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Valerie Ann Pearson, actor, director and educator, shares more than 40 years of history in the arts community

Sunday, March 8th, 2020 is International Women’s Day, and Theatre Calgary is celebrating the significant contributions women have made to the artistic community. Learn more about a Calgary actor and director who’s been working in our professional theatre community for more than 40 years.

The leading ladies of Theatre Calgary, both on the stage and behind the scenes, have enriched our history, made a permanent imprint on our audiences and have helped grow the arts community in Calgary and beyond. One of these women, in particular, made her debut on the Theatre Calgary stage in 1979 and has been a force in the arts community ever since. Valerie Ann Pearson has been in 12 productions on the Theatre Calgary stage, including her role as Roberta in the upcoming satire, Admissions, running March 10-April 4, 2020. A teacher, mother, wife and mentor, she’s a true inspiration and we’re proud to be welcoming her back to our stage for the first time in seven years.

Valerie’s father was an amateur actor when he met her mother in a play, setting the stage for her career in theatre. In high school, she studied as an actor with the Banff School of Fine Arts program at age 16, and as a part of this, was welcomed to tour with the opera Falstaff as a stagehand.

“It was quite an introduction to the arts, and I believe there was some destiny involved.”

This rich experience at a young age set her direction and grew Valerie’s passion to pursue her career further – she applied to the Pasadena Playhouse to study after high school and was accepted, but at the time her parents were not comfortable sending her to the United States on her own. Given there was not a fine arts program in Calgary at the time, Valerie studied education at the University of Calgary, with a major in drama and a minor in music.

“For a long time, I didn’t know if I wanted to be in music or theatre, as I wasn’t keen on musical theatre at the time.”

During this time, she would take on a soloist role in W.O. Mitchell’s production of Wild Rose, which premiered in 1967. The musical was a success in Calgary, with Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra and her husband, Secretary of State Judy La Marsh and film director Arthur Hiller, in attendance for the opening. It played in Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Sault Ste. Marie, Pembroke, Ottawa and Montreal at Expo ’67. It was an exciting time for Valerie as she toured across Canada on her first major production as a performer.

In the years that followed, Valerie would have her son and daughter, along with her graduation from the University of Calgary in 1972. While she wanted to continue on as an actor, she taught drama for 10 years while raising her children with her husband, who was a radio host, and given the volatility of the media industry, she put her acting career aside to ensure her family had stability. 

“While teaching, I started to witness my students entering the professional world as stage managers and actors, and I thought, I need to do this,” shared Valerie. “I didn’t want to be in my 50s and think I should have been, I could have been. So I left teaching and started to audition in 1979.”

Valerie’s career took off, landing her debut role on the Theatre Calgary stage that year in the production The Words of My Roaring. She would continue to act with Theatre Calgary as well as Alberta Theatre Projects in their resident company, the Citadel Theatre and other companies across Canada. 

Valerie has worked with some notable performers and actors during her time, a few of which she met on the Theatre Calgary stage. She played Jann Arden’s Mother in Country Hearts and worked alongside Ed O’Neill (Married with Children, Modern Family) and Concetta Tomei (China Beach, Providence) in A Streetcar Named Desire.

“I have memories of hanging out in the stairwell at Theatre Calgary with Jann, where she would play her latest music for me,” said Valerie. “She would have been around 19 or 20 years old, around when her career was taking off. We sang and played together, and she was really good in Country Hearts.”

More than 40 years later, Valerie continues to act, and in the last six years has started directing, which is something that has reinvigorated her passion to move forward in her career and continue doing what she loves. She enjoys the mentorship of directing, and working with aspiring actors and helping them grow as artists. And she shares that “there is something about theatre where you’re blessed to be able to do it in older age or with physical limitations. You can still make a contribution.”

“I think that intellectually and creatively, it doesn’t matter how old you are. If your brain is working, it’s lovely to explore new things. I believe that older artists can bring a wealth of experience, whether it’s emotional, educational, or life lessons, we have a lot to offer.”

Through the years, Valerie reflects on the shifts and changes she’s experienced as a female in the arts. While Valerie’s experiences have been positive overall, she says it’s the connection and support between women in the industry that has changed the most.

“The most difficulty I experienced was the tension between women, and I believe that was because women felt powerless. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, women did not have that sense of empowerment in their careers. If they did get a position as a director, or in another role of power, they held on to it tooth and nail. What’s improved is we are less paranoid about losing power or position because we feel more solid in the work we are doing. It makes me feel very hopeful.”

Beyond the significant imprint she’s made on Theatre Calgary and Calgarians, she was the 2004 recipient of the Harry and Martha Cohen Award for sustained contribution to the theatre in Calgary, a true reflection of her passion and commitment. Valerie has also been a part of historical moments such as being the first recipient of a Betty Mitchell Award in 1998 for Best Supporting Actress in the Alberta Theatre Projects production of A Guide to Mourning and performing on the cement floor where the Theatre Calgary stage was built at the hard hat party before it opened its doors in the Max Bell Theatre in 1986. Valerie has truly seen this theatre built from the ground up.

Please join Theatre Calgary in celebrating the outstanding contribution of women in the arts for 2020 International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8th on social media:

@TheatreCalgary, #IWD2020 #EachForEqual

Buy tickets to Admissions!

"I feel that women bring something very special to our industry, in terms of the size of their empathy and understanding of the human condition and relationships.”

Valerie Ann Pearson
Valerie Ann Pearson and Jann Arden performing together in Country Hearts at Theatre Calgary.

Valerie Ann Pearson and Jann Arden performing together in Country Hearts at Theatre Calgary.