Producer, director, and teacher Betty Mitchell was active in establishing and encouraging amateur theatre in Calgary. She was born in Ohio in 1896 and grew up in Saskatchewan, teaching in rural schools before studying botany at the University of Alberta. For ten years she taught biology in Calgary schools, and exercised her love of theatre in various amateur organizations – The Green Room Club from 1929 to 1930, the Calgary Little Theatre Association in 1932, the Calgary Theatre Guild in 1935-36, and the University Women’s Club in 1941, for which she directed Boy Meets Girl in 1941, with the proceeds going to the Queen’s Canadian Air Relief Fund.
She assumed the position of Director of Drama in Western Canada High School from 1936 to 1961, directing Our Town and As You Like It among many other plays. In 1942 she was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship which enabled her to study and teach at the State University of Iowa, where she earned an MA in theatre. Upon returning to Calgary, she founded an amateur theatre company with her former students – Workshop 14, and from 1945 to 1968, she directed a wide range of plays, many of which won awards from the Alberta Drama Festival and the Dominion Drama Festival, including Hedda Gabler in 1949, The Rivals in 1950, The Giaconda Smile in 1951, The Apple Cart in 1955, and Anne of the Thousand Days in 1957, in which playwright Joanna McClelland Glass made her acting debut.
In 1966, Workshop 14 amalgamated with the Mac Theatre Society to form Calgary’s first professional theatre, Theatre Calgary.
Betty Mitchell also directed at the Studio Theatre at the University of Alberta in 1963, and adjudicated entries in the Dominion Drama Festival from 1955 to 1960. In 1955 she was awarded the Mayor’s Award for exceptional public service in the field of drama, and in 1958 she received an Honorary Degree from the University of Alberta for her achievements in amateur theatre. In her name, the Betty Mitchell Awards of "Bettys" have been established in Calgary to celebrate new productions of plays, acting, directing, and design. A small theatre in the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium was also named after her. She died in 1976.
Further information: Ken Dyba. Betty Mitchell. Calgary: Detselig, 1986.
The Dr. Betty Mitchell Archives are located in the Glenbow Museum, Calgary: www.glenbow.org.
Betty Mitchell Awards website: www.bettymitchellawards.com
Profile by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University
Last updated 2021-06-07