|Muriel Gold (photo courtesy: Muriel Gold)
by Barbara Ford
As one woman talking to another, it’s just not kosher to ask about age. All I can tell you is that Muriel Gold’s long list of interests, activities and accomplishments had me gasping for breath by the time I got off the phone with her when we spoke last week, she from her Sarasota apartment in Florida, where Gold and her husband Ron, a former McGill science professor turned visual artist, spend 5 months out of the year, playing tennis every day.
Gold married young, a mere 2 weeks after graduating with a B.A. in English from Sir George Williams University. She had been bitten by the acting bug years earlier, studying under Dorothy Davis and Violet Waters at the Montreal Children’s Theatre, (the subject of her most recent book) and theatre arts would have been her choice for a B.A., however no such program existed at the time. Once married, she immediately got busy having a family, which kept her occupied for a number of years, but eventually the itch to perform got the better of her.
Ripley was taking a handful of students for the experimental program and Gold was one of only three people with the necessary credentials to be accepted.
She was desperate to stretch her acting muscles but with young children at home, it was difficult to commit to group rehearsal schedules so she did a very courageous thing: she put a solo show together. Gold took monologues from various playwrights, such as Martin Bronstein (one of the founding members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce), Bertolt Brecht (The Jewish Wife), Strindberg (The Stranger) and Ruth Draper (famed monologuist known for her character studies). She performed her One Woman Show, keeping it fresh for new audiences by constantly changing the content, from 1961 to 1970. Gold performed comedy, drama and sometimes her own poetry in a wide range of venues for various local organizations including the Jewish Junior Welfare League (The Ritz), La Poudrière at Man and His World (in its heyday), as well as numerous groups of women, (these were the pre-feminist years), wives of visiting professionals in town for conventions and conferences.
With a view to teaching, Gold returned to university in 1970 for a Master’s degree at McGill. Coincidentally, Dr. John Ripley had just started an M.A. program in developmental drama which, though it wasn’t exactly what Gold wanted to study, intrigued her. Ripley was taking a handful of students for the experimental program and Gold was one of only three people with the necessary credentials to be accepted.
Two years later, with degree in hand, Gold was invited to head up a theatre department in the recently founded Champlain College, but unfortunately the student enrolment was low and the department was scratched. Not to worry, as Dora Wasserman, whom Gold had interviewed for her Master’s thesis, informed Gold that there was an opening for the Artistic Director position at the Saidye Bronfman Centre (SBC), now known as the Segal Centre. Marion André, the Centre’s first Artistic Director had caused quite a stir with the Robert Shaw play, The Man in the Glass Booth, one of the productions of his Holocaust-themed season and with which a local Holocaust survivor group took offense. A flurry of controversy over censorship and the role of the theatre in the Centre nosedived the subscription base from 2,000 to 200 and shortly after, André left. Gold interviewed with the acting Executive Director of the YM/YWHA and became the A.D. in 1972.
Gold’s innovative and tireless efforts paid off with subscriptions doubling from the original high watermark to 4,000!
For 8 years, Gold helmed the floundering theatre, challenged to regain its former standing in both the Jewish and theatre communities. She spearheaded a number of initiatives that resound today. Gold successfully bridged the two solitudes by introducing French playwrights to Anglophone audiences, bringing the works of Michel Tremblay to the theatre for the first time. In 1973, she invited Dora Wasserman’s Yiddish Theatre to the SBC where it has been housed ever since. As a natural and gifted facilitator, Gold wanted to offer graduating theatre students the opportunity to gain performance experience and to experiment with their craft. She negotiated an agreement with the neighbouring YM/YWHA’s Grover Auditorium to use it as a Second Stage venue, which meant sets had to be erected and struck between performances to allow basketball and bridge and other Y activities to carry on as usual in the same hall. As cumbersome an arrangement as it was, it afforded Gold the ability to blend new graduates with professional actors and academics to present shows with unusually large casts, normally an extremely expensive undertaking, such as the 19-member company of The Madness of God, and to present more contemporary works. Gold’s innovative and tireless efforts paid off with subscriptions doubling from the original high watermark to 4,000!
Not only was Gold running the theatre but she also headed the Performing Arts Department at its peak boasting a Jazz Ballet and Modern Dance program, a Big Band orchestra and a Chamber Music group. Reflections of Gold’s vision for the Centre back then are clearly visible in the direction its most recent A.D., Bryna Wasserman, has taken with the newly formed Segal Centre.
