John Murrell was an American-born Canadian playwright. Born in Lubbock, Texas, Murrell studied at the Southwest University in Georgetown, Texas and graduated with a BFA in 1968. Murrell moved to Albert, Canada to avoid the draft in 1968 and studied at the University of Calgary. He graduated with a degree in education and settled in Calgary, Alberta with his wife, Cindy Galbreath. As John began to teach in Alberta’s public schools, he started writing plays. His second play, Power in Blood (1975), won the Clifford E. Lee playwriting award and drove Murrell to begin writing full time.
Some of Murrell’s most famous works include Memoir (1977), Waiting for the Parade (1977), and Talking Shakespeare (2012). Murrell has a deep knowledge of French and Italian, leading him to translate many texts for the stage. Some of his most popular translations include Machiavelli’s Mandragola (Theatre Calgary, 1978), Carole Fréchette’s Napoli Milionaria! (Stratford Festival, 2018), and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (Stratford Festival, 1988). Murrell was very passionate about opera, writing the libretto for four new works and frequently collaborated with composer John Estacio on his operas.
Murrell’s plays have been translated into fifteen different languages and performed in over thirty countries worldwide. He worked as a Playwright-in-Residence at Theatre Calgary and Alberta Theatre Projects. Murrell was also the Associate Director of the Stratford Festival of Canada, the head of the Banff Playwrights Colony, and the head of the Theatre Section of the Canada Council for the Arts. In 1998, the National Theatre School of Canada recognized his contributions with the Gascon-Thomas award for outstanding lifetime of service to arts education in Canada. He was also awarded the Order of Canada in 2003 and the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. John Murrell died on November 11, 2019 from leukaemia in Calgary, Alberta.
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