Author Archive

17 in Taos   3 comments

Imoragblogn 2016, cellist Morag Northey approached me for dramaturgical guidance on a work she had in mind, a narrative of her life journey told through the cello with some accompanying narration.

Morag had created and performed the cello score for my play Queen Lear some ten years earlier. We knew we worked well together and so it was a natural evolution.

When we first met about it, Morag presented to me a binder of poems, song lyrics, prose poems etc. etc. she had written over the years. It was 170 pages! With so much material, and given that the narration would need to be secondary to her cello playing, it seemed to me as long as we were working from that binder that very little would come of it.

A few months later, we were invited by Karen Jeffery to develop the work at a residency at the Sunset Theatre in Wells, BC. It was a generous and timely offer. Morag actually forget to bring the binder with her to Wells (thank God, there are no accidents!) and so once ensconced in the Sunset Theatre we began work anew, afresh, unencumbered by that daunting tome of 170 pages.

The result of our efforts is a lean script of some 20 pages that provides a narrative through line and offers Morag the opportunity to share her considerable talents on the cello, as well as vocally, and in this manner tell her story. It is titled 17.

In performance it is a unique situation where the vocals accompany the instrument as opposed to the other way around.

We were invited back to the Sunset Theatre in 2017 to further refine, rehearse and perform the world premiere of 17. It was a beautiful production all around, and anyone who has heard her story and heard her playing at this level has come away from the experience profoundly moved. It’s a powerful piece.

I would have thought, ongoing, that Morag would have found a female performer to do the narration, but she likes the male-female balance of energies, and she likes my voice, and so we have performed 17 on a few occasions since our production at the Sunset Theatre. We even made a recording of it earlier this summer.

It is a very unique piece, quite unlike anything I have ever seen before, let alone been a part of. It doesn’t really fall into any recognizable categories. Is it a play? Yes and no. Is it a cello recital? Yes and no. Is it performance art? Perhaps. A performance piece for solo cello and voice with accompanying narration might come closest to the mark.

Because of its unconventional nature, it’s hard to know where to seek out performance opportunities. We have done a few house concerts, and recently performed at the theatre in Cochrane as guests of the teatro dell eco company there, run by the lovely team of Daunia Del Ben and Lauie Stalker. As always (and if I do say so myself) our audience was profoundly touched by the honesty of Morag’s story and the power of her performance.

And so, as you may well imagine, when a performance opportunity comes along, we are loathe to turn it down. We have now been invited to travel to Taos, New Mexico to perform the American premiere of 17 and as it seems such an important step in our journey with the piece, we didn’t feel we could turn it down. The trouble is, financially speaking, we can’t really afford to go there, either.

The wonderful group of artists in Taos have offered everything, all of their resources, for us to have a good performance there. But where we find ourselves short is in transportation and actually paying ourselves for our work.

The cost of transportation is very high around the American Thanksgiving. If that weren’t bad enough, we have to pay an extra full fare to transport Morag’s cello properly and safely.

And so, to make this happen, to be able to share this Alberta-born, BC-produced work of art with our American friends, we have started a GoFundMe page to offset some of our expenses.

I hope we can rely on the support of our friends in the cyber community to make this important performance happen. If you wish to make a donation, our page at Go Fund Me is called “17 in Taos.” Morag and I have put the link on our Facebook pages. And if it’s easier and less complicated, there is a DONATE button near the top left corner of this page. (It’s yellow, you’d think you couldn’t miss it, but then again, I’ve only ever had two donations, a trend I hope we can reverse now!)

Thanks so much for your consideration, friends. I know times are tough and money is tight in the arts these days, but we must soldier on. This is a great opportunity to share some Canadian art south of the border, but we can’t do it without your help.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Dissolve the Society 2   13 comments

Malfunction at the Junction

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Last week, I wrote Dissolve the Society as a personal reaction to a number of situations in the Calgary performing arts world. As you will know if you read it (and if you didn’t, scroll down and there it will surely be), I was angered and appalled and dismayed by the goings on at some of our major performing arts organizations: the ending of the Children’s Festival, the yanking of Michaela Jeffery’s play at ATP, and the ongoing saga of the train wreck that is known as Theatre Junction.

