The Shaw Festival Oral History - Alice Crawley
Audio (MP3)
Crawley, Alice, Interviewee
Cameron, Don
, Interviewer
Media Type
Item Types
Interview with Alice Crawley, actress and designer.
Seasons with the Shaw Festival: 1962 (set designer); 1974 (actress.
Part of Shaw Festival Foundation Oral History Project
Alice Crawley was librarian at the St. Catharines Standard from 1962 to 1980; was set designer for the Shaw Festival's first performance, Candida; a founding member and board member of the Niagara Artists Centre (NAC); as a leader in the visual arts community she received the Trillium Arts Awards Mayor's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. In 1992, at the age of 77, she fulfilled her dream of country living by purchasing a 50 acre lot east of Durham, Ontario, and constructed a post & beam house where she spent the remainder of her life until Alzheimers took its toll.
[Obituary at St. Catharines Standard, 2011]
Date of Publication
12 May 1997
Playing Time
30 + 3 minutes
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Location of Original
Shaw Festival Library
Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library
Agency street/mail address
10 Anderson Lane P.O. Box 430
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0


There were two plays that first year. One was Don Juan in Hell and another girl designed that set. As I remember, it was just three stools and I can't remember whether there were lecterns in front of them, or something like that. They just read or seemed to be reading the parts. It was lit with red lights. I didn't have anything to do with that one, that was this other girl, but I can't think of her name right now.

The second play was Candida and I did the set for that. I had done some work in St Catharines with the St Catharines Community Theatre that had been going for a while before that. Brian Doherty called me. The meeting he describes in Not Bloody Likely, I remember going to a meeting that he called me to. There were six or eight people there. The only ones I remember were Brian and Jean Marsh. I don't think I had ever met the other people. Whether that is the meeting he mentions or another one, I can't really tell. Then there was quite a large meeting at the Court House. I'm pretty sure the ones who had been at this first meeting that I went to were asked to go to that one, but whether there two meetings before that or just the one, I don't know.

The set for Candida was a Victorian room. We didn't have any flats at all so I borrowed flats from the community theatre in St Catharines. All I remember of it really is that I decided to have flocked wallpaper. I remember doing that with a girl who I think was visiting her aunt--Christa Grauer was her name, a very nice girl. She came and laboured with me over these. I cut a stencil and I think we put glue through the stencil and then powdered flocking stuff. It looked quite authentic actually. We borrowed some nice furniture from people in Niagara-on-the-Lake who would lend them; I hope they got back to them. And that was that. It was fun, interesting. There was just one set. According to Brian's story, it was terribly hot for the Don Juan in Hell; I guess it was appropriate.

Interviewer: Did you have a curtain?

Ms Crawley: Oh, I think we must have. I can't remember that but we must have. I'm not sure who did the lighting, I can't remember. Louis Berai did the costumes. He was a local couturier. His real name was Lewis Aiken but he always called himself--it was a kind of trade name--Louis Berai. He was quite a well-known couturier. He decided he wanted to stay in St Catharines rather than go to Toronto or Montreal and he did very well. He died, I couldn't say the exact year but sometime within the last 10 years.

The first bunch of actors, I knew almost all of them well. They were amateur actors and Brian had got Maynard Burgess from Buffalo, who was the only professional, except that Louis Berai was a professional too. I guess you could call me--I was painting at that time, professionally in a way; I wasn't making my living at it but I was selling. But the actors were all amateur actors. Some of those people have died.

Tim Devlin was in it. I knew him quite well. He went to England and worked in London in the theatre. I had heard that he came back to Canada and I looked him up in Toronto and saw him several times, but I haven't seen him for a few years. I do have his address, whether it is his most recent address I don't know. It's 130 Carlton on the Park, Suite 505, Toronto, M5A 2L4, telephone 920-5775. Jean Malloy was in it. She has died since then. Barbara Ransom is still alive and in St. Catharines, as far as I know. Edward Fordham moved to British Columbia; I don't have his address. I don't know what happened to David Michener either. He came from Welland. Terry Cahill was a St. Catharines boy. There are Cahills still in St. Catharines. I think he was Lou Cahill's son. I worked with one son, Denis Cahill, now whether this Terry was another I don't know. Barbara Ransom and David Michener were the main characters.

