If you’re a Canadian theatre artist, you probably look forward to the most wonderful time of the year. Not sure what I’m talking about? It happens every June, and celebrates the yearly works of Toronto theatre shows and artists. Still in the dark? Interesting…time to do some more research when it comes to our GTA’s theatre industry. If you already know, congratulations! It’s the Dora Mavor Moore Awards!
Living in the GTA for almost six years now, I’ve been following this award show annually. But how did The Dora Awards come to be? Why is it called the Doras? Who exactly is Dora Mavor Moore? This is what I found out: Dora Mavor Moor is recognized as a Canadian Theatre Pioneer. She was an actor, teacher, director, producer, and one of the key founders of professional Canadian Theatre.
Dora Mavor was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on April 8th, 1888. In 1894 her family moved to Toronto, Ontario when her father, James Mavor, was employed as a professor at the University of Toronto for political economy. After graduating from Havergal College for girls, she first studied elocution at Toronto’s Margaret Eaton School of Expression. She was accepted into London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and in 1912, she was the first Canadian to graduate. It is said that she was heavily influenced by seeing productions of W.B Yeats’ The Land of the Heart’s Desire, and Lady Augusta Gregory’s Spreading the News during her studies, as well as the establishment of the Irish National Theatre. These sparked in her ideas of what Canadian theatre should be.
In 1912 she made her first acting début with Ottawa’s Colonial Stock Company at the age of 24. She later joined New York’s Pastoral Players’ tour of Chautauqua in the United States where she would preform Shakespeare. Shortly after, in 1915, she married Francis Moore, an Angelical Army Chaplain. They lived in London during World War I and she became the first Canadian to perform at London’s Old Vic where she played the role of Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The couple had three sons together named Francis Wilfrid Mavor, James Mavor Moore, and Peter Mavor. Dora and James separated in 1928, and she moved with her three sons to Toronto, Ontario. From there, Dora began teaching acting and diction for the University of Toronto Extension Department, and even directed their plays. One notable show she directed is Shakespeare’s As You Like It, with music by Healey Willan and design by Arthur Lismer. She founded Hart House Touring Players to present Shakespeare shows for Ontario high schools with playwright and teacher Herman Voaden.
With the help of her sons, Dora bought a log home in 1938 which became a Barn Theatre. A new theatre company was formed titled The Village Players, who produced new Canadian plays. A notable play to come out of this endeavor is The House in the Quiet Glen by John Coulter, with actors Vernon Chapman and Don Harron. In 1946 she founded the New Play Society with her son Mavor Moore just before she turned 60, which was presented as a training company for performers, writers, and technicians.
The New Play Society premiered many short plays at the Royal Ontario Museum’s theatre with well known playwrights such as J.M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Strindberg’s The Father, and Maugham’s Coventry Nativity Play and The Circle. The first play produced by the company was Lister Sinclair’s The Man in the Blue Moon in 1947. Other notable productions include Spring Thaw, Mavor Moore’s Who’s Who, and John Coulter’s Riel. It is also known that Dora was instrumental in recruiting actor Tyrone Guthrie to the Stratford Festival, who helped launch it.
Dora Mavor Moore worked hard for almost 40 years to further develop the Canadian theatre scene. Without her, I’m not quite sure where we would be. No wonder we named an award ceremony after her! If you would like to read more on Dora Mavor Moore there is a biographical book on her and her work. Click here to purchase it on Amazon.