A few things happened as a result of my post. The first, known only to me initially, is that it was read by thousands of people, probably about ten times the number of people who usually read one of my posts on here. Clearly there is a lot of interest and concern in the community and beyond. And rightfully so.

Of the reaction I received through comments, emails, personal encounters, texts and a discussion that arose on my Facebook wall, very little was said about ATP. One of my younger friends who sits on the board of another theatre told me it’s because no one really cares anymore about ATP. This for a number of reasons, I suppose. I was sad to hear that – it was a very special place for me for many years.

One woman who had not heard about the cancellation of the Children’s Festival contacted me, incredulous and distraught. She couldn’t believe that it was true. I assured her it was true, that I’d read the press release. She said she cried when she read about it. And good for her. We should all be crying.

Almost all of the reaction to my piece concerned Theatre Junction. I was frankly amazed at the anger and vitriol aimed at this company, its artistic director Mark Lawes and in particular the board of directors, who seem to have signed on so they could wear their new outfits to the openings as opposed to engaging in any meaningful governance of the place. Typical board concerns such as transparency and accountability are nowhere to be found at the Grand Theatre.

I heard story upon story describing a real nightmare of a situation that has been allowed to continue year after year. How under the watchful eyes of those sage directors a work place so toxic that it actually sounds acidic was allowed not only to exist but to become the order of the day. Repeated attempts by staff to meet with the board to air their grievances about the shit and abuse they had to endure day in day out were ignored or dismissed. An investigation of sorts was launched at the cost of many thousands of dollars, conveniently paid to the spouse of one of the board members. The findings were never shared, let alone acted upon. Nothing changed.

I heard that some of the people who work or worked there cried at the thought of going to work, cried while at work because it was so Dickenseanly shitty, and cried when they got back home again, having endured another day of “shame and blame” and altercations with Mr. Lawes which the staff refer to as “drive-by shootings.”

We in the arts like to think we are kinder and gentler than people in business (the real world, if you will) but it’s not true. In some cases we can be worse, much worse.

In a truly ambitious program of enlightened self-interest, through a number of imaginative initiatives including skimming off a percentage of donations before they ever hit the Theatre Junction books – with the board’s approval and blessing – Mr. Lawes would seem to have accumulated a small fortune by most of our standards, all the while presenting some of the most tepid and self-indulgent theatre this city or country has ever seen, pawning it off as high art. Oh yes. There is a lot of anger in the community aimed directly at that man, and deservedly so.

People who have worked there are so fed up (and demoralized and confused and miserable and bullied) that they are coming forth and telling their stories. I have only heard a few of them, but let me let you, friends, this is a fucked up mess.

One such person who commented on my blog is Tonya Lailey. I asked her if she would share her comments in a more public manner like this and she replied, “Go for it. I say nothing that is not true and ask some simple questions. I am happy to have my name attached . . . this is not even the half of it.”

These are Tonya’s comments on last week’s post:

Thank you, Eugene, for speaking publicly about the unfortunate state of some of Calgary’s public arts institutions.

I worked in fund development at Theatre Junction Grand for four years. I resigned in July because working there had become absurd.

You use the words “mysterious and bewildering” to describe your sense of the goings on from the outside. It was not much different from the inside.

The board’s behaviour is, was and had been incomprehensible. For two years we, the administrative staff, challenged the board in person, by email, by phone, relentlessly, to address the following:

Why so little has been done about the fact that dozens of people had left Theatre Junction’s employ deeply disturbed by their experience working under Mark Lawes (22 people during my four year tenure alone).

Why the investigation into Mark Lawes’ behaviour, conducted by a spouse of a board member, did not result in a report that was shared, not even with the then executive director.

Why Theatre Junction has had such a devastatingly small patron base and yet the artistic programming remained extremely limited.

Why no one on the board seemed willing to make the connection between the toxic workplace experiences of past employees and the small patron base.

Why so many resources were dedicated to Mark Lawes and his artistic associate and partner Raphaele Thiriet and so few directed to local artistic development.

Why a new executive director Guy de Carteret (hired in 2016) who transformed the workplace culture to be positive, who encouraged independent thinking and creativity and who had a novel and outward-facing, community-driven vision, was fired in May.

