Sunday, November 6, 2016

From Hal to HAL - Part 2: Varsity



DOUGLAS ENROLLED at the University of Manitoba in 1946. The UoM, located in his home town of Winnipeg, was the first university in Western Canada. Immediately upon enrolling, he joined the Dramatic Society at the university and began honing his craft. It was not the first time he was acting with the Dramatic Society – he had previously participated in many productions with them – but this time he joined as a university student.

Canadian theatre was in a bit of an upheaval in the post-war years; to that date theatre in Canada had traditionally been either imported from Europe or it was in the hands of amateur groups, such as all the various companies Douglas had been in contact with. It was at this point – at the university – that he began to feel the first inklings of frustration; a mild irritation about the absence of professional opportunities within Canadian theatre.

One of the first major productions of the Dramatic Society that Doug was involved in was the comedy The Male Animal, which played only two days, on November 22 and 23 in 1946.

During the 1946 to 1947 season the Dramatic Society was very active, producing a total of thirteen plays, and it extended its activities to include several new groups.

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At the University of Manitoba, Noel Coward's comedy The Young Idea, directed by Robert Jarman, was the major production of 1946, presented at the University Auditorium, November 26 to November 29. The play was a story about a man whose sons from a previous marriage show up to break up his new marriage. Douglas Rain played Sholto, one the children in the play, and again his work was described in the press as “outstanding”.

On Friday, January 31, 1947, the Dramatic Society performed the play The Woodcarver’s Wife at the second annual Inter-Varsity Festival. Douglas acted the role of Louis de Lotbiniere. The entry of the University of Alberta was Bernard’s play Martine. The University of British Columbia was also present at the festival, presenting their production of Solomon’s Folly, a comedy about Solomon’s scribe Sofar, “the brains behind Solomon’s wisdom“, written by Sydney box and directed by Lacey Fisher. Among the members of the Players Club from UBC was a third year Arts student and young actress from Vancouver called Lois Shaw. Miss Shaw, who was a couple of years older than Douglas, was studying English and arts at the British Columbia University. She was very engaged in the university theatre group and had acted in several plays, as well as directed them. She had even been involved in other parts of the production, and done marketing, costuming and make-up. For this play she was assistant director. Young Douglas was quite impressed with her.

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In 1947 the major production was Maxwell Anderson's “relentless drama” Winterset, a sordid tale of injustice and brutality, presented at the Playhouse from November 27 to November 29 of 1947. Again Dramatic Society stalwart Robert Jarman was directing. Doug Rain and Joan Purdom were cast in the leading roles, Doug as Mio, a man who tries to correct injustices befallen his dead father, and Joan as Mirianne, Mio’s love interest. Again it was Doug “who received comment for his acting”.

Yet, even after all of this Douglas still felt that theatre in Canada was too immature, too un-professional. He felt very dissatisfied with what the scene had to offer. Theatre in Canada was in the midst of an identity crisis. In the 1800s Canadian actors were predominantly working in the United States or in Britain. When Canadian actors did manage to eke out a living they usually did so as part of touring companies. The advent of cinema and radio, and ultimately the emerging television industry put a definitive end to the tours. Grassroots companies had sprung up everywhere as a response, but they were all amateurish, and had very little money.

Douglas knew he needed to do something, but he didn’t really know what it was.

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In early 1948, at the end of January, Doug again took part in the Inter-Varsity Play Parade, this time it was the third time the festival was held. The festival was – as always – a non-competitive event, and no public reviews were made, although adjudicators were of course present to talk privately about the plays, this time in the form of Professor Emrys M. Jones, head of the drama department of the University of Saskatchewan and 1947 adjudicator of the Dominion Drama Festival. Manitoba presented Canadian playwright Bernard Dryer’s satirical comedy John Doe, a drama directed by Manitoba’s familiar director Robert Jarman, with “well known Winnipeg actor” Doug Rain cast in the title role. The University of British Columbia was also present, as usual, and presented their one-act adaptation of American playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da Capo, a drama about the war, directed by Joy Coghill. The leading part, Columbine, was played by a certain Vancouver actress called Lois Shaw.

Again Douglas’ and Lois’ paths had crossed.

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Doug soldiered on with his studies, trying to fit as much acting as possible into his busy university schedule. Again and again he was faced with the fact that Canada had at the time very little to offer in the way of professional stage work. In his own words “there was nothing.”

During his time at the University of Manitoba, in the summers Douglas also studied acting at the Banff Centre, in the city of Banff in the Banff National Park, west of Calgary in Alberta. The Banff Centre was an outgrowth of the University of Alberta, and specifically of its Continuing Education department. Another student at the Banff Centre was Lois Shaw. By now Lois’ and Douglas’ meetings were quite a bit more than merely meet-ups of people with similar interest. I was not long before they became a couple.

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Douglas kept on working, and kept on carving away the rough edges of his acting. It kept producing results. He received the Canada Foundation’s Junior scholarship at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1948. The scholarship consisted of a two-year apprenticeship at the Old Vic Theatre in London, to be commenced at discretion.

By now rightfully somewhat of a veteran of radio plays, he maintained a moderately busy schedule of broadcast acting as well, making money on the side to support his studies. In 1949 he did the radio play The Devil’s Instrument. The play was part of Andrew Allan's "Stage" series for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Although he was again praised for his performance, he also felt the by now familiar feeling, as if he was stuck in amateur circles, doing the same things over and over again which he had already been doing for a decade and a half. The radio play was to be his last Canadian production for a long time.

Rain graduated from the University of Manitoba with a B.A. in 1950. Lois and Doug had by then decided to move out of the country.

Their destination was clear.




(This chapter is only a redacted preview of the second chapter of 'From Hal to HAL.' The other 9 chapters might be previewed later.)

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