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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Stratford Festival mourns the death of Janet Wright

Janet Wright in The Grapes of Wrath,
2011. Photo by David Hou
November 14, 2016… The Stratford Festival company and staff were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Janet Wright this morning in Vancouver. Ms Wright, one of this country’s foremost stage and television actors, was a member of the Stratford Festival company for seven seasons, and is perhaps best known for playing Emma Leroy, the long-suffering matriarch on the hit CTV comedy series Corner Gas.

“Janet was an artist on an uncompromising search for the truth in all its unvarnished beauty,” said Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “She was a profoundly talented actress, director and ‎champion for the importance of the arts. I will never forget her passion and forever be inspired by her commitment to our work.”

During her seven seasons at Stratford, Ms Wright shone in a number of key roles and as a director. She made her Stratford debut alongside her sisters, Susan and Anne, playing Rhéauna Bibeau in the hugely successful 1991 production of Les Belles Soeurs, directed by Marti Maraden. Ms Wright returned the following year to take on the title role in Shirley Valentine, Gilberte in Bonjour, là, Bonjour and Maria Vasilyevna in Uncle Vanya. In the ensuing years she played Agave in The Bacchae, Joan Roberts in Fair Liberty’s Call, Queen Eleanor in King John, Gertrude in Hamlet, Mado in In the Ring, and Aemilia in The Comedy of Errors.

In 2011, she returned to Stratford after more than a decade away, giving an unforgettable performance as Ma Joad in the acclaimed production of The Grapes of Wrath, directed by Mr. Cimolino, and portraying a hilarious Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor

Ms Wright won great praise during her career for her insightful and masterful direction, including the Stratford Festival productions of Juno and the Paycock, featuring Lally Cadeau and James Blendick, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, also featuring Lally Cadeau in the title role.

Together with her sister Susan and her first husband, Brian Richmond, Ms Wright founded Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon in 1974. In addition to performing at theatres across the country, Ms Wright was a significant part of the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver, where she performed in or directed more than 40 productions.

It was her role as Emma Leroy on Corner Gas that made her a Canadian star, but she had dozens of television and film credits to her name. She won a 1992 Genie Award for her leading role in the film Bordertown Café and a 2003 Gemini Award for her supporting role in the TV movie Betrayed.

Ms Wright’s life was touched by unthinkable tragedy not just once but twice. In 1991 her sister Susan and her parents were killed in a house fire here in Stratford, an accident her family and the theatre community continue to struggle with. Then in 2003, Ms Wright’s 23-year-old daughter, Rachel Davis, was killed when she stepped in to help a stranger being beaten outside a Vancouver bar.

“To lose an artist of such extraordinary gifts, a friend of so lively and passionate a spirit, would be a grievous blow under any circumstances, at any time; to lose her at the age of just 71, with the memories of her own terrible bereavements never wholly absent from our minds, is nothing short of a tragedy,” said Mr. Cimolino.

Everyone at the Stratford Festival extends their deepest condolences to Ms Wright’s husband, Bruce Davis, her children and all of her family, colleagues and many, many friends.


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