Archive for the ‘University of Calgary’ Tag

Keeping Up with the Doolittles   1 comment

IMG_1532

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.

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: