Theatre Prof Judith Thompson Acting in Play She Wrote

May 15, 2014 - News Release

It’s been about 35 years since she last appeared on stage, but noted Canadian playwright and University of Guelph professor Judith Thompson is performing in a new one-woman play written by herself that opens in Toronto this week.

Thompson is performing in Watching Glory Die. She portrays three women: Glory, a teenage prisoner; her adoptive mother, Rosellen; and a prison guard named Gail.

The play is based on the story of Ashley Smith, who committed suicide in 2007 while in segregation in the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont. A civil inquiry found corrections officers watched on a video feed while Smith was asphyxiated.

Thompson said she wanted to help audiences understand more about Smith’s life and struggles.

“I felt that theatre could address this story in a way that documentaries can’t,” said Thompson, a theatre studies professor.

“Glory is inspired by Ashley, Rosellen by Ashley's wonderful mother, Coralee, who has given her blessing to my play, and Gail was someone I created based on research and imagination.”

Thompson has written numerous plays, including the award-winning White Biting Dog, I am Yours and Lion in the Streets. In Watching Glory Die, she will perform for the first time since the late 1970s.

“I had been acting since I was 11 and continually until I was about 25; then, I was appearing in a very light Christmas farce and I thought ‘No more! I am just going to write.’ But I have always thrown myself into my public readings -- and when dramaturge Iris Turcott, someone whose opinion I value, insisted that I act for this play, I took up the challenge.”

Thompson, an Officer of the Order of Canada, is intrigued by acting again but a little nervous.

“Oh, it’s very exciting. Hopefully it will be like riding a bike. The only thing that scares me is learning the lines,” she said.

“The challenge in portraying the characters is to honour them in all their complexity.

“I want the audience to feel what Ashley felt, what her mother felt, and even what the guard felt, and ask themselves, ‘Where are they in this story? How are they implicated? Who is watching us, and who are we watching?’”

Watching Glory Die is at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs in Toronto May 15 until June 1. Information is available at

Watching Glory Die

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