Keeping Up with the Doolittles   1 comment


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.


I can’t go on, I’ll go on . . .   4 comments

You will recognize those words.   Guillaume'spic

They are not mine but of one of my literary heroes, Samuel Beckett. My other favourite quote of his is:

No matter

Try again

Fail again

Fail better.

Words to live by, or so I think, on any account.

So where have I been, you might ask? Well, let me tell you . . .

The last you heard from me, I had been in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. An early and unpleasant premonition of my ultimate demise, I suppose. They went into my stomach with a gastroscope and cauterised the vein that was the source of the problem. I was meant to lie in the hospital for three days while they observed me but I had a rehearsal for a play I was dramaturging that night, so I checked myself out the next morning. I am a person of the theatre, after all.

That was one of two plays I was involved with at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. The other was a new play of mine called First and Last, which we produced at St. Mary’s and then immediately after with Rogues Theatre in Calgary. Both productions were directed by my friend Joe-Norman Shaw. If you are interested in a play for fifteen actors, with more female roles than male roles, let me know.

Somewhere in there, I did a cameo in a movie by director Guillaume Carlier titled Everybody Altogether Now. Thus began my career as someone who appears but doesn’t really perform, hence my new title for myself, Appearance Artist. (How brilliant is that?!) The photo above is from that film.

After that, if you can believe it, I was in a ballet!  Our Canada, conceived by one of my favourite artists and people,  Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre. I played the ghostly presence of Gordon Lightfoot. ballet1

Here I am slaying the Alberta Ballet Dancers. It was a beautiful ballet, and as you can imagine an amazing experience . . . but then anything is possible when you’re an Appearance Artist!

From there, I went to the Sunset Theatre in Wells, British Columbia, where I (guess what?) appeared in Morag Northey’s amazing creation for cello and narration, titled 17. This was another incredible experience. Morag is one of the most brilliant performers I have ever seen and heard. To sit beside her on stage night after night and witness her awesome artistry was something you can only dream of. We’re hoping to do the piece in Calgary before too long. Here she is, hard at work in the theatre lobby.


At the same time, I taught two terms in the MDRT Program at Calgary’s Abes College. This is a program for health care professionals from around the world, aimed at helping them get a job here in the medical system, instead of working at Tim Horton’s or driving Uber. This continues to be one of the good things I do in my life. Sure it pays some bills, but I love the students and I try to help them feel at home here in their adopted country of Canada. This is my student Jen celebrating the end of a brilliant term together.


I’m teaching a playwriting class at St. Mary’s currently. I am writing a play for my friend Duval Lang about an incident from the life of Calgary legend Bob Edwards. And I am writing a series of short stories based on life in my old neighbourhood in Regina, back in the day.

Busy as usual, broke as usual, and it will come as no surprise, recuperating from having my old heart broken,yet again. Sigh. I really had high hopes this time.

I will try to make this a much more regular appearance and have an exciting announcement to make in my next post.

I hope you are all well! Stay warm, take your Vitamin D, remember to smile.

Thanks for reading!




Closing the Door   11 comments

There was no denying that there was something seriously wrong with me. chumir

I’ll just say this about it: there was black blood in the bowl when I looked back down. I’ve become an expert over the years at avoiding the little aches and pains. I can sit here and write this because I have never had a symptom that didn’t resolve itself, often with no help from me. But some things just can’t be denied, and so I knew had to go to urgent care.

Black blood portends nothing good. I felt like a lifetime of neglect and excess was now oozing out of me, demanding that I pay attention. Could it be fatal? I didn’t know. Do the reading on Google, as I did. It’s not encouraging, to say the least.

And so, I had to take stock. I looked around my apartment and wondered if I would ever see it again. Or if I would, when? And if when, who would have been in there in the meanwhile? Friends? My daughter? I had no idea. I wasn’t well enough to clean it properly on any account. There was no time to write a will, to leave instructions. Suddenly, there was no time. Just like that, I wondered if I was out of time, finally.

I may have talked myself out of leaving, but the trips to the toilet were becoming more urgent, more frequent, more painful. I packed some books and notebooks, some extra ink in my bag, put on my coat and shoes and left my apartment. I locked the deadbolt. I stopped and took what may have been one last look at my door, the umber 507. I was not certain that I would ever see it again.

This may seem a little over-the-top and melodramatic to some of you. But when you reach a certain age, as I have, and you live alone, as I do, then you have to at least account for the worst case scenario. Once you do, it’s not hard to spiral down and go to the bad place. To put it mildly, it was an emotional leave taking from my place. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so alone or vulnerable in my life.

