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Colleen Murphy

Dates: 
1918-2017

Colleen Murphy was born in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec in 1954 and grew up in northern Ontario. Her first play, Fire Engine Red (1985), was written for radio and won the CBC Literary Competition. She won the competition a second time with her radio play Pumpkin Eaters (1990).

The same year she completed her first radio play she joined Tarragon Theatre's playwrights unit. Two years later Tarragon produced her first stage play, All Destinations are Cancelled. So bad was her experience from the critical response to the play and her disagreement about how the play was interpreted for the stage that she left the theatre for a decade. During that time she turned to film-making. Over the next decade Murphy produced eight films including five shorts all exploring intimate, difficult personal situations and social justice issues notably pertaining to homelessness, Indigenous rights, and sexuality, and war: Putty Worm (1993; silent film/directed/wrote); The Feeler (1995; directed/co-wrote), War Holes (2002; directed/wrote), Girl with Dog (2005; directed/wrote), and Out in the Cold (2008; directed).

Like her shorts, her feature length films also tackle difficult subjects. Described as a “raw love story,” Termini Station (1989), written by Collen Murphy and directed by her husband Alan King (they had married in 1987), explores the highly troubled relationship between an alcoholic opera-loving mother and her daughter, a retail clerk and part-time prostitute, both of whom have dreams of escaping the trap of small town life. The film received six Genie Award nominations in 1990: Best Picture, Best Actress (Dewhurst, Follows), Best Original Screenplay (Murphy), Best Overall Sound (Sal Grimaldi, Joe Grimaldi, Dino Pigat and Peter Shewchuk) and Best Sound Editing (Terry Burke, David Templeton, Ralph Brunjes, and Brian Ravok). Her next two feature films Shoemaker (1996) and Desire (2000) amongst them garnered another five Genie nominations.

Although she went back to work on stage plays with the writing of Down in Adoration Falling (1994), this play has yet to be produced. Her 1998 drama Beating Heart Cadaver when she was playwright-in-residence at Necessary Angel Theatre. The play was directed by Richard Rose and nominated in 1999 for both a Chalmers Award and Governor General’s Award. She followed this success with another in the 2002 musical production of The Piper, a satiric or allegorical interpretation of the Pied Piper of Hamelin set within a political context. And shortly after that with The December Man (2007), her most award-winning play about the gut-wrenching guilt suffered by a young male student ordered out of the engineering classroom during the Montreal massacre at the École Polytechnique in 1989. It won the 2007 Governor General's Literary Award for Drama, the 2008 Carol Bolt Award and the 2006 Enbridge Playwrights Award.

Not shying away from difficult subjects, Murphy took on another major Canadian tragedy in her award-winning play Pig Girl, which presented a fictionalized rendering based on the horrific murders of Indigenous women by Robert Picton. Premiering at the Theatre Network in Edmonton in 2013, it stirred up deep controversy about cultural appropriation. Some, though, see it as Alex Ramon did after its production at Fidborough Theatre, London, England in 2015: “The play is constructed, essentially, as two interwoven two-handers. Murphy juxtaposes the torment of a woman held in a barn by a volatile captor with the ordeal experienced by the woman’s sister, as she attempts to convince a police officer to begin the investigation of her missing sibling. These two separate male/female encounters posit a parallel between the horrific crimes occurring in the barn and the wider cultural abuses of a society that seems indifferent to the fate of drug-addicted sex workers, especially those from non-white backgrounds” (Ramon, The Public Review, 2015).

In 2013, Murphy came out with yet another heart-wrenching play, Armstrong’s War, about a young girl reading to a wounded young veteran of Afghanistan war. She continues to produce for both stage and film.

Murphy has a distinguished career served as playwright-/writer-/artist-in-residence at a variety of institutions including: Necessary Angel (1996-2002); University of Regina (2006-2007); Tapestry New Opera, Toronto (2008); McMaster University (2010); Finborough Theatre, London, UK (2010-2012); University of Guelpg (2011); Playright’s Retreat Stratford Festival (2011); Factory Theatre (1911-1912); The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, Fredericton, NB; Berton House Writers’ Retreat, Dawson City YK (2013); Edna Staebler Laurier Writer in Residence, Wilfrid Laurier University (2014); Lee Playwright in Residence, University of Alberta, AB (2014-2017); National Theatre School of Canada, Montreal (2016); Orion Visiting Artist, University of Victoria BC (2017-2018); University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB (2018).

Included in her papers are drafts/editions of plays/scripts, libretti, publicity, correspondence, house programs, sound recordings (cd's, mini-cassettes), photos, slides, videorecordings (cassettes, dvd).

Extent: 

Approx. 11.5 m of textual and other materials

Type(s) Of Materials: 
Artifacts
Audiovisual Material
Photographs
Published Material
Technical Drawings
Unpublished Material and Manuscripts
How To Access: 

This collection is available for viewing on-site in Archival & Special Collections during our regular business hours.

Call number XZ1 MS A038. Please contact our reference staff for detailed inventories.