Noel Peirce Coward, whose play “Blithe Spirit” is at the Watermark Theatre all summer, was born on December 16, 1899, receiving his first name because Christmas was just days away. From an early age, Noel was intelligent, temperamental, and an instinctive performer, making his first stage appearances in amateur concerts at age seven. He loved to sing and dance at any excuse and threw frightful tantrums if he was not summoned to perform for guests.
With his mother’s encouragement, he launched his professional acting career at the age of 12, making his London debut as Prince Mussel in a children’s show called The Goldfish. He appeared in several West End productions, including the “lost boy” Slightly in two West End editions of Peter Pan.
In the early 1900s, England was a very class-conscious society. A boy actor born to poor parents would have been snubbed by the upper classes. However, Coward’s extraordinary determination and charm won him an entree into the chicest circles. His professional and social ambitions were insatiable.
I Leave It To You (1920) was Coward’s first full length play produced in the West End, with Noel playing a leading role – quite an accomplishment for a lad of 21. The brief run brought encouraging reviews, whetting Coward’s appetite for more.
The London production of his play The Young Idea (1923) was a mild success, with Noel playing one of the lead roles. That same year, producer Andre Charlot featured several of Coward’s songs in the hit revue London Calling. While all this was happening, Noel put the finishing touches on a daring drama that would change his career – and his life – forever.
He wrote, directed and starred in The Vortex (1924), a searing look at sexual vanity and drug abuse among the upper classes. When most producers refused to consider such a lurid project, the small Everyman Theatre in suburban London agreed to take it on.
On opening night, the audience was both shocked and fascinated by The Vortex. The combination of fiery acting and scandalous subject matter made The Vortex the talk of London. Other plays had depicted drug abuse, but not among the rich. Demand was such that the production soon moved to a larger West End theatre for an extended run, making Coward a sensation.
With the sudden success of The Vortex, Coward was in demand. Over the two years he starred in the London and New York productions, as well as an American tour. Coward also wrote the hilarious comedy Hay Fever (1925), which triumphed in London, and the hit West End revue On With The Dance (1925). He also turned out Fallen Angels (1925), Easy Virtue (1925), The Queen Was in the Parlour (1926) and The Rat Trap (1926). Most of these plays were at least partially successful, but he was working at a punishing pace.
Coward prospered through the worst of the Great Depression, enjoying a lifestyle most people could only dream about. A dedicated traveler, he went on a series of extended journeys to escape the pressures of show business. During one 1929 stay in Singapore, he finished the first draft of Private Lives (1930), which proved to be a highlight of his career. Coward co-starred with a then unknown Laurence Olivier, playing to packed houses in both London and New York.
Coward then wrote and directed Cavalcade (1931). Acclaimed on the London stage, the film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1933.
In 1942, he turned out a trio of hit plays, including the semi-autobiographical comedy Present Laughter (1942) and the cockney drama This Happy Breed (1942). His biggest wartime hit was Blithe Spirit (1942). The play proved one of Coward’s most popular successes, with character actress Margaret Rutherford winning stardom as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati. She repeated her role in a superb film version three years later.
The years following the war were difficult for Coward. Other than the London revue Sigh No More (1945), most of his new works met with commercial failure. Coward knew instinctively that his writing was better than ever, but it seemed that the public’s tastes had changed.
A 1963 revival of Private Lives took London by storm, sparking renewed interest in Coward’s plays on both sides of the Atlantic. Revivals and TV productions of his works followed and continue to this day.
In January of 1973, Noel visited New York for a gala performance of the off-Broadway revue Oh Coward! He arrived with longtime friend Marlene Dietrich on his arm. Bent with age and illness, he remained the personification of elegance. Friends sensed that he was declining, but no one realized that his would be his last public appearance. In the early morning hours of Monday, March 26, 1973, Noel Coward suffered a stroke at his home in Jamaica.
Tennessee Williams wrote “The Glass Menagerie” – on this summer at the Watermark Theatre! Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III was an American playwright and author of many stage classics. Along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller he is considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama.
Tennessee was born on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second of Cornelius and Edwina Williams’ three children. Williams described his childhood in Mississippi as pleasant and happy. But life changed for him when his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The carefree nature of his boyhood was stripped in his new urban home, and as a result Williams turned inward and started to write.
His parent’s marriage certainly didn’t help. Often strained, the Williams home could be a tense place to live. “It was just a wrong marriage,” Williams later wrote. The family situation, however, did offer fuel for the playwright’s art. His mother became the model for the foolish but strong Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, while his father represented the aggressive, driving Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
When he was 28, Williams moved to New Orleans, where he changed his name (he landed on Tennessee because his father hailed from there) and revamped his lifestyle, soaking up the city life that would inspire his work, most notably the later play, A Streetcar Named Desire.
