Thursday, March 18, 2010

Roy Mitchell, 1884-1944

Mitchell by Canadian illustrator Arthur Lismer
courtesy of the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto

The piece on “Blavatsky in Canada” evoked requests for more information on Roy Mitchell, the dramatist who sought to find expression of his theosophical principles through his work. The catalog for his theater papers at York University in Toronto, Canada, provides the following biographical sketch:

Roy Matthews Mitchell was a dramatist and educator; he was born on February 4, 1884 in Fort Gratiot, Michigan, but was educated in Canada where he received a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto in 1906. After a period working as a journalist and press agent in Canada and the United States, he moved to New York City in 1915 to study theatrical design. From 1917-1918, he was director of the Greenwich Village Theatre in Sheridan Square. From 1918 to 1919, he was director of motion pictures for the Canadian Department of Public Information. From 1919 to 1930, he was director of the Hart House Theatre, University of Toronto. After his return to Toronto, he produced experimental plays for the Arts and Letters Club; he also became involved with the Toronto Theosophical Society. In 1930 he was appointed professor of dramatic arts at the School of Education in New York University. Mitchell was the author of Shakespeare for Community Players (1919), The School Theatre (1925) and Creative Theatre (1929), the last considered one of the most important books on the subject. He died in Canaan, Connecticut on July 27, 1944.

In the 1920s in Toronto Mitchell started the Blavatsky Institute (not to be confused with the earlier English institution of the same name) to reissue small theosophical books that had gone out-of-print. After his death it became the main source for his theosophical writings, the best known being Theosophy in Action, and his lecture The Use of The Secret Doctrine.

The impact of Theosophy on his career is presented by Renate Usmiani, “Roy Mitchell: Prophet in our Past,” Theatre Research in Canada 8:2 (1987): 147-168, here, and Scott Duchesne’s response, “The Impossible Theatre: Roy Mitchell and The Chester Mysteries: Experience, Initiation and Brotherhood,” Theatre Research in Canada 27:2 (2006): 227-244, here.

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