Is it really 20 years since the Bettys started? Grant Linneberg did a very good thing getting this ball rolling way back when!
There is a whole whack of stuff that happened before I stumbled into the Calgary theatre community, and I hope that someone captures and shares those stories. But here’s some of my story.
I grew up south of Calgary, and went to school in Okotoks. I remember a Theatre Calgary Stage Coach Players school tour show that came to our gym - it must have been early or mid 1970s. I don’t remember the story or the performers or anything - but there was an amazing parachute cloth that they used - I’d never seen that before. Spectacle! In a gym!
In grade 10, my awesome English/Drama teacher Marlene Stevens took us to the old Theatre Calgary space (the QR Centre, part of which is still standing on 9th Ave SW) for a student matinee of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. I loved it! Stephen Hair was in that production, as was Maureen Thomas. I watched them at theatres around town for years, and was star-struck when I finally got to work with each of them.
When I was in high school, I attended a week of the Drumheller Drama School (which is now Artstrek). I found my people, my tribe, my comfort zone! A shy farm boy who liked theatre, surrounded by talented, accepting, adventurous budding artists. Kate Newby was there that week, as were many others that continue to work in the arts across the country.
After high school, I went to the University of Calgary, and graduated with a BFA (Drama) in 1984. I was given a solid grounding and a range of approaches taught by a group of legends: Philip McCoy, Victor Mitchell, Joyce Doolittle, Pat Benedict, Grant Reddick, Keith Turnbull… Heery Lynn arranged for us to see shows at ATP, Lunchbox and Theatre Calgary, and gave us opportunities to intern with those same companies. And many fellow students and friends are still part of the Calgary theatre community: Grant Linneberg, Johanne Deleeuw, Jim Leyden, Mark Bellamy, Elizabeth Stepkowski, Kevin Rothery, Donna Sharpe… (and many others that my wee brain has momentarily forgotten).
The fall after I graduated, I was asked back to play a role in Edward Bond’s play BINGO. I’m so glad I did - Elizabeth Dozois played my daughter, and after all these years, she still plays my wife! Our first date was seeing TC’s A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE - with Ed O’Neill (now on Modern Family) as Stanley, and Val Pearson as Eunice.
One of my first paying jobs in the theatre was during the construction of the Arts Commons - I got paid $40 for a day for leading hard-hat tours through the shell of the building. And when the complex opened, I played Curio in TC’s TWELFTH NIGHT - the first show in the new Max Bell Theatre. I also earned my stripes doing shows with Lunchbox, ATP and Quest, working with Calgary theatre legends Duval Lang, Sharon Pollock and John Murrell.
I’m very thankful for the all of the joint productions that happened back in the 90s (and still happen now and then). Seeing other cities and working with artists from across the country helps foster a sense of equality and sharing. And thanks to two female artistic directors from other cities, I got a chance to play lead roles at ATP and TC for the first time. I wore the dress for TC’s CHARLEY’S AUNT thanks to Susan Cox and the Vancouver Playhouse (both sadly gone now). And Maja Ardal (who ran YPT in Toronto) cast me as a 12 year old Australian boy in ATP’s TWO WEEKS WITH THE QUEEN.
I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many companies and artists in this city, as well as those artists who come to Calgary for specific projects. I’m also lucky when I get to meet and work with students at U of C, Rosebud, U of L, U of A and community groups. I’m curious to know the number of people in Calgary who love and support and attend theatre - it’s gotta be YUUGE!
WHERE WE ARE NOW:
Some things never change: celebrating and commiserating with fellow artists about the awards, auditions, artistic director regime changes, work opportunities (or lack thereof…).
But there have been some good changes. CADA is a step in the right direction from the previous CRAF civic funding model. I was asked to serve on their board as the first ‘working artist’, which I think is a good thing. It’s nice to see that Theatre Calgary now has Stephen Hair on their board - I hope this trend of theatre artists as board members continues.
We seem to be in a state of flux at the moment - a new AD coming to Theatre Calgary, ADs stepping down at ATP and Lunchbox, Mount Royal’s program disappearing, big changes at the U of C… Here’s hoping that things firm up for the better. Despite the booms and busts, we keep throwing our hearts and souls into making good theatre.
WHERE WE’RE GOING:
That might be a question for all of those fresh young folks who are picking up the torch - but I hope they’ll remember all those who came before, and build on what they’ve done (and maybe throw this old guy a role now and then).
WHAT I MISS:
I sometimes feel nostalgic for the old spaces: TC’s old QR Centre, ATP’s former home in the Canmore Opera House at Heritage Park, Lunchbox’s digs in Bow Valley Square, OYR’s former spaces, the Pleiades/Vertigo Planetarium…
I miss seeing and doing great Theatre Junction plays in the lower Jube with an awesome teams of artists.
I miss those groups who did important work, and are no longer around - Live Arts Theatre Alberta (LATA) and Blacklist.
And I miss working with all of those artists who are no longer with us. Here are a few of a very long list: John Ormerod (former Calgarian, and Drumheller Drama School student), Gina Wilkinson, Eric Steiner, and of course, Richard McDowell and Michael Green.
The years click by pretty quick, and the work we do is so ephemeral. But I’m so honoured to be a part of this great community. Here’s to the next 20 years of celebrating all that we do with the Betty Mitchell Awards!