“If the theatre is to endure, to endear itself to all people, it must reach their hearts… It must touch them to tears and laughter and illuminate for them the strange mystery of their unfathomable destinies.”
-Dr. Betty Mitchell (From Betty Mitchell By Ken Dyba)
In her full and varied life, she traded a childhood of challenge for a teaching career, which eventually brought her to the arts. After working for ten years in Calgary schools, the University of Alberta graduate moved to Western Canada High School in 1934. Drama was introduced into the curriculum in 1936 and the former biology teacher found herself Director of the Drama Department. Betty had discovered the great love of her life.
She received the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1942, an M.A. from the State University of Iowa in 1944, followed by a National Research Fellowship from the Cleveland Playhouse. That same year, Betty and her students founded their infamous Workshop 14 which would go on to win nine Dominion Drama Awards and become a training ground for future theatre professionals.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, Betty was a force behind MAC 14 (after a merger of Workshop 14 and the Musicians’ and Actors’ Club), which eventually became Theatre Calgary. As producer, director and teacher, Betty helped to build a vibrant stage community in Calgary, and became sought after as an adjudicator and speaker across Canada.
As achievements mounted, so too did awards, including a City of Calgary citation for her contribution to culture and art. She received an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Alberta in 1958 for her achievements in amateur theatre, the only such doctorate awarded in Canada. Anyone for whom theatre is a passion owes a huge debt of gratitude to Calgary’s first lady of theatre.