Christopher Newton was born in 1936 in Deal, England. He attended university in the U.K. and U.S., graduating from the University of Illinois with an MA (1960). He began acting in Canada with the Canadian Players and Stratford Festival in the early 1960s, then directed at Theatre Calgary and the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company before being invited to be artistic director of the Shaw Festival. Between 1980 and 2002 he developed the Festival's international affiliations, created and encouraged its ensemble of creators, and directed such productions as Pygmalion and Candida. Newton is a member of the Order of Canada and continues to act and direct on a freelance basis.
After starting his Canadian career with the Canadian Players, Newton acted at the Stratford Festival, and was founding artistic director of Theatre Calgary (1968-1972) and artistic director of the Vancouver Playhouse (1972-1979) before his appointment as artistic director of the Shaw Festival in 1980. He retired from Shaw after 23 seasons in 2002. After some 30 years as an artistic director, he is widely considered the foremost artistic director that Canada has ever produced.