Why the board insisted that Guy de Carteret and Mark Lawes “get along” despite the fact that no prior executive officer had been able to “get along” with Mark Lawes.

Why almost none of the people who committed major funds to the capital campaign to renovate the Grand has had an enduring presence in the organization.

Why the main theatre’s namesake, Jackie Flanagan, is not a patron.

Why Workshop restaurant’s lease is so favourable to Workshop that it costs Theatre Junction money to have them in the building, putting the non-profit in the position of subsidizing a business.

This is but a peek into the “mystery and bewilderment” we had hoped to help to unravel, to air and to overcome.

Arts organizations are most often brilliantly resourceful. I have seen us turn scraps into feasts again and again. The issue is not money. The issue is one of values and leadership.

Sadly, when past staff had the opportunity to speak with the CBC this summer, the story became about money.

The context needs to be understood and grievances aired if the Grand were ever to have the chance to become the culture house it has claimed to be since 2006. It could be wonderful.

*

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchdogs? Who will guard the guards? Whom do you turn to when the people who are in a position to do something do nothing? The people I spoke to at Theatre Junction turned to me and I felt an obligation to share this sad saga with all of you. If, as a community, we demand that something happen, maybe the board of directors will finally start acting responsibly and things will change. Otherwise, that block of 1st Street that once seemed so full of promise will continue to be a lonely wind-swept stretch of road.

In my opinion, under a full moon at a lonely crossroads at midnight, someone should drive a wooden stake through the heart of the rotten venture. Get rid of the whole lot of them. Then bring in an elder and smudge the place and start over.

Maybe then we’ll start seeing some meaningful theatre in downtown Calgary again.

Thanks for reading.

 

Dissolve the Society   13 comments

downtown

It has been a devastating summer for Calgary’s theatre world. The smoke in the air is likely from the fires in BC, but it may well be emanating from the embers of two theatre ventures that have gone up in flames, with a third smoldering and about to consume itself in a maelstrom, if it hasn’t already.

Saddest of these in my mind is the loss of the Calgary International Children’s Festival. Poof! It’s gone, just like that. Not with a bang but a whimper. Actually, not even a whimper. Just this: “The Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to cancel the 2019 Festival and begin work to dissolve the Society.” Cold, corporate legalese that in this context sounds like something Roald Dahl might have written. Dissolve the society, indeed.

No more the excited squeals and cries of happy children slogging through the ubiquitous late season snow storm (which never bothered the children at all), no more the pitter patter of joyous applause, no more the smiling painted faces – well, you get the idea. Dissolve the Society.

The problem with losing something like this is that once it’s gone, it may never come back. But it’s ok, I guess. It’ll be all right. There are countless games and apps for children to distract them from now till the end of time. Who needs live performances, anyway?

Meanwhile, over at The Grand Theatre, if things weren’t weird before, they just got a whole lot weirder. OK. I’ll say it if no one else will. Since Theatre Junction began its new incarnation of what had once been a theatre company – and since their artistic director est tombé et se cogna la tête en Paris – the company has been a rather mysterious and bewildering disappointment.

Is it a case of the emperor’s new clothes, I wonder, but for all the whispering about the place on darkened street corners (or whatever) very little has been said publicly about this company. What it seemed to me was a really, really, REALLY beautiful space with some very uneven and esoteric (to put it nicely) work “happening” on the stage – shades of the mystical Mr. Grotowski et al.(Do you ever feel that you’ve seen it all before? I certainly do.)

I innocently asked this question on Facebook the other day: Has Mark Lawes ever been found to talk about the state of affairs at Theatre Junction? There were many comments, some of them quite witty, from “I hear he is in a witness protection program” to “I hear he is Darcy Evans” to reports of gag orders on the Board (“The Board of Governors has made the difficult decision . . . “) to reports that the organization tried to declare bankruptcy but their asset (ie, The Grand Theatre) is worth too much money.

It goes on and on and on. Call me old-fashioned, call me naïve, but I think that at least by now, Mr. Lawes ought to have addressed this situation publicly. Maybe he still will. Or maybe il est en train de manger un petit gateau a Paris. All we can do is scratch our heads in wonder at what a perfect shit show the whole thing has been from the git go.

