The theatre community is mourning today after the legendary stage artist Janet Wright passed away this morning at 71.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of actress, director, and multi-talented Janet Wright," said Bill Millerd, artistic managing director of the Arts Club, where Wright began as an actor in The Odd Couple and appeared in or helmed more than 30 shows over the next five decades. Speaking in a statement to the press, he continued: "She was a powerful actor and inspired director who created intelligent and challenging theatre for our audiences. We will miss her immense talent, her caustic wit, and her incredible strength in facing tragedy. Our love and condolences go out to the Wright family.”
As an actor, she may have been best known for her portrayal of the long-suffering matriarch on the TV comedy series Corner Gas. As a director, she led several award winning shows, helming the 1987 Jessie Award–winning production of Glengarry Glen Ross and the more recent August: Osage County, Clybourne Park, The Mountaintop, and Disgraced. She was also a well-known figure at both the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Toronto's Canadian Stage.
Actors' and theatre/TV artists' statements pouring out today captured the strength, character, and formidable talent of the woman.
Here are just some of the tweets praising the artist.
Crystal Balint, who performed in Wright’s The Mountaintop, said in a press statement: “She was a force, a true artist and a gift to our community. I'm so grateful to have had the chance to work with her.”
“Janet Wright was a real badass,” said director Chelsea Haberlin, who served as Wrights’ assistant director on a number of productions. “She was fierce and uncompromising. She paved the way for future generations of women to be leaders in theatre and to do so as their true, honest selves. I don't think Janet knew how to be anything but supremely honest. She was hilarious and led a rehearsal room full of heated debate and hysterical laughter. I was very fortunate to have her as a mentor and she will be deeply missed.”
Actor Robert Moloney, a longtime creative collaborator of Wright, added: “Janet Wright was the fiercest and yet the most sensitive and compassionate artist I have ever had the honour of working with. She had deep intuitive instincts for what great theatre and great performance is. She did not suffer fools or lazy artists. She pushed me constantly to go beyond the limits of what I thought I was capable of. She made me a better person and a better actor, and for that she has my deepest gratitude and sincerest love. She was a theatre giant. We have lost a champion.”
Wright was the eldest of four siblings (Susan, John, and Anne) who all made their mark in Canadian theatre.
She faced several tragedies over the past few decades. Susan Wright, an acclaimed actor with whom Janet founded Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre in 1974, was killed in a fire in 1991 in Stratford, Ontario, along with their parents, Jack and Ruth. In January 2004, Wright's daughter Rachel Davis, only 23, was fatally shot while trying to help a stranger who was being beaten up in front of the Purple Onion bar in Vancouver. Wright and her husband Bruce Davis started the Rachel Davis Foundation to present an award to a young person who has demonstrated an outstanding act of kindness or compassion.
The Arts Club said it will hold a celebration of life for the Vancouver theatre community, with details to be released on the company website and social media channels.