The Georgia Straight
By Charlie Smith
January 22, 2017
A Vancouver performing-arts legend has passed away.
Director, actor, and producer Joy Coghill was loved by her peers and audiences throughout a career that lasted nearly seven decades.
Born in 1926 in Findlater, Saskatchewan, she played a monumental role in the development of Vancouver's theatre community. She also distinguished herself on the national stage.
In later years, Coghill was like the community's mother hen, helping older actors find work and even a roof over their heads.
Her cheerful demeanour touched countless souls.
Over the course of her career, she won four Jessie Awards, but this only hinted at the magnitude of her impact.
In 1953, she cofounded Holiday Theatre, which was the first professional Canadian theatre group for children. She continued as its artistic director until 1966.
She also played a key role in the development of Western Gold Theatre Company, which was the first professional Canadian theatre group for seniors.
Later in life, Coghill played a leading role in the creation of the Performing Arts Lodge, a.k.a. PAL Vancouver, which is a social-housing and theatre project near Coal Harbour.
She also wrote a play about Victoria artist Emily Carr called Song of This Place. In the Georgia Straight, Michael Grobermann called the script and performance "a triumph for Coghill".
"It is her first play, but clearly reflects a deep knowledge of, and ease with, the playwright's craft," he noted. "The stage conventions Coghill employs and exploits make this self-conscious drama masterful."
In 2015, Mayor Gregor Robertson honoured her with a lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the arts.
She was also a Member of the Order of Canada, won a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement and the Gemini Humanitarian Award, and received honorary degrees from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
In addition, she received honours during her lifetime from the Union of B.C. Performers and ACTRA Fraternal Benefit Society.
Last year, she was granted the UBCP/ACTRA Lorena Gale Woman of Distinction Award.
According to her website, Coghill moved from Saskatchewan to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1928. Her father, Rev. George Coghill, died in 1939 and the following year, she and her mother and cousins were evacuated to Canada during the Second World War.
She attended Kitsilano secondary school and studied elocution under Anne Mossman.
On the same day that the Japanese air force attacked Pearl Harbour, she was appearing in Vancouver Little Theatre's opening-night production of Bunty Pulls the Strings.
Two years later, Coghill acted in and directed her high-school production of Room in the Tower, which resulted in her winning a scholarship at UBC's summer school of theatre.
In 1948, Coghill moved to Chicago, where she performed in three productions and directed three others while studying for her master's degree in theatre.
She kept up this incredible pace in 1950 when she moved to Kingston, Ontario, where she directed or acted in 13 different plays over 13 weeks.
During the early 1950s, she directed and acted in several plays before marrying radio producer Jack Thorne in 1955. That same year, Coghill appeared on CBC TV alongside William Shatner in Never Say No.
Her first child, Debra Dorothy, was born in 1956, followed by her second, Gordon Alexander, in 1958.
The next year, Coghill went back to work, playing Inez in Frederic Wood Theatre's production of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, and Alice in Anyone for Alice on CBC TV.
Her third child, David Michael John, was born in 1967, coming in another whirlwind decade in her life. The previous year, she directed Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing for the National Theatre School of Canada.
In the 1960s, Coghill also directed The Country Wife, A Month in the Country, Noye's Fludde, Christmas in the Marketplace, The Tunnel of Love, The Beaux Strategem, Androcles and the Lion, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and A Streetcar Named Desire. Among the many plays she appeared in that decade was The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which she also produced, in 1969.
Written by George Ryga, it was a pioneering and critically acclaimed work of theatre that elevated Canadians' understanding of indigenous people.
"This was the only original Canadian work at the Opening Festival of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa," her website states. "All Canadian premiers were in attendance, as was the Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau."
Coghill moved to a new home on Okanagan Lake in 1969 but two years later, the family relocated to Montreal after her husband was transferred there. Over the following years, she performed in and directed in several productions in eastern Canada, as well as the 1975 movie Shivers, which was directed by David Cronenberg.
In 1977, she was back in Vancouver to play Gypsy in Camino Real and Abie in Arsenic and Old Lace, two Playhouse Theatre productions directed by Christopher Newton.
She also performed in the 1979 Playhouse Theatre productions of The Crucible and Tales from the Vienna Woods.
In the 1980s, Coghill acted in productions staged in many Canadian cities, including Victoria, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa. She was also in Anne Wheeler's Change of Heart, which was produced by CBC and the National Film Board, and played Linda Loman in the Playhouse Theatre's Death of a Salesman.
This was a time when Vancouver started becoming known as Hollywood North. Lee Grant cast Coghill in her film Nobody's Child and the Vancouver actor also appeared in the film Blue Monkey and the TV movie Christmas Comes to Willow Creek.
In the 1990s, Coghill remained busy, appearing in Anne Wheeler's The Sleep Room, various TV movies, and Vancouver-shot TV shows such as The X-Files, 21 Jump Street, Stargate, Da Vinci's Inquest, and Poltergeist: The Legacy.
But her greatest mark in that decade may have come in the world of theatre, where she created The Alzheimer Project At Western Gold Theatre Company. It included Aaron Bushkowsky's production of The Strangers Among Us.
In the early 2000s, Coghill appeared before Vancouver city council, successfully arguing for support for the Performing Arts Lodge. She and her husband became two of the first residents in 2006.
Her final film role was in Regarding Sarah in 2008. She was predeceased by Jack Thorne in 2013.
Born: 5/13/1926, Findlater, Saskatchewan, Canada
Died: 1/22/2017, Vancouver, British Columbia, U.S.A.
Joy Coghill’s western – actress:
Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy (TV) – 1998 (Violent Hutchison)