And then there is that other fine company down the street and up the avenue, that bastion of new work in all of Canada, and my old company, Alberta Theatre Projects. They took a bad situation, and a really bad decision, and made it worse by lying about it. Now I’m afraid they have a real mess on their hands, made worse by the fact that it is a mess of their own making.

If I could pinpoint one resounding impression I had of ATP from my ten years there as their playwright in residence, it would be the profound respect paid to the playwright. During the years of their playRites Festival, which birthed over 100 Canadian plays (including six of my own), the playwright was treated like a king or queen – verging on how playwrights are treated almost anywhere else in the world outside of English Canada. We were thought to be important. Special, even. We don’t always feel that way in this culture. How many times have I been asked, with great suspicion verging on derision, “You’re a playwriter? What even is that? You write screenplays like for TV or something? But what do you really do? Like for a living?”

Twenty-five years since I first darkened their doorway, it would seem that the status of the playwright over there has diminished somewhat. I don’t often comment about what’s going on at the Projects – they were good to me and gave me a golden opportunity to launch my career. But in this case there’s a personal connection and I am not taking this situation lightly.

One of my duties as playwright in residence at ATP was to teach the high school writing program on Saturday mornings. This was one of my favourite and most rewarding teaching situations ever, and some of my former students have become prominent members of the Calgary theatre community – and beyond.

I allowed Michaela Jeffery to enter my program a year early, while she was still in junior high. It was a no-brainer, as I was (and am) a friend of her father, Dave Jeffery. Theatre royalty in Calgary. Dave was a legendary drama teacher at Western Canada High School who for years inspired a new generation of theatre artists. I figured Dave’s daughter would know more about theatre, and have seen more shows, at thirteen than I ever would. I wasn’t wrong about that. The theatre is in her blood.

I have followed Michaela’s career ever since those days, and felt an almost parental sense of pride when she was first admitted to, and then graduated from, the prestigious playwriting program at the National Theatre School in Montreal.

I worked with her the last two summers at Dave and Karen Jeffrey’s Sunset Theatre in Wells, BC. (I feel pretty much part of the family after those two summers.) What a great honour to dramaturge the play of a former student!

To see that Michaela’s play WROL (Without Rule of Law) was going to be produced at ATP – well, I was elated. As was she! I felt that this was the perfect culmination of a journey that started so long ago, some twenty years or so.

But then we learned it was not to be. Rather, offered in its place, the latest “laugh-out-loud comedy” by Toronto (or Stratford, perhaps) playwright Mark Crawford.

Well, isn’t this a pretty kettle of fish?! I certainly place no blame for this with Mr. Crawford – in fact, he is in an unenviable position of having his play be the one many Calgarians will be itching to hate, if they bother to see it at all.

The optics of replacing the work of a local female playwright with that of a male playwright from Ontario are really so rotten you can likely smell them from the top of the CN Tower, or the Calgary Tower, wherever you happen to be. (Oh, right! We’re in Calgary. I almost forgot.) Clearly, the company blundered, and in these dangerous times we are living in, let us hope they can somehow turn things around from this low point for next season.

Meanwhile Michaela’s cast and friends of the production-that-did-not-happen (and there are many) will be rallying in support on Monday, September 17 at a to-be-determined location. A recent campaign raised several thousand dollars in support of what is truly a legitimate cause. Maybe there is hope, after all.

Yes, something is in the air all right and it doesn’t smell good. Let’s hope that the people involved, from board members to directors artistic to artists to government funders to our corporations who haven’t so much stopped making money as they’ve stopped sharing it – let’s hope they do the work and fight the good fight and that things will change and change soon.

Otherwise, you might as well go ahead and dissolve the society.

Thanks for reading.

 

A Different Way of Dying — Update   Leave a comment

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post last week about Catherine Mitchell. I know many of us were curious as to what would happen next with Catherine. I received this email today from Catherine’s friend Janine. I think it is self-explanatory:

Hello Dear Friends,

As you know, tomorrow is the day Catherine is scheduled for Medical Assistance in Dying. We have had some very hard days this past week, as Catherine’s health has declined significantly. Today, on the other hand, was really beautiful. Lee and Brian were with Catherine during the day and they both had marvelous visits with her. Jamie and I tucked Catherine in bed wearing a beautiful yellow nightgown her mother made for her when she was about 16 years old. The nightgown is in pristine condition, of course, and Catherine looks like a ray of sunshine in it.

