Joy Coghill-Thorne, a woman honoured many times by the performing arts communities she nurtured, passed away, Friday, January 20th in the palliative care unit of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. She had been admitted a few days earlier after suffering massive heart failure.
Joy Coghill has left an indelible mark on Canadian theatre. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA in 1949, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1951 and has an honorary doctorate from UBC. Joy was a student of Dorothy Somerset’s and spoke at the opening of the new Dorothy Somerset Studio when it officially opened in 2006.
She taught at UBC Theatre and Film and The Joy Coghill Award in Theatre, initiated ten years ago, is given to an incoming student in the BFA Acting program and is based on talent.
From 1951 to 1953, she was co-producer at Vancouver’s Everyman Theatre with Sydney Risk. She co-founded (with Myra Benson) the first professional children’s theatre in the country, Vancouver’s Holiday Theatre (1953), and was artistic director until 1966.
During her tenure as artistic director of Vancouver Playhouse, she presented George Ryga‘s controversial plays, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and Grass and Wild Strawberries. She also initiated the Playhouse’s Stage 2 for new Canadian works, including The Visitor by Betty Lambert.
From 1970 to 1973, she was head of the English section of the National Theatre School of Canada.
She acted or directed in many of the country’s major venues including Globe Theatre; Muskoka Summer Theatre; Frederic Wood Theatre (Vancouver); Saidye Bronfman Centre; Factory Theatre; Theatre Plus (title role of Forever Yours, Marie-Lou by Michel Tremblay, 1974), Grand Theatre, London; Alberta Theatre Projects (Sarah Bernhardt in Memoir by John Murrell, 1981); Tarragon Theatre (Albertine in Albertine in Five Times by Tremblay); and National Arts Centre (Edna in Jennie’s Story by Betty Lambert, 1986).
In 1987, she played the role of an aging, disabled actor seeking the spirit of Emily Carr in her own play, Song of This Place (Vancouver East Cultural Centre), remounted in 2004 at the Frederic Wood Theatre (published by Playwrights Canada Press 2003). In March 2001, she appeared in Wit at Canadian Stage (dir. Glynis Leyshon).
Her range extended from the modern classics (The Seagull, The Crucible) to the Canadian repertory ( Michael Cook‘s Head, Guts and Sound Bone Dance). Her performances were marked by a vivacious and inquisitive spirit.
She also performed frequently in film, television and on radio.
From 1994 to 1999 she ran a company for older actors in Vancouver, called Western Gold, for which she devised The Alzheimer Project. The company also produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream with actors all over the age of 60, the subject of a documentary by the CBC entitled The Courage to Dream.
She was the recipient of numerous honours, including two honorary degrees, four Jessie Richardson Awards, and a Herbert Whittaker Critic’s Award. She was a member of the Order of Canada, and in 2002 she received a Governor General’s Award in Performing Arts.
In her last years, she lived in the Performing Arts Lodge, Vancouver, which she founded as a residence for artists with Jane Heyman. Since 1955, she was married to Jack Thorne.
There will be a Celebration of Life Service in the coming weeks at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Performing Arts Lodge Vancouver.