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Losing, and discovering, Tracy Wright

A treasure of Toronto’s film and theatre community dies at 50


 

Tracy Wright (1959-2010) • photo by Guntar Kravis

She was the quintessence of the character actor who is beloved and acclaimed by her peers, and whose formidable talent consistently outstrips her fame. Tracy Wright  died Tuesday morning at her home in Toronto just six and a half months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 50. Wright was a stage and screen actress would routinely deliver the kind of unique and memorable performances that get called “gem-like.” Even if her name does not sound familiar, chances are you would recognize her.  She brought an idiosyncratic clarity to even the smallest roles, along with a sense that there was so much more of her simmering just below the surface, or just off screen. Wright had a way of conveying an entire personality, and a motherlode of wit, through a word or a look. She worked with some of Canada’s most inventive writers and directors, including Bruce McDonald, Patricia Rozema, Daniel McIvor, Daniel Brooks—and her longtime companion Don McKellar, who became her husband shortly after her cancer diagnosis. It was  a treat to see her work alongside McKellar, as the cat-crazy Dizelle in the TV series, Twitch City, or as a cycling, pot-smoking ex-radical  in Monkey Warfare. And I doubt any actress has held her own in the clubhouse of Kids in the Hall as beautifully as Wright, who appeared as a sex-mad adulterer ravishing Bruce McCulloch at an art gallery opening in this hilarious episode titled The Affair:

While Wright was rooted in Toronto’s theatrical and film community, her reputation went far and wide. Plug her name into Google, and the appreciations that pop up range from Texas to Scotland. American director Miranda July was so captivated by her small role in McKellar’s 1999 film Last Night, that she wrote a part for her in You Me and Everyone We Know, as an art curator who has an unwitting online affair with a child.

While Wright was chronically under-appreciated, an actress whose talent seemed to merit more generous roles,  she was gaining increased recognition in the past year or two. She won acclaim for her final stage role, co-starring with Caroline Gillis in the 2009 Tarragon Theatre remount of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View, as a straight woman who becomes involved with a lesbian. And after her diagnosis, MacIvor raced to write a screenplay that would give her a starring role opposite Molly Parker in another two-hander—a rock’n’roll My Dinner With Andre about two women who catch up with each other after meeting at a concert. The movie, directed by Bruce McDonald, is called Trigger, and most likely it will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Until then, you can get a glimpse of Wright in another of those fleeting, gem-like roles, in McDonald’s This Movie is Broken, a romance wrapped around a Broken Social Scene concert movie; it opens on Friday.

Meanwhile here’s sweet glimpse of Tracy Wright on a park bench  in the final scenes of You and Me and Everyone We Know:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJZhjGOG2CI&feature=player_embedded


 

Losing, and discovering, Tracy Wright

  1. Tracy Wright created the role of Isobel in the premiere of my play Lion in the Streets, in 1991 at the Tarragon and she was luminous, brilliant, and unforgettable. She played a nine year old girl who had been murdered years before, and has risen from the dead to find her killer, or "the LION". When she finally corners him, and is about to take revenge, she suddenly stops and says: " I love you" Tracy Wright was so deeply inside Isobel that she made that moment utterly believable, true, and transcendent. Her performance lives on inside me, and I believe, everyone who saw her. I remain deeply honoured by her creation.

  2. I was lucky enough to see the above mentioned performance of Judith Thompson's 'Lion in the Streets' and I remember being absolutely bowled over by Tracy Wrights performance. She was a force. Later, I would often see her walking in the market or along College street but never had the chutzpah to tell her how moved I was by her performance and what a fan I was. What a loss.

  3. I can attest to that, Judith. It's a cliche to call a performance "shattering", but Tracy as Isobel was just that. Back in the 80's I conned my way into a job stage-managing a collective creation Tracy and Don were a part of. One day in rehearsal Daniel Brooks was taking Tracy through a character exercise – "Who are you?" he asked. "I am the Queen…" said Tracy. Daniel kept pushing her farther… "Again…" he said. "I am the QUEEN" "Again." …And then out of this slight, softspoken girl came a voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up… "I am the Queen!… I am the QUEEN!… I am THE QUEEN!!… I AM THE QUEEEEEN!!!".

    I'd never seen anything like it. And it was the beginning of a career that saw her create a thousand moments like that one. A completely original artist, and a wonderful, funny, no BS person.
    Long live the Queen.

  4. Tracy could do anything. John Frizzell cast her for a 2 episode part in a series we were working on in 1992 (Material World) – she played completely against type and freaked everybody out – how does someone do what she did? Brilliant, exciting, surprising, focused, and oh, such a kind, lovely, clever, clever girl. Long live the Queen.

  5. Training for my black belt I mentored a woman I met at the club … we soon became fast friends and we called each other our personal trainers because we egged each other on to attend and meet our personal goals… we laughed often and sometimes got in trouble for it…I would laugh so hard sometimes that I couldn't stop! I will very much miss this wonderful person very …much!!! I have been thinking about her like crazy for the last few weeks….

    This is soooooo horrible I cried all afternoon – she was way too young, nice, fun, genuine, down-to-earth – she was my pal … urgh… xo Tracy!

  6. I met Tracy only a couple of times, but I knew her mother for many years (my stepgrandmother). I am very sad to hear of her passing at such a young age. I was very happy to hear that her and Don did finally marry after spending mostly a lifetime together. I am sure her mother Jean as waiting at the gates to greet her arrival.

  7. tracy and other friends helped me when i made this video 20 years ago. she was the best actor i ever knew, there was no trace of tracy when she played a part.

    [youtube wc5UTBfhJF8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc5UTBfhJF8 youtube]

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