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The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters: The Montreal Children's Theatre, 1933-2009

The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters: The Montreal Children's Theatre, 1933-2009

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The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters: The Montreal Children's Theatre, 1933-2009

336 pagine
3 ore
Oct 11, 2010


It was 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. Montrealers, like their counterparts in other countries, were inundated with financial burdens. Uppermost in most parents minds was the task of supporting their families. Dance lessons, music lessons, drama lessons were considered in many quarters as frills. This pervasive mood did not daunt two young women, Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters, from initiating their mission. Instead, it spurred them on. Difficult times , they believed, were all the more reason to inspire children through the love of the arts, in this case drama and theatre
Muriel Gold tells the story of these two dynamic women through innumerable anecdotes, often hilarious, sometimes moving, but always a compelling and fascinating read. A former student and teacher at the School she recreates the magic of past childrens theatre productions, cites the monologues, the poems, the voice exercises vividly recalled by the children they nurtured over a period of close to 60 years.
They brought me out of my shell.
Hana Gartner, well-known national broadcaster
The joy and the laughter, the tears and the catharsis and the love that these two women gave to all of us, is something that lives on. Judy Siblin, journalist
My first meeting with Dorothy and Violet when I was eight years old, was one of fascination. Having just returned from three years in England. I thought these two charming ladies must be related to the Queen - their English was so polished. Clare Shapiro, artistic director, Imago Theatre.
The Montreal Childrens Theatre probably had a bigger influence on my life than any educational facility...I was madly in love with Violet Walters...She bore a striking resemblance... to some of the silent-screen stars. William Shatner, Hollywood star
Oct 11, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

Muriel Gold, C.M., PhD, theatre educator, producer/director, grew up in Montreal, attended Strathcona Academy, received her B.A. from Sir George Williams, her M.A. from McGill and her Ph.D from Concordia. She is former Artistic Director of the Saidye Bronfman Centre, for which, during her eight-year tenure, she won acclaim from theatre critics, academics, and the public at large. She has been on the faculties of McGill University, Concordia, and guest directed in the Professional Theatre Department of Dawson College. For books by Muriel Gold see For her lifetime achievement in theatre and drama, she was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2007.

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The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters - Muriel Gold C.M. Ph.D.





The Montreal Children’s Theatre 1933-2009


iUniverse, Inc.

New York Bloomington


The Montreal Children’s Theatre, 1933-2009

Copyright © 2010 by Muriel Gold, C.M., Ph.D.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

iUniverse books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:


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Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-6070-1 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4502-6071-8 (ebk)

Printed in the United States of America

iUniverse rev. date: 09/30/2010

In loving memory of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters

Come Fairies

Take me out of this dull world,

for I would ride with you

upon the wind and dance

upon the mountains like a flame

William Butler Yeats


Violet Walters’ credo




Chapter One

Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters:

A Professional Attitude

Dorothy Davis, 1897-1993

Violet Walters, 1903-1994

The Beginnings

The Melodramas





Contribution to the Field

Speaking the Speech

Acting Skills

Creative Drama

Character Creation

Choice of Material

Social Skills

The language of the body is the key

Betty Botta Bought Some Butter

Tongue Twisters




Voice Range

Voice Inflection

Body Movement

Acting Hints



Social Training and Personal Development


The best way to gain self-confidence

Theatre Productions:

