March 27, 2020

In Memoriam: Joyce Doolittle

Campus flag lowered on Friday, March 27

The University of Calgary is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved members, Joyce Doolittle, who passed away on March 6, 2020, ending a long and distinguished career as a theatre artist, scholar, and educator.

Joyce Doolittle was born in Morgantown, West Virginia on April 5, 1928, and was educated at Ithaca College and Indiana University.  She came to Calgary in 1960, when she arrived with her late husband, composer Quenten Doolittle, and their four children.

She quickly became an important player in local theatre activity, joining the Allied Arts Centre to teach drama to teenagers, while also directing plays for the Dominion Drama Festival and the Musicians and Actors Club (MAC), the precursor of Theatre Calgary.  In 1964 she was invited to join the University of Calgary to teach acting and creative drama for the Continuing Education Department, and a few years later became one of the first members of the newly formed Department of Drama in the Faculty of Fine Arts, where she continued to teach until her retirement in 1988.

As a specialist in youth theatre, Joyce co-authored with colleague Zina Barnieh in the now classic A Mirror of Our Dreams: Children and the Theatre in Canada (Talonbooks 1979). She was also the first Canadian member of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Youth (ASSITEJ), where she ultimately became the honorary president of the Canadian section. She edited the Canadian Theatre Review special issue on Theatre for Young Audiences (CTR 10, Spring, 1976), and she was instrumental in the establishment of Calgary’s Pumphouse Theatre, where in 1984, one of the two performance spaces was named in her honour.

During her long academic career she acted in and directed many plays for the University of Calgary and other local theatres, and her work as an actor would continue after her retirement from the university in both film and theatre. She most notably appeared for Theatre Calgary in 2007 in the role of the aunt in Vigil by Morris Panych and for Urban Curvz, where at the age of 81 she performed the title role in Eugene Stickland’s Queen Lear at the Pumphouse Theatre, which bears her name. Her numerous awards include a Betty Mitchell Award, an ACTRA Life Membership, an Alberta Achievement Award, the Harry and Martha Cohen Award, and a Woman of Distinction Award in Education. In 2018 she received the Order of Canada for pioneering the advancement of the Calgary theatre scene with her significant philanthropic and volunteer contributions in the Canadian arts community.

She will be sorely missed by her many colleagues and former students.