With anything that just starts, you don't realize it's going to be history. We certainly--well, we may have had a little inkling it might be history because I remember Brian at that first meeting wondering what authors we should try other than Shakespeare and because Shaw had written so many plays he decided he would be the best one. It's proved true too.

Interviewer: Were there any particular problems you remember or any funny moments?

Ms Crawley: I don't remember anything funny, no.

Interviewer: I guess it would have been quite nerve-wracking to have to do that in an unfamiliar setting that really wasn't set up to be a theatre.

Ms Crawley: No, that was it. I've even forgotten what we used for dressing rooms. They couldn't have been very big, though. I found out in amateur theatre that everybody is all ready to rally round and collect the stuff but they forget about getting it back to the people and that has always worried me. I don't even know if the St Catharines theatre group got those flats back and if they did they had all that flocking to contend with. You don't think of those things at the time, though.

Interviewer: Was it because you had been building sets for St Catharines Community Theatre that Brian Doherty learned of you?

Ms Crawley: I guess that was it, and he knew I painted. I don't know where he got my name but he called me.

Interviewer: You just did it for that one year. Did you not want to do it any more?

Ms Crawley: They were getting into really professional theatre, I guess, and thought they should get professionals. And I think the Niagara-on-the-Lake people wanted to keep it as their own at first. I had that feeling that they did. I think even we, St. Catharines people, were felt to be outsiders. I did have one great summer. I can't remember the exact date; it was in the seventies, around 1974 or 1975 when The Devil's Disciple was produced. A bunch of the St Catharines amateur theatre people were given walk-on parts. I was Mrs. Duggan; I was given a name, I don't know why. We were on for a whole scene. That was a marvellous summer. We joined them in Kingston and went to Belleville. It had come from Halifax, I guess, and people along the way had taken these small parts. We picked them up at Kingston.

Interviewer: Did you have any lines?

Ms Crawley: Not actual lines, no. I'll never forget Tony van Bridge. There was one scene near the end where we were the townspeople at the back of the stage facing the audience and he was going across in front of us with his back to the audience. He was saying these outrageous things to us, trying to break us up. They were wicked that way. Maybe because we were amateurs they were picking on us particularly or maybe they do it all the time, I don't know, but they certainly tried it in that.

Unfortunately nobody thought to take pictures in that first year so there were no pictures of the set I did.

Paxton Whitehead was in The Devil's Disciple. It was fun on the bus, playing bridge with Paxton Whitehead. I certainly learned a lot about acting that summer, watching the professionals from backstage--James Valentine and Heath Lamberts, they were a prize pair.

I wonder whether David Michener is here in St. Catharines. There's an M. Michener in St Catharines. Did you want to try the one in Welland to see if there's any connection? That number is 734-4391, 42 Acadia Drive, Welland. I don't know where David ended up.

Barbara Ransom was teaching school at a very interesting school out in the country near Beamsville. It wasn't just a regular school; it wasn't a private school but it was run very interestingly. I can't remember her husband's name. I think he was a pharmacist at the Hotel Dieu Hospital. I bet it's R. E. Ransom, 9 Thairs, because that's quite near the hospital, 641-2048.

I don't remember anybody else actually helping with the sets that first year. Somebody went around the town to try and scrounge up furniture; maybe it was Brian himself. I remember doing that but that's about all I remember about it.

I only remember one dress that the leading actress wore. It was borrowed from somebody and it seems to me somebody somehow bought that dress from the company, I don't know how. It turned up somewhere else and somebody wore it as a wedding dress. This is a vague memory in the back of my mind about this dress turning up, and I'm sure it was the same dress that she wore to her wedding. It was a lovely dress, a lace dress.

Interviewer: Were all the costumes specially designed by Louis Berai?

Ms Crawley: Well, this is what I can't really remember, whether he just had managed to find authentic dresses - I know this one was, this lace one I'm talking about, but what the other people wore I'm not sure. But he certainly designed it, whether he actually made them I can't remember. I can't remember what the men wore.

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The Shaw Festival Oral History - Alice Crawley

Interview with Alice Crawley, actress and designer.
Seasons with the Shaw Festival: 1962 (set designer); 1974 (actress.
Part of Shaw Festival Foundation Oral History Project