In 1940 Williams’ play, Battle of Angels, debuted in Boston. It quickly flopped, but the hardworking Williams revised it and brought it back as Orpheus Descending, which later was made into the movie, The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani.
Other work followed, including a gig writing scripts for MGM. But Williams’ mind was never far from the stage. On March 31, 1945, a play he’d been working for some years, The Glass Menagerie, opened on Broadway.
Critics and audiences alike lauded the play, about a declassed Southern family living in a tenement, forever changing Williams’ life and fortunes. Two years later, A Streetcar Named Desire opened, surpassing his previous success and cementing his status as one of the country’s best playwrights. The play also earned Williams a Drama Critics’ Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.
His subsequent work brought more praise. The hits from this period included Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.
The 1960s were a difficult time for Williams. His work received poor reviews and increasingly the playwright turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. In 1969 his brother hospitalized him. Upon his release, Williams got right back to work. He churned out several new plays as well as Memoirs in 1975, which told the story of his life and his afflictions.
But he never fully escaped his demons. Surrounded by bottles of wine and pills, Williams died in a New York City hotel room on February 25, 1983.
The artists and staff of the Watermark Theatre on the coast of North Rustico believe our province is a better place to live in and visit because it has a fine classical theatre company. Programs for students, seniors, summer residents, visitors and residents enrich and support our lives. They give us access to some of the greatest thinkers in history, thrilling art work and stories from our own rich history.
We believe that this excellent art work should be available at a low price so that everyone who wants to enjoy it can. To provide this access, community members volunteer time and donate money, staff and management work for minimum wage or honorariums, volunteer time and donate money; professional artists from across Canada provide top class work for minimum wages.
The Watermark Theatre produces the finest professional classical theatre in P.E.I. You’ll find the greatest works of English, American, and European Literature on our intimate thrust stage in North Rustico, all at incredibly affordable prices.
He commands the majestic pipe organ at the Basilica, he supervises music for the Diocese of Charlottetown, and he conducts the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra. This summer, Leo Marchildon will add a new musical accomplishment to his Island repertoire, composing the music for the 2016 Watermark Theatre productions of “Blithe Spirit” and “The Glass Menagerie”
His musical skills were formed early at the famed St. Michaelʼs Choir School in Toronto, where he was a top student. This was the beginning of a path leading to degrees through The Royal Canadian College of Organists, The Western Conservatory, the University of Toronto and the University of Southern California.
Leo has toured with productions of “Phantom of the Opera,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Bugs Bunny on Broadway”. He worked as musical editor for the television series “The Adventures of Sinbad” and ”Gene Roddenberryʼs Andromeda”. But Leoʼs ﬁrst musical love is composing. His compositions can be heard in the stage production “Millieʼs Girls,” the feature ﬁlm “Gabriela,” and the documentary “Cell Block Scholars” (which earned him a regional Emmy nomination).
Many Islanders will recall, of course, that Leo is the composer of the music for the stage production “The Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery”, as well as “Canada, Our Dear Home”, his symphonic tribute celebrating PEIʼs culture and its role as the birthplace of Confederation.
The Watermark Theatre is delighted to have found a talent like Leoʼs here on the Island, and looks forward to working with him during the upcoming season.
Suzanne Roberts Smith is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada & The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre.
Some credits include: Soulpepper: Yours Forever, Marie-Lou. Stratford Festival: The Tempest (with Christopher Plummer)/.Two Gentlemen of Verona.Bartholomew Fair.Three Sisters. Phedre. The Empty Room. Melancholy Play. Summerworks:: Maracatu You! (Outstanding Ensemble: NOW Magazine). T.O. Fringe Festival: Offensive to Some. (Outstanding Performance & Production: NOW Magazine). Blyth Festival: The Gingko Tree. The Thirteenth One. T.O. Festival of Clowns: Sad Object Bad Object. Film and Television: Murdoch Mysteries. Tempest.
After graduating with a BFA in Acting from the University of Windsor, Joshua Browne has had the privilege of working with an array of great companies in Toronto and around the country, including IFT Theatre, Circlesnake Theatre, Theatre Gargantua, Shakespeare Bash’d, Theatre By the Bay, Hart House Theatre, and many more.
His paternal grandmother was born and raised in Charlottetown and he’s thrilled to be headed to PEI and the Watermark Theatre for the first time to do what he loves to do.
Recent credits include: Mercutio/Laertes/Macduff/Sir Toby for The Classical Theatre Project, Tybalt for Theatre By The Bay, Dark Matter (Circlesnake Theatre), Avaricious (Theatre Gargantua), nightmareDREAM (IFT/Obsidian), and the hit world-premiere of Byhalia, Mississippi (cue6 Theatre).