Catherine’s computer stopped working this week, but we were able to access her emails on the internet. We read her the wonderful messages that many of you sent, and told her about the messages left on voicemail. She was so grateful. She said she felt ‘so very blessed to have billions and billions and billions of good friends.’

Jamie and I cried and cried, and recited her favourite prayer with her for the last time—Now I lay me down to sleep…

It was wonderful to see her so at ease.

Catherine asked us to share this message with you tonight:

“Goodbye my dear friends. I am at peace.
I feel how I imagine the young Christa McAuliffe must have felt preparing to launch on the space shuttle Challenger: full of enthusiasm and just a bit of trepidation. Like the beautiful albatross, I hope to be gliding on the thermals with my dear dear Theo.
I leave you with this prayer: please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you, goodbye.”

Sharing the beauty and sorrow of grief with all of you,
Janine and Jamie

 

So there it is. Sad day, with the news of Anthony Bourdain taking his life — 61 years old, the same age as me.

We may as well live while we can friends, as well as we can.

Thanks for reading.

Posted June 8, 2018 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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A Different Way of Dying   3 comments

 

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View from my balcony of the Beltline area of Calgary

Teaching has ended for a few months and so I have a moment to catch up with the events of this spring. If it was the winter of our discontent that just dragged on and on, the spring has been a tough one for me, with a few significant deaths I’ve had to process. The first was my brother Tom who passed away early in March in Regina. Then my friend Quenten Doolittle passed away in Calgary a month or so later. I shall write suitable eulogies to these two fine men in the next short while. For now, because time is of the essence, I wish to write about another death that is soon to happen as of the time of this writing in late May, 2018.

I live in the Beltline area of the City of Calgary, an inner-city neighbourhood just a few blocks south and west of the shiny office towers that comprise the downtown area. Most people only know this area as a few streets they drive through to get to work downtown from their homes in the suburbs.

Yet to those of us who live here, it is a neighbourhood in the truest sense. One of the first couples of this neighbourhood for years and years has been an elderly couple named Catherine and Theo. Theo was a lovely dignified man who wore a tie every day, even with a Tilly hat. He had been an aerial photographer in World War 2.

His wife Catherine referred to herself as a “wall-jumper” – she had been in the convent once upon a time but chose a different path for herself that eventually would include Theo. Following a career as a teacher, she has been the unofficial historian of this part of town for many years.

They were great walkers, who thought nothing of walking the bike path from Eau Claire to the bird sanctuary even well into their 80s. They went everywhere together, you rarely saw one without the other. Hardly a day would go by when I wouldn’t run into them somewhere in the ‘hood. Theo would likely make some observation about birds, had I seen many gulls on the bike path? Catherine would like have some historical tidbit to share, or some concern about the state of the world. They were active and engaged.

Catherine hosted a meal in Theo’s honour for his 90th birthday at the Lougheed House a few years ago. It was a great event, very well-attended. It was perhaps a year after that Theo had heart problems and died quite suddenly. They had no children, no family to speak of. There was no funeral or memorial. I guess that’s why Catherine had created that event for his birthday, so we could pay our respects while Theo was still alive.

That left Catherine alone, and after all those years together, you could feel the sense of loss radiating from her. She was quite lost. Suddenly she was a very lonely, even pathetic figure without her beloved Theo. When you ran into her on the street, she would only talk about Theo. There was nothing else on her mind. She wore her grief like an old and comfortable sweater.

A year or so ago, Catherine was diagnosed with cancer. Alone in the world, and older,  she never sought treatment. She had an entirely different plan. Rather, she decided it was time to die, but on her own terms.

As the cancer advanced, she looked into the option of Physician-Assisted death, which has been legal in Canada since 2015. It was approved. She found a doctor who would perform the procedure (for lack of a better word). She found attendants who would be with her at the end and then take care of her body after she was dead. This meant they would arrange transport to the crematorium from her apartment. Catherine would never set foot in a hospital during this entire process.