After being poked and prodded and even entered (as it were), and having had my blood pressure taken scores of times, I was examined by a gastroscope-wielding specialist whose name I didn’t quite get. This involved sliding the instrument into my stomach by way of my mouth, a procedure that the doctor and nurse and others in the room sneakily knocked me out for. (Which I am so thankful for.) In their examination, they found a small vein that was “actively bleeding,” I think was how my doctor put it.

This they cauterized and in so doing, solved my problem. No more bleeding. Good thing, because my hemoglobin count was down a full third from all the blood I lost. They wanted to keep me in the hospital for three days to monitor me, but I checked myself out the next morning. I knew what we were all looking for; I told them I could monitor myself at home.

I had an AFA grant to apply for. I had an important rehearsal to attend for a collective play I am shepherding into existence. My doctor said sarcastically that it was too bad my healing was getting in the way of my busy schedule. I told him I am a person of the theatre and that there was nothing I could do about it.

So after all that, home and back in a little over 24 hours. I have no complaints about our health care system in Alberta, let me tell you. I was treated with consummate professionalism ever step of the way.

It took a little out of me. I’d already lost 25 pounds in 2016 and I lost another 5 throughout this ordeal. I’m a little weak still, probably from the loss of blood. But I was never so glad to get back to my place, to my own personal mess, the books that never manage to find their way onto shelf, the laundry that never gets put away, and to my very own bed.

And yet, something lingers . . . that dread that I felt when I closed my door and walked down the stairs of my apartment to the street and on to urgent care, that sudden awareness that we can delay the inevitable but we can’t cheat death, it will find us all. Never had I felt it more intensely before. The chill lingers, even though it looks like it missed me. This time.

I’m glad to be here. I really am. I don’t really care that I had a rotten night’s sleep. I don’t mind that it’s cold outside again, because I can go outside, again. I have a play to get into production. I have a book to finish. I still have things to do. I’m thankful to be here.

If you are reading these words, I suggest you look around and give thanks for what you have, in your own way.

For all it’s problems, it’s still a beautiful world after all.

Posted February 4, 2017 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

A Surprise Birthday Party — For Myself!   1 comment


In front of my grandma’s apartment in Regina when I was a tad younger.

Ten years ago I was facing what seemed then the rather grim prospect of turning 50. 50?! That seemed like a gigantic number when I was 49. How had I gotten to be so old? Surely there was a mistake! Was I done? Was my race run? Was I spent and washed out, through, finished, caput?

The prospect was daunting and depressing. Making matters worse, ten years ago I found myself without a “partner” (of any shape or form), so I was going to have to go it alone. Yet I knew if I were to celebrate such an auspicious birthday alone in my apartment in my soiled underwear that I would become very depressed indeed. And so without a significant other to do it for me, I threw a surprise birthday party for myself. Well, guess what?! It turned out to be one of the best nights of my life. What I can remember of it.

Well, here we are, ten years later, and other than the enormity of the number (WHICH WE SHALL NOT NAME) nothing much has changed. Still getting older, some new scars and aches and pains accumulated in the last decade, still alone in the world, still afraid of ringing in the next decade all alone in my underwear, so now is the time to invite you to a surprise birthday party for myself.

This year’s (decade’s) extravaganza will take place on Saturday, September 24 which will be in fact my 60th birthday. (There, I said the number, not so bad.) Guests are asked to assemble and congregate and muster and comingle around 5:00 PM. The birthday boy himself is scheduled to arrive around 6:00 PM, with the idea that as I enter, guests will jump out from their hiding places and scream “Surprise!” and give me a near heart attack in the manner of surprise parties from time immemorial.

The location for this great event is my new local in the beltline, The Blind Monk Pub, which is located at 918 12th Ave SW, across from the Board of Ed building and Barb Scott Park. If you can’t be there before 6, no worries, come anytime, it would be nice to see you.

Presents. This is a big concern. You might be thinking to yourself, Eugene hardly seems like the type to want a present. In this, you would be wrong. Of course I want a present. How could you even think of showing up without something for me? Come on, get with the program, it’s my freaking birthday. (Just kidding, kind of.)

The last time we did this is was at the old Auburn Saloon. I told Jesse (the owner) that there might be 100 people there, or it might just be him and me playing cribbage. Mercifully we had a great turn out and I was able to catch up a lot of old friends.

This year, I’ve told Spyder at the Blind Monk the same thing. Of course, there’s no way of knowing numbers because it’s a surprise party. But I hope you will come by and hoist a drink with me.

Remember, if you see me between now and then, don’t mention the party to me. It’s supposed to be a surprise!

Thanks for reading.


Factotum   1 comment

Going into the next month or so, late August to late September, I find myself in a rather unique position, breathing some rare air, as they say.traveling

I have just returned from Wells, BC and a stint with the Sunset Theatre, a real gem and ray of hope in the Canadian theatre cosmology. I was there as a dramaturge, helping worry Michaela Jeffery’s new play, Hardscrabble Road, into production and into the world.

