees at Face Front, added: “Jon was a key member of Face Front from the start, participating and encouraging others and leading performances for all our 25 years.

“Latterly as co-chief executive he was instrumental in helping to continue Face Front’s success, adding a ‘back room’ role making sure our finances were in order and the board was fully informed.

“His many qualities will be sadly missed.”

Prior to his time with Face Front, Jon worked extensively with Candoco Dance Company as one of their founding members.

A recent short film produced by Face Front details Jon’s journey into working in the performing arts and features many photos and clips from that time. The video can be watched on YouTube here.

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