All that was left was to decide on was a date, and that date in now fast approaching, about a week away as I write this. She is monitoring her symptoms, her discomfort, her level of pain. When it all gets to be too much she will make the call and end her life.

A month ago she had a drop-in farewell party at her apartment. Lots of familiar faces from the neighbourhood were there, reminiscing, paying their respects, saying good-bye one last time. It was really an unforgettable event. None of us had any frame of reference for it. Small talk was rendered useless, and rightfully so. For all that, it was quite a joyous event after all. Certainly a tad surreal, one might say.

She had put out a few things that she and Theo had collected over the years for anyone to take. Otherwise, she had divested herself of all of her furnishings other than a few essential items. There was a rack of Theo’s ties, beautiful woolen tartan ties from Scotland. I took a couple of them. I don’t wear a tie often, but now when I do, I wear one of these ties and  think fondly of both Theo and Catherine.

Last Sunday morning, Catherine sat in Caffe Beano for a few hours. She bought coffee for all those who came in that morning. I guess she figured, what else was she going to do with her money? From what they say, you can’t take it with you. The Beano farewell had been scheduled to take place about a week hence. Catherine didn’t look well at all. I gave her a hug and thanked her for the coffee. I suspect it will be the last time I see her.

Many of us in the neighbourhood are talking about Catherine’s decision, even as we head into our later years ourselves. We’ve been paying attention, taking notes as it were. No one really looks forward to a slow and steady decline in a hospital or hospice. I think most of us admire Catherine and the path she has chosen to end her life. I suppose we all wonder if we will be so brave and decisive when our own time comes.

Personally, I admire her decision.

May angels speed your way, Catherine. Please give my warmest regards to Theo.

 

 

Another Writing Workshop   Leave a comment

 

A writing workshop. images

It’s for anyone who wants to write.

You may be an experienced writer with a project in mind, but for whatever reason are lacking the discipline or focus to get it done.

Or you may be new to the writing world, but believe you would like to give it a try.

Whether it’s poetry, playwriting, or prose fiction, all are welcome.

We will meet for ten weeks in the winter/spring beginning in late January or early February. We typically meet on Monday evenings from 7:00 till 9:00. We will meet at a central location, probably the Opera Centre at 13th Ave. and 7th Street SW. The workshop runs for ten weeks.

The cost is $300.00.

If you’re interested, send me an email  — eugenestickland@gmail.com — and we’ll go from there.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Posted January 23, 2018 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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Keeping Up with the Doolittles   1 comment

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The Doolittles on their 65th wedding anniversary a few years ago.

Joyce Doolittle has been awarded the Order of Canada for her contribution to the Calgary theatre scene both as an educator and an actress. It’s always gratifying and encouraging for those of us who work in the theatre to see one of our own being recognized in a significant manner like this.

If you know Joyce and Quenten, you will know that Joyce would not want to make too big a deal, even of the Order of Canada, in case Quenten would feel left out.

Well, I’m happy to report that  Quenten has won an award himself this December — the Canadian Music Centre/centre de musique canadienne Lifetime Achievement Award. A great reward in its own right, and so marital harmony is assured for at least for the next 65 years.

A few years ago, Joyce and Quenten were honoured at the Pumphouse Theatre for their sustained contribution to Calgary’s cultural life, and of course to the theatre itself, which Joyce helped found, and for whom one of the theatres there is named.

I was asked to MC that event, and for a change I actually made some notes. I include them (with a few revisions) here to provide a little more context for their lives in Calgary:

Good evening and welcome. I’m honoured to have been asked to say a few words about this charming young couple.

They met at Ithica College in New York State, in a hygiene class, because she was a Donahue and he was a Doolittle and they were seated alphabetically. It was more than a passing infatuation. They married and soon had a family. After graduating, Quentin took a job in Rochester and from there secured a position at the new and raw University of Alberta at Calgary as it was then known, teaching strings and theory. And so they drove across the continent in an old Buick woody wagon with three children and a 10 day old baby. Courageous, to put it mildly.

They had had to look in National Geographic to see where Calgary even was. The University when they first saw it in 1960 was only one building in a field of mud. But they soon acquired a beautiful house on 7th Street in Mount Royal, a house that was integral to their life here, part home, part art gallery, part meeting place for artists of all stripes. They became Canadian citizens as soon as they could. They liked it here from the get go.