At the same time, I was working with the truly gifted cellist, Morag Northey, helping her create a one woman show for herself and her cello. We got a good start on that and hope to premier the play back in Wells next summer.

It felt good to work in the theatre again — it’s been a while as I took a detour the last few years into the world of the novel with the writing of my own novel, The Piano Teacher.

It’s been a wonderful ride, so wonderful in fact I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. This week I will be taking part in a reading at Shelf Life Books on Tuesday, August 16 in conjunction with the W.O. Mitchell Award. This is an award given by the Writers Guild of Alberta and the City of Calgary to honour what was felt to be the finest book written in the city in the last year.

I am a finalist this year for The Piano Teacher, along with Sharon Butala and Will Ferguson. The three of us will be reading from our books on Tuesday.

Maybe it sounds trite, yet it’s true, I respect both of these writers tremendously and will be honoured to be in their company – win or lose, this nomination means a lot. They will announce the recipient on September 28 – more on that at a later date.

At the same time, I have been occupied with a new venture, a volume of poems that I have written through the years, titled Nocturnal Emissions. And so another book of poetry comes into the world. In some ways it is difficult to get excited about a book of poems, and yet I am encouraged by the words of the poet William Carlos Williams:

It is difficult the get the news from poems

Yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.

I find there has been too much news in the world of late. Maybe a book of poems is needed more than ever.

I suppose for me this book is really a labour of love. It’s a way for me to celebrate my upcoming birthday, as I endeavour not to go gentle into that good night!

Nocturnal Emissions will be launched on September 22 at Shelf Life Books, and then relaunched and christened with beer on my birthday, September 24 at a surprise birthday party I’m throwing for myself (I know, I know) at the Blond Monk pub on 12th Ave.

Here’s one of the poems from the collection:



The colour drains

The spirit wanes

I hardly know

What to make of it

It was a day like this

When jazz first got blown

Or Bell talked into his phone

Or Einstein bent a ray of light

Or Leonardo dreamed of flight


Not to be alone

Anything to discover a reason why

And so I write, deep into the night

There are better ways than this

I suppose





Making out with a stranger in a basement suite

While a big dog scratches at the door

I struck on this

A hundred years

Ago so

Here I sit

Doing it



I called this post Factotum, which, as I understand the word, means someone who does a lot of different jobs, which in the writing world seems true of me. I’ve always enjoyed this sense of versatility, being able to express myself artistically in a number of different forms and genres. Seems they are all converging these days which is really quite magical.

All in all, I have to say the next six weeks are so are shaping up to be very exciting in the world of Eugenius. I hope you can help me celebrate my birthday by attending any or all of these events and of course, buying the books.

Thanks for reading!







A Little Update   Leave a comment




It’s been a while, I know, since I spilled any electronic ink here on my blog.I hardly know myself where I’ve been. I could add I’ve been through one of those times when I feel I hardly know myself, period. Well, it happens. Life happens. Until it doesn’t. Anyway, I’m still here.

For those who want to know, I have been teaching a lot of late. I finished yet another term working with foreign-educated doctors and other professionals at Alberta Business and Educational Services. It’s always rewarding, but I’m a little exhausted after 12 weeks, as it’s 6 hours a day in front of a class. That’s a lot, by anyone’s standards.

Over the winter, I taught a writing workshop for interested people in the community. Twelve of us gathered every Monday evening at the Opera Centre on 7th Street and by and large the enthusiasm of the group and the quality of the work produced was gratifying and rewarding. I’ll probably do another of these even as early as the fall – I’ll put a notice of the next workshop on Facebook.

Finally, I taught a spring session prose writing class at St. Mary’s University here in Calgary. There were some really wonderful writers in that class, young and old, and the six weeks went by so quickly, in the blink of an eye it was all over.

My novel The Piano Teacher keeps creeping back onto the Calgary Herald best sellers list which is truly amazing – it’s been over a year since I launched it. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me how much they enjoyed it, either in person or on Facebook. Writing that novel when I did was once of the best things I’ve done for myself in recent memory.

And yet for all that, the last several months have been all bout poetry for me. The sudden reappearance of my muse a few months ago (and regrettably, her subsequent disappearance) inspired me to finally put together a volume of my poetry. I’ve been meaning to do this for years and now it’s finally happening.

The name of the book is Nocturnal Emissions. I will be launching it at Shelf Life Books in Calgary on September 22. I was originally going to call it 60 because its publication is part of my planned events around the celebration of my 60th birthday. I know, I know. I’m trying to get my head around that number, it’s seems enormous and it simply sounds old to me. But as I hope I’m not jinxing anything in saying I’ll still be kicking around in September, one has to think it’s better than the alternative, of not turning 60.  But the fact of the matter remains that I am up to 69 poems (and counting) and I also think Nocturnal Emissions is a damned good title for a volume of poetry.