The Magic Begins

Victoria Hall

Curtain Raisers



If you believe in fairies: say quick that you believe

Repertoire: The ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s

Fourth Anniversary Celebration

Coronation Performance and the Dominion Drama Festival

Performances for Charity

Premières and Adaptations

Twentieth Anniversary, 1953

Stratford Festival, Richard Easton and William Shatner

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, 1958

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales

The Sixties: The Magic Continues

Sets and Costumes


Obstacles to Overcome

Thirty-fifth Season, 1967-68

The land of Faery,

The Seventies and Eighties –

Triumphs and Tragedies

Fortieth Year, 1973

The Rabbi Doctor Stern Award

Annus Horribilis

Fiftieth Anniversary, 1983

The End of an Era – Dorothy and Violet Retire

Alumni Tributes

Part Three

Chapter Eight

Children’s Theatre Act Two

Sheila April, 1991-2005

A Second Home

Emerson College

The Pied Piper Nursery School

Passing the Torch

Marc de Gagné

F.C. Smith Auditorium, Concordia University, Loyola Campus

Sheila April’s Directorship


Teacher Training

Closing Presentations

The Nineties

The main thing I am interested in is my experience as a teacher.



Amy Thomas, Director 2005-2008

Fairy Tales

Danusia Lapinski, 2006-2008

Erin Downey, 2007-2009

Leigh Janson Cooke, 2009

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy



Chronology of Productions

Violet Walters’ credo

To touch the cup with eager lips and taste, not drain it;

To woo and tempt and court a bliss and not attain it;

To fondle and caress a joy, yet hold it lightly;

Lest it become necessity and cling too tightly;

To watch the sunset in the west without regretting;

To hail its advent in the east, the night forgetting;

To smother care in happiness and grief in laughter;

To hold the present close, not questioning hereafter;

To have enough to share, to know the joy of giving;

To thrill with all the sweets of life—that’s living.

from The Art of Living by Chuck Gallozzi


I wish to express my gratitude to the following people:

To Conseil des arts et des letters du Québec for its support in awarding me a professional writers’ grant.

To Concordia archivists Nancy Marelli and Vincent Ouellette for allowing me access to the Children’s Theatre documents, donated some years ago by Robert Stein, and to Shannon Hodge, archivist, Jewish Public Library.

To Dr. John Ripley, theatre historian, whose meticulous editing contributed immeasurably to the final product.

To journalist Heather Solomon for her thorough proofreading. Any remaining errors are the responsibility of the author.

To Dorothy Davis’ family - Robert Stein, David Stein, and Richard Davis for supplying me with photos and personal data about Dorothy and the clan.

To Violet Walters’ family – in particular to Susan Woutersz, the family’s genealogist, who generously contributed information and photos about Violet Walters. And to Alan Mair, who organized a scrapbook for the family.

To the Children’s Theatre directors who succeeded the founders: Sheila April, Amy Thomas, Danusia Lapinski, Erin Downey, and Leigh Janson Cooke.

To all those former students who kindly lent me their binders containing poems, monologues, exercises, as well as newspaper articles and photos. A special thanks to Mary Benedek who appeared at my home pushing cartfuls of production brochures.

And most of all, to my husband, Ronald Poole, for editing the over 100 Photos, formatting the manuscript, and for his loving and generous support, patience, and friendship.

Hand in hand, with Fairy grace,

Will we sing, and bless this place.

William Shakespeare


At 11 years of age, some school friends invited me to view the closing exercises of their drama class. I accompanied them and was exceedingly impressed. The drama school, called The Montreal Children’s Theatre, was to have a profound influence on my life and chosen career. At home, I advised my mother that I had to attend that school. I took note of the fall registration date and brought her down to Rialto Hall on Park Avenue and Bernard. I did not know then that the two incredible ladies who ran the school, Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters, were to become beloved mentors. It turned out that my mother knew Dorothy from the early ’20s when they had appeared in some productions at the YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association.) Forty dollars for tuition was a tidy sum in those days, but my mother stoically paid the fees.

I started classes. My first role was in The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Normally first-year students were not cast in the major productions at Westmount’s Victoria Hall, but every rule has its exceptions. I played a rat, dressed in full rat costume with only my eyes visible. My parents, always supportive of my assorted extra-curricular activities, attended. Later, I asked them how they enjoyed my performance. There were 12 rats. They weren’t sure which rat I was.