When asked about highlights of the SBC years, without pause, Canadian playwright George Ryga’s play Captives of the Faceless Drummer popped up, as did Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and the Irish farce The Patrick Peirce Motel. By this point, not only were the subscribers back on board but so were the critics, who had lost interest during the shaky transition between André and Gold, but she firmly re-established the SBC in the media and Montreal’s cultural landscape.
Gold left the SBC in 1980 to free-lance in various capacities as a producer, director, coach, writer and actor working in television, film and radio. Dr. Ripley, Gold’s former McGill professor, invited her to teach and so began a new aspect of Gold’s multifaceted relationship with theatre. From 1986 onward, in addition to McGill, she taught at Concordia and Brock Universities as well as Dawson College.
Somehow Gold also found time to write journal articles on the work she was doing and about theatre history.
Theatre as therapy was becoming a common thread in Gold’s work, using it to help students of all ages with hearing, sight and mental challenges and/or learning disabilities. She taught others to do what she did- use theatre as a catalyst for positive change- and took full advantage of her theatre experience to help sexually abused adolescent girls use theatre as means of release and healing. Somehow Gold also found time to write journal articles on the work she was doing and about theatre history.
Concordia professor, Philip Spensley, read one of her articles in a British journal about a role-playing technique she had developed and wanted to know more. As a result, in 1991 Gold published her first book: The Fictional Family in Drama, Education and Group Work (CC Thomas), revealing in detail the uses and technique of imagining you are the member of a different family unit and how that could affect your life. Two other books came out of this one, both related to the same technique: Therapy Through Drama: The Fictional Family (CC Thomas, 2000) and Drama Across the Curriculum: The Fictional Family In Practice, a pedagogical guide (recently published in August 2010, iUniverse).
Unbelievably, with everything else on her plate, in the spring of 2000 Gold produced the premiere of the Sam Gesser production of Fineman’s Dictionary, starring Fyvush Finkel at Dawson College. She also managed to squeeze yet another degree, this one a Ph.D. from Concordia University in Theatre.
In 2004, Gold wrote the only book she’s written that wasn’t about theatre (to date). In helping her mother to move from their family home to an apartment after her father’s death, Gold discovered a tattered shoebox full of letters written by her parents to one another. She shelved them for years, not sure exactly what to do with them, but eventually brought them out again to tell her parents’ story in Tell Me Why Nights Are Lonesome (Shoreline, 2004).
Gold paid homage to her Saidye Bronfman roots in writing A Gift for their Mother: The Saidye Bronfman Centre Theatre - A History (MIRI Productions, 2007) and returned to her acting roots with the November 2010 publication of The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters, The Montreal Children's Theatre 1933-2009. While writing the Davis and Walter history, Gold took 7 months off to chair the 75th reunion of The Children’s Theatre in June 2009.
Gold shows no signs of slowing down, swearing to me that she has written her last book, a statement she has made more than once in the past.
In 2007, Gold received the Order of Canada for her lifetime achievements in theatre, bridging cultures through theatre in particular. In recognition of her commitment to the advancement of women, the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women established the Muriel Gold Senior Visiting Scholars Fund and in 2010, the Business and Professional Women named her Woman of the Year.
Gold shows no signs of slowing down, swearing to me that she has written her last book, a statement she has made more than once in the past. Even though she is taking a so-called breather at the moment, the Westmount resident is still very active in St. Petersburg, her stateside home-away-from-home. She animates a creative writing group that focuses on the specific writing craft of memoirs. The friends that Gold and her husband have accrued since becoming snow birds, many of whom they met playing tennis, have introduced the pair to a vital arts scene offering everything from the American Stage Theatre Company and Museum of Fine Arts to The Florida Orchestra and The Salvador Dali Museum.
Once back in Montreal, Gold will launch both of her recent publications, Drama Across the Curriculum and The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters, at the annual Blue Metropolis Literary Festival from April 27 to May 1, 2011. She’s booked a speaking engagement at the Senior Men’s Club at the Cummings Centre and plans to line up more to promote her two books. She continues her work as a professional motivator or as Dr. Stephen Show, Concordia Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Drama Therapy Department calls her, a midwife, helping students to birth their performance pieces. Gold admits that “I love helping develop talent. I’ve been told I’m a great catalyst.”
Almost an hour had raced by since our chat began and as fascinating as Dr. Gold is, she had to race out to her writing group. Far be it for me to hold back this theatrical dynamo, as if I or anyone could!
Next week in FORD’S FOCUS: playwright and composer Nick Carpenter