As was the case with The Piano Teacher, I will be having a second launch of the book at the Blind Monk Pub on 12th Avenue on Saturday, September 24, which is my actual birthday. I am actually planning a surprise birthday party for myself that evening, but more on that later.

The Nocturnal Emissions document is open so with little effort, I can offer a sneak preview of one of the poems:


There is a scent of aloneness

That blows through in autumn

It remains aloof from you even as

You remain aloof from yourself


The shadows of former lovers lengthen

As the days grow short and cold

Till all that’s left is a faint

Indentation on your bed where once –


And now you spend your days

And dreams alone

Wound up and falling apart

Into the creeping hours of the endless night


Aloof, all of it

Distant and detached

You can only watch

In silent disbelief


As the purpose of your life

Slips by, gliding

Like a great dark river

Flowing through the dead of night.


Well, there’s a little update. And to leave you with something a little more uplifting, here’s one of my favourite songs ever. Maybe part of my problem is that I still think I’m one of the young dudes . . .


Thanks for reading!



Posted June 19, 2016 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

RIP, David Bowie   1 comment

BowieFrom time to time, I type out what I’ve written in my daily journal. This is from today, January 11, 2016.

RIP David Bowie

I woke up early again, too early. 4:30-ish. (Once upon a time, that’s when I went to bed. Whatever happened?) I looked on Facebook on my iPad (with a coffee in my sleepless bed) and read that David Bowie had passed away yesterday. I think I saw it first from my daughter Hanna who lives in Europe and posted something before anyone in North America would have seen it.

I got up and put on a You Tube compilation of his songs. So many songs that have always been a part of my life, somehow. Ashes to Ashes is likely my favourite. But then there’s Space Oddity (the original appearance of Major Tom). Maybe I like it more. Changes. Heroes. Wild is the Wind. So many great songs, no point trying to enumerate them all.

I feel very sad today, which I find a little surprising. I mean, people die every day. I didn’t feel any particular strong bond to David Bowie. Or at least I didn’t know I had. Obviously he meant more to me than I had realized.

I mentioned this to one of the young women who works at Caffe Beano and she reminded me to look at the bright side, that he had an amazing life, he was old, he had cancer, etc. etc. I know she’s right. Of course she is, and it was good of her to try to cheer me up. But when you get to a certain age yourself, though, when someone who has always been there, a part of your life, suddenly dies (or even not so suddenly) you are reminded of your own mortality, and just how quickly our lives pass by. And that’s enough to make a person sad.

Looking back, I remember buying the album Scary Monsters when I moved to Toronto from Regina in the fall of 1980 to go to York University. I was twenty-four. I was suddenly exposed to the music (and art, generally) that my fellow students from across Canada were into. (I remember getting into the Talking Heads at the same time and buying their album, Remain in Light. 1980 was a good year in music.)

My new friend Janine definitely turned me on to Bowie. Of course, I knew his music before then, but she ramped it up significantly. It was very cool to identify with Bowie, and even dress in the new wave fashion – skinny Edwin jeans, black leather jacket, white running shoes and a hair cut that now could only be described as a mullet.

I damn near wore that Scary Monsters album out, I played it so many times. (Btw, we’re talking vinyl here. I didn’t get a CD player until the late ‘80s.) I was open to pop music again after a foray into the classical world that had lasted for about ten years while I seriously studied the piano.

Whoever Major Tom is, and whether that song is about drugs or just the general alienation and otherness that we all feel from time to time – whatever it means, exactly, Space Oddity has always been helpful, giving words to our experience and a balm to our alienation and in this way it could be said to be an anthem for a generation.

(There are others from around the same time – notably Stairway to Heaven, Hey Jude, Born to Run, and some earlier ones like The Sounds of Silence, Heart of Gold and Big Yellow Taxi. To name but a few . . . )

I seem to have a memory from back in the day (and I say that I seem to because I’m not 100% certain that it really happened). I was driving along an empty stretch of highway in Saskatchewan on a warm summer’s night. The sun roof was open, the great canopy of stars was vibrating above in the inky blackness. I had smoked a fatty and was listening to Space Oddity full blast – floating in a most peculiar away . . . sitting in a tin can . . . far above the world . . .

It comes back to me now as a moment of perfect contentment, one of those rare moments in a lifetime. It’s a nice memory, even if it never happened.

The world feels a little emptier today, the silence a little louder.

Thanks for reading.

RIP, David.

And then there’s this . . . .

Posted January 11, 2016 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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