It wasn’t long before I played leading roles, the most memorable one being Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. The night before the show opened Miss Davis took me aside: Play the part the way you played it at dress rehearsal, dear, and it’s in the bag, she whispered. She must have been right because the critics were unanimous in their praise. I remember my father proudly reading aloud from the various newspaper reviews.

Muriel Haltrecht played the difficult role of Marilla with professional ease, and it was difficult to realize that this young player was only 14, so finished was her performance as the spinster aunt.1

Notwithstanding reviewers’ kindness to children’s shows, how thrilling that was!

Montreal has a strong tradition of public theatres dating back to 1825 when the first theatre, built specifically for public performance, was erected. Elegant in its furbishing, the Theatre Royal accommodated one thousand spectators, and was built on what is now the site of the Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal. At least a dozen others appeared before the turn of the 20th Century.

One of the most enduring was His Majesty’s Theatre, located on Guy Street from 1898 to 1963, where, in the ’50s I saw Ruth Draper and Beatrice Lillie perform. In the first quarter of the 20th century more theatres sprang up: the Laurier Palace, Strand, Corona, Imperial, Dominion, Globe, Empress, Royal Alexandra, Regent, St-Denis, Princess, Loew’s, Westmount, Belmont, Capitol, Papineau, Palace and the Rialto.

It is the Rialto Theatre, opened on December 27, 1924, which has special memories for me, not so much for its fancy façade of columns, crests and balustrades, or its interior with stained glass and oil paintings, but because in the halls upstairs of the movie theatre Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters held drama classes or dramatics as the lessons were then called. Each class commenced with a curtsey and Good afternoon, Miss Davis, Good afternoon, Miss Walters. Surnames for the teachers were "de rigueur and politeness was expected. A simple yes or no to a question would not do. Yes, Miss Davis. No, Miss Walters."

Rialto Theatre

Rialto was the second of a series of studios the directors opened in response to demand. Both rehearsals for the plays produced at Victoria Hall and classes took place at the main studio on Girouard Avenue in Notre Dame de Grâce. (NDG) Undaunted by the distance, my friends and I used to walk up Davaar Avenue to Côte Ste Catherine, board the 29 streetcar to Monkland Avenue, then transfer to the Girouard car to arrive at our destination. There were no parents with cars to drive us, no car pools; we travelled on our own initiative and thought nothing of it.

Violet Walters teaching curtseys

By the time I was 14, my established routine consisted of: drama classes at Rialto Hall Tuesday afternoons after school, Wednesday evening radio classes on Girouard with Ted (Charles) Miller (a CBC radio announcer hired by Davis and Walters), Friday evening rehearsals for the Saturday morning radio show Calling All Children, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon rehearsals for the plays at Victoria Hall. Although this schedule may sound demanding, it still left me ample time to participate in a myriad of other activities.

Dorothy Davis

In 1949 Dorothy and Violet organized a touring group comprised of their senior students. We played on Saturday mornings at various local theatres, such as the Outremont, Snowdon and the now defunct Monkland Theatre. Some of our group, such as Bonar Stuart, Richard (Dick) Easton, and William (Bill) Shatner, eventually made theatre and film their profession. The shows generally went smoothly; however, unexpected calamities were not unknown. In a November 1948 production of Peter Pan, with Bonar Stuart as the Indian chief, and Dick Easton as Captain Hook, the lost boys were entering their underground homes via little chimneys placed around the stage when one by one the little tykes started passing out. A chemical had been used to provide smoke for the scene. While Marie Brewer, the stage manager, rushed to drag them off stage, Bonar and I distinctly recall the panic on Dorothy and Violet’s faces. Happily, all recovered and a substitute smoke (probably dry ice) was utilized for future productions.