Quentin was a violinist, but had a chance to join a string quartet that needed a violist. And so he switched, and ended up being principal violist for the Calgary Philharmonic for 10 years. The biggest problem with this, according to Quentin, was getting a decent instrument, violas being relatively rare compared to violins.

When they arrived here, there was no theatre department. That began in 1964. Nor was there a professional theatre company in Calgary. But in 1964 classes in theatre were finally offered, and Joyce got the job of teaching the students that, according to her, “Victor Mitchell didn’t want to bother with, mostly the girls.” She went on to have a good career becoming an expert in children’s theatre around the world.

Quentin taught theory and composition in the music department. They both retired from the U of C around 1988. But one could hardly say they stopped. Quentin went on with John Snow to found New Music Calgary dedicated to contemporary classical music; and he continued to compose music – songs, operas and instrumental pieces. As well as pursuing an acting career, among other things Joyce became drama editor for Red Deer College Press and one of our early projects together was publishing Two Plays by Eugene Stickland, a book marred only by the fact that nowhere in it does Joyce’s name appear.

One fateful day, Joyce was driving along minding her own business and looked down and noticed a rather forlorn, abandoned building. She did some checking and discovered it was an old water pumping station, no longer in use and slated for demolition. She started a petition and with the help of legendary Alderperson Barb Scott saved the building. The rest is history. Just think of the hundreds if not thousands of productions that might never have happened if she hadn’t bothered to do that.

While I was at ATP I taught a playwriting workshop which Joyce participated in one year. The result of this was her piece titled Bible Babes, the babes being Eve, Delilah and Jezebel. Quentin scored Bible Babes for 7 instruments, a narrator and a soprano and it had its premier with New Works Calgary late in the last century.

10 years ago, or so, Joyce was cast in the Lorca plays and decided she needed help learning her lines. She needed someone to run lines with her she asked if my daughter Hanna would be interested. At 8 bucks an hour, I seem to recall. Hanna was interested, and so I found myself driving her to the big house on 7th Street after school, a couple of times a week. Hanna would go in to work with Joyce while I would wander down to 17th Avenue to write in my journal.

I had just come off a ten year stint as playwright in residence at Alberta Theatre Projects. I wrote ten plays in those ten years, six for ATP, three for Lunchbox Theatre and one for Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. My marriage had ended. I was burned out. I really didn’t care to write another play, ever again.

And yet there was something clearly theatrical about that situation, the 78 year old actress and the 14 year old girl working on a play together. Sometimes, the gods put something right before our faces and we would be foolish not to notice. So on one of my trips to the Second Cup on 17th Avenue I wrote a scene, only the girls were working on King Lear as opposed to the Lorca play.

Somehow Joyce got wind of the fact I had written that scene – I blame Hanna for that – and then in the manner of actresses from 18 to 80 made my life a living hell, pestering me at every opportunity. “When are you going to finish that play?” “How’s that play coming along?” “You know I’m going to be 80 soon, so chop chop and write me that play!” Etc. Etc. Etc.

Joyce and Quentin had a lovely dinner party for Joyce on her 80th birthday in their house on 7th Street. What do you give someone for their 80th birthday? A box of Turtles didn’t seem to be enough. I got her a card and in the card I wrote, “I’ll write the bloody play for you. Get off my back. And happy birthday.”

And so I did. And that play was Queen Lear starring Joyce Doolittle. Urban Curvz Theatre produced it right here and it was the only time Joyce acted in a major role in the theatre named after her. Any night that I saw it, the seats seemed to be spring loaded and an appreciative audience gave the performers a rousing spontaneous standing ovation. I can tell you this with all modesty because they weren’t really applauding the play, they were applauding Joyce.

And the fact that at 80 she could still stand on her head!

Speaking of ovations, could we please applaud this wonderful couple, and the profound influence they have had on the performing arts in their adopted city?

Thank you.

Well, you can’t really applaud a blog post, but you could send her a message on Facebook.

Congratulations, Joyce and Quenten on your richly-deserved awards!

Happy New year, everyone! Thanks for reading.

 

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