“A pioneer, a true national treasure”: theater actress Barbara Chilcott dies at 99

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

Posted Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, 5:22 p.m. EST

Last updated Sunday January 2, 2022 5:22 PM EST

TORONTO – Stage actress Barbara Chilcott, a driving force behind the Canadian theater scene for more than half a century, has passed away.

Carol Davis-Manol says her abducted first cousin Chilcott died in her Toronto home from age-related natural causes on New Years Day. She was 99 years old.

A staple of the Crest Theater in Toronto and a frequent player at the Stratford Festival in his early days, Chilcott moved between Canada and England during a prolific stage career, said William Scoular, a former colleague and acclaimed director. .

“She was a trailblazer – a true national treasure that paved the way for many actresses to follow her,” he said.

Chilcott began his career in 1943 as a member of the Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit during World War II and toured England and Europe to entertain the troops. After the war ended, she remained in England and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London before making her West End debut in 1949.

“Barbara was determined to be an actress, so she left for London because at the time there was no professional theater (in Canada) and she was the first Canadian to perform in the West End,” he said. declared Scoular.

She returned to Canada in 1950 and performed on CBC radio before joining her brothers Murray Davis and Donald Davis in their summer theater company, Straw Hat Players.

Her brothers also founded the Crest Theater in 1953, for which she played Viola in Twelfth Night, Antigone in Antigone and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.

“Everyone who was anyone played at the Crest Theater,” Scoular explained.

He says she then spent several years traveling back and forth between England and Canada, acting on stage, on television and in movies in both countries. In 1963, she founded the Crest Hour Company to run plays in schools.

Scoular, who directed Chilcott’s final performance at the age of 89, said she was a modest performer but, over the course of her career, has rubbed shoulders with many major players in the arts and entertainment scene, including JB Priestley, The Beatles, The Maharishi and Sean Connery.

He also said she helped convince British director Tyrone Guthrie, who helped establish the first Stratford Festival in 1953, to come to Canada.

“Barbara had a big laugh and a wicked sense of humor, and although she was a very private person, she loved being part of a (theater) company more than anything,” said Scoular. “The show was more real to her than anything in the world and I think the last few years when she wasn’t on a show life was pretty boring for her.”

Chilcott survived her husband Harry Somers, a renowned Canadian composer who died in 1999. She had no children.

“She was the kind of actress who didn’t need to be told what to do, she just knew how to do it. She could say more with a raised eyebrow than most actresses could with a speech. whole, ”said Scoular.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 2, 2022.

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