Violet Walters


In 1933 the idea of two women opening a business evoked both laughter and derision. Upon learning that Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters planned to establish a studio, a male acquaintance responded, What do two young ladies know about running a business? I give it three months. Dorothy Davis recalled his remarks with much amusement some 50 years later when The Montreal Children’s Theatre was still in full swing. Coincidentally, her French-Canadian counterpart, Madame Jean-Louis Audet opened her drama studio for children that very same year. The sign on the door outside her home, Madame Jean-Louis Audet, école de phonétique et de diction, was read by onlookers with a mixture of merriment and astonishment.

While the Anglophone and Francophone teachers worked their magic separately, they inevitably met when invited to collaborate on radio shows at Christmas time. Undoubtedly, all three made a deep impact on the lives of Montreal children. Madame Audet unfortunately died in 1970 whereas the more robust Dorothy and Violet retired only in 1991. With Madame Audet deceased, her studio closed; when Dorothy and Violet retired, however, they passed on their school to Sheila April who had been their pupil from the age of five, and a faculty member of Children’s Theatre since her graduation from high school and drama studies at Boston’s Emerson College. A succession of young women followed her as directors of the School, albeit differing in some aspects of the founders’ methodology.

The Montreal Children’s Theatre was one of three Montreal children’s drama schools in the 20th Century which had long-standing influence. It followed the British tradition; its classes and productions were presented in the English language. Madame Jean-Louis Audet’s studio had its roots in the French tradition with all classes and presentations in French. The Children’s Drama Group of the Jewish Public Library organized in 1953 by Dora Wasserman, a graduate of the Yiddish Art Theatre in Moscow, conducted her drama classes and productions in Yiddish. The companies offered a cross-section of approaches to pedagogy and theatre philosophy.2

Although all three schools maintained that training for the professional stage was not a primary goal, many of their pupils entered the profession as actors, drama teachers, film directors, or in other areas of theatre. Students who did not adopt the theatre as a profession, and they were the vast majority, received a rich introduction to Montreal culture and later constituted a well-informed audience for stage productions.

Reviews of over 500 Davis-Walter productions, with only two exceptions, were extremely favourable. One might argue that allowance should be made for a certain puffing on the part of children’s theatre critics. The most reliable critics, however, are the children themselves.

Letters of protest from both children and adults poured into The Gazette in 1980 when one critic had the temerity to pan a production of The Magic Apple. In those days the paper had a column entitled You Be the Critic. Twelve-year-old Melanie Jeanne’s indignant response was typical.

I belong to Children’s Theatre. I read Maureen Peterson’s review, and I thought it was disgusting – especially her paragraph about the little magic men being played by girls. Does she know that in ancient Greece women weren’t allowed to play in the theatre although there were women’s roles?

Ted Miller (The Master of Ceremonies) has been loved by children for 27 years so don’t try pulling him down. Peterson didn’t mention that along with the small kiss on the cheek, children were given a bag of candy. At the end of the show one lucky child was given $2 in an apple. When I started seeing plays, I was 4, and now I’m 12 and I still see every play they perform.3

Children’s theatre, the most common form of drama education in Canada until the ’70s, fell into disfavour with the advent of developmental/creative drama practitioners, who faulted the older method for its lack of emphasis on individual imaginative and development skills. They considered acting in theatre productions, with its focus on line memorization and playing to an audience, impeded, rather than aided, the child’s creativity.

Whatever its shortcomings in the eyes of contemporary education, the Montreal Children’s Theatre was unique in its time, an institution featuring a training school combined with a major, full-scale production organization, and the project animated by the founders’ love and understanding of children and theatre.

It is important, as well, to comment on the history of the school over the 18 years since the founders left the picture. It seems that the original mandate stressing external technique has given way to contemporary theory approaches which view natural acting as a progressive process in which the child moves from inner awareness to external communication. Sheila April’s directorship from 1991-2005, was followed by co-directors Amy Thomas and Danusia Lapinski, 2005-2008, and Erin Downey, who replaced Amy Thomas when the latter left Montreal. Leigh Janson Cooke, with a Masters degree

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