Archive for the ‘Johanna Stickland’ Tag

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.


Some Thoughts on Photography   6 comments

Shot on film, unretouched, call it Waiting for Summer.

Shot on film, unretouched, I call it Waiting for Summer

If you know me at all, you know that I take aspects of old school to a heightened level of funk.

The most consistent and enduring example of this is my love of fountain pens and mechanical pencils and the fact that I write first drafts of almost everything I publish or produce long hand, in graph paper notebooks.

Some think this is a tad eccentric and they may be right but I hardly care. If you’re successful, you’re considered eccentric. If you’re a failure, you’re considered weird. So I’ll take eccentric, thank you very much.

Again, if you know me at all, you know I love to take photographs. Some of my photos have ended up on the covers of books and published elsewhere, hither and yon. Many of them grace the walls of friends, usually gifts from me, but from time to time a wealthy patron will actually pay me for my troubles.

And yet once again, if you know me at all, you know I have a daughter named Hanna, although professionally she is known as Johanna, and you may know that she has done some modeling in her time – nothing major, just the Dior show in Paris, par example – and is making her way in the world and finding her artistic expression on the other side of  the camera as a photographer.

But here’s the thing. While I have always shot digital, Hanna who must have picked up her old school predisposition somewhere, I wonder where, prefers to shoot on film. And while I’m an old school gentleman myself, I never understood her desire to do so until a friend gave me a beautiful Minolta Dynex 500si this week and I shot, for the first time in decades, a roll of film.

Suddenly, brave new world, I discovered why Hanna is into film and not into digital.

It hits on so many levels. Putting in the film in the first place. Did it really get in there properly? Am I really taking photographs or is the film just bunched up inside? Will I be wasting my time for the next 24 or 36 shots?

And then – what I think I love the most – the sound and the feel of the click as the shutter opens and closes again. For a photographer, perhaps this is the most satisfying sensation in the world.

Then there is the care that you have to line your shot up with. You only have one chance, you can’t take ten like you do with a digital.

And so you take your shot, but then what? You can’t look at it. You can only hope, maybe pray, that it will turn out. And then you take a bunch of other shots, again hoping and praying, until your roll is done.

And then the film rewinds and you can only hope that the film isn’t all fucked up inside your camera. You open the back and take out the roll and you go to London Drugs or whatever and give it to them so they can develop it and make you some prints.

And then you wait. You’re aware of the exact time that you can go and pick up your prints. It seems to take forever. And when you do pick them up, there is a strange moment of truth when you first see the envelope and see that there are actually prints in there and so far so good, you now have something to look at.

You take your envelope to a special place and open it and look at your prints. What a moment! And then all those shots come back to you. Some suck, most suck. Some are ok. But a few of them, even one of them, might just be inspired.

It’s such a beautiful and prolonged process compared to the instant gratification of seeing what you just shot digitally.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and so I am content to imitate my daughter in this regard, as I think she is the most awesome person on the planet.

She was kind enough to share a recent photo of hers here on my little blog.

As you can see, while I take pictures, she’s actually an artist.

Thanks for reading!

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

In Search of the Elusive Chucks: Photo Essay   5 comments

My friend the poet and photographer Jude Dillon accompanied me recently on a shopping expedition to Divine Decadence on 17th Avenue SW for my annual spring acquisition of a new pair of Converse All Stars — aka Chucks.

At the front door of Divine Decadence. Obviously I’ve already been next door to Reid’s Stationers where I bought a notebook which I did need and a fountain pen that I didn’t need.I have so many fountain pens now that I don’t need, but I can’t seem to help myself. The same could be said of Chucks. This pair I am in search of today will be pair #4. Oh well.



Atop the stairs preparing for the descent into Decadence. A tad apprehensive, perhaps. It’s a major undertaking that I don’t take lightly.



Holy Moses! Decisions, decisions! Do you ever find that too much choice can lead to paralysis?



A Prufrock moment: Do I dare wear a pair of peach-coloured Chucks?(Or are they tangello? Or is there such a thing as tangello Chucks? What would Prufrock have done? Or for that matter, Elliot? An existential conundrum . . .)




The lovely Megan helping me with the all important decision. We consulted for several hours, I had her people call my people, they did, they took a lunch, I took a nap, but when I woke up I was hungry because I hadn’t had my own lunch. Buying shoes can be exhausting.



The moment of truth. Yes they had the style I wanted and they even had my size, which is no small feat, so to speak, when you’re size 13. A small village of small people could live in one of my shoes. A hamlet. I wonder if Hamlet wore Chucks? If I were directing it, I’d put him in the exact same pair as I’m buying for myself.


Lacing up! This black on black style was recommended to me by my daughter Johanna Stickland who is the most famous fashion model I know and whom I trust entirely as my fashion adviser. She’s in Portugal right now, in case you’re wondering. But she’s going to Concordia in the fall to study photography.


Success! Over the years, my definition of success has become admittedly somewhat narrow. But you can never have too many shoes!




Hopefully I have enough in my account to pay for these suckers! I was once on a date and I had to stop off at the ATM to get some cash. I told my date I wasn’t sure if I had any money in my account. But then I took some out. And so she asked me how much I had in my account and I said around $1,000.00. She said, “So you don’t really know within $1,000.00 what your bank balance is?” And I said “That’s right.” She just shook her head, and then we had a drink.


The photographer. This is as much of the mysterious Jude Dillon as you’re likely to see.




Love yourself: why not? Better than the alternative! A nice reminder. Our trip to Divine was a lovely interlude. I make no secret that I love to support local businesses. Divine is an institution on 17th Ave., the people are friendly, what’s not to like? By the way, Megan asked me to put in a plug for their big sale coming up called Midnight Madness. It’s on April 27th from 7PM till Midnight. Everything in the store on sale up to 80%! (Details at

(I think I’ll head back and reconsider those peach coloured high tops)

Thanks for reading!

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