Pre-eminent Calgary theatre director, actor and writer, Joyce Doolittle, has been awarded the Order of Canada for “contributing to the advancement of theatre in Calgary through her pioneering efforts as a performer, teacher and leader.”
Joyce, who turns 90 this spring, came to Calgary with her husband Quenten in the 1960s. “At the time, there were amateur theatre groups but no professional theatre companies,” said Joyce. “So instead of working in theatre, I went to work at the University of Calgary teaching drama while Quenten worked there in the music department.”
Joyce was never content to produce or direct plays that had been done so often before. Rather, she looked for plays that were new, but that would attract an audience. “I always found Western Canada to be open to new ideas, so creating plays that showcased the talent of young actors yet also proved to be popular with audiences was my criteria when it came to deciding which plays to develop.”
Providing opportunities for young actors was a lifelong passion for Joyce. In the 1960s, she served as Canada’s representative on Assitej, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, which continues to operate in Canada and Europe.
In 1971, Joyce recognized a need to provide affordable space for new drama companies and for children’s theatre. She set her sights on an abandoned water pumping station on Calgary’s west side, which in 1972 became Pumphouse Theatre. Ten years later the small pump room was renamed the Joyce Doolittle Theatre. Last year, Pumphouse honoured her and Quenten at an event that also showcased their artwork – another expression of their artistic interest.
“I have always felt that theatre for children shouldn’t speak down to them. Children’s theatre should be aimed at the whole family and convey ideas that everyone can find useful regardless of age. I spent 20 years of my life improving conditions for young actors and ensuring that the quality of production is every bit as good as production for adults.” In this video clip, Joyce talks about her passion for children’s theatre.
Joyce and Quenten live at United Active Living’s Garrison Green community, which is a strong supporter of the arts in Calgary. She believes it’s this lifelong passion for young actors and theatre in Calgary that brought her to the Governor General’s attention as an Order of Canada recipient.
“I like to think that I helped make a difference in the artistic climate in Calgary,” she laughs. “I’ve been a cheerleader for good theatre all of my life. I wanted to create a climate for new old stuff and good new stuff, and I’m very honoured to be recognized for those achievements!”
While she has earned a little down time, Joyce continues to work with young actors in Calgary. She will be lending her expertise to students of Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary through a partnership between United Active Living and the Alberta Music Education Foundation. The project is an inter-generational storytelling project combining music and drama.
“I’ve been very blessed to be able to work and create in an artistic area that I have loved my whole life,” said Joyce. “I am honoured to receive the Order of Canada. It is very special because of the recipients who have won it before. I’m in good company!”
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