Irene Prothroe

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Irene Prothroe

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Irene Prothroe (née Powlan, 1925-1989) is an actress, teacher, director, and producer who taught at the Banff Centre from 1958 to 1970, and served as the Head of the Theatre (1969-1970) and the Musical Theatre Division (1970-1974).

Irene was born on March 19th, 1925 in Winnifred Alberta to father Frank Yuen Powlan (b. 1887) and mother Mary Organ. Frank immigrated to Canada from Sunwui (Guangzhou, China) in his late teens, and is described by his son Henry as one of Alberta’s original Chinese herbalists. Mary was born in Liverpool England and met Frank in Raymond, Alberta. Irene has eight siblings, including Vi and Ron, both of whom also worked in the theatre.

Raised in Calgary, Prothroe was an original member of Workshop 14, organized by Dr. Betty Mitchell in classroom 14 of Western Canada High School. Prothroe continued her studies at the American Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles (1946-1949), where her tutors included Russian actress and teacher Maria Ouspenskaya. Prothroe was subsequently invited to join Charles Laughton’s Shakespeare Foundation in Los Angeles (1949), and later studied with Morris Carnovsky, and the dance instructor Hanja Holm in New York (1950). While visiting home during her studies in America, she married Jack Prothroe, a lawyer based in Calgary.

Irene taught drama at the University of Alberta (1951 to 1954); and at the University of British Columbia (1954-1957; 1970-1974). She received a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Alberta (1960) and a Bachelor’s of Education at the University of Calgary (1963).

As the recipient of two Canada Council Senior Arts Fellowships (1965, 1967), Prothroe was able to survey international theatres and theatre schools as well as attended conferences as the Canadian Representative of the International Theatre Institute.

While engaged at the Banff Centre during summers, Prothroe served as Artistic Director at the Calgary Arts Centre Theatre (1960-1964), and as a drama advisor to the University of Calgary (1961-1974). She worked the Radio Drama Producer for CBC Calgary (1974-1981) and founded the 85th Street Players, a touring dinner theatre group, and Powlan Productions with her brother Ron, in Calgary in the early 1980s.

Irene died of a brain aneurysm on October 11, 1989.


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