For many years, Rita Shelton Deverell wanted to produce a docudrama about a remarkable woman. But other careers got in the way. The actor, playwright and docudrama-maker has also worked as a TV presenter and head of current affairs for Vision TV, the Canadian network she co-founded; news director (mentoring her successor) at APTN, the Aboriginal People’s TV Network; professor of journalism and women’s studies in two Canadian universities;
Her achievements earned her a place in the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest honour.
At last, Rita is writing the docudrama screenplay about Florence James. She’s writing it at her country home in the ‘Sugar Bush’, outside Toronto. “We bought the country place 22 years ago when our son graduated from high school. Thereafter we started to rent apartments in Toronto. There have been five Toronto apartments in 22 years (plus two in Winnipeg, and one in Halifax where I worked three-year stints). The ‘Sugar Bush’ house remains home throughout these moves and always welcomes us.” Like Rita, Florence James found a productive life and award-winning career in Canada. Rita came to Canada from Texas as a young woman, but Florence came here past age 60, after some terrible events.
“‘McCarthy and the Old Woman’ is about a feisty, resilient real-life heroine who lost everything because of the communist witch-hunts in the USA. Florence James was blacklisted and bankrupted. She survived the loss of her money, reputation, life’s work, her home and the death of her husband.”
The planning, creative thinking and writing for the docudrama are taking place here. Two writers live here. Rita’s husband Rex is a well-known playwright. Each has an office on the house’s lower level. “Sometimes I write and plan in longhand at the drum table. But I have to get the feeling that I’m ‘going to work’. Rex has never gone to an office, so I have to keep his joke-telling self away from my work space.” Rita’s homes – country and city – are beautifully designed – by her. They are bright, comfortable, unpretentious places, where history, art, houseplants and flowers mix. Many objects were passed down from Rex and Rita’s parents. “Every place in the large five-area living space is for my favourite leisure time activity, reading detective fiction. “We have lots of family pieces by now: the drum table was my mother’s. “The small desk and dining room table were Rex’s mother’s. The rocking chair was Rex’s grandfather’s, though not upholstered in leopard print. “Outside, the yellow Muskoka chair is really the place I love to sit and dream and have nothing to do.” “I’m a home addict. The trivial side is I love to look at houses, read the real estate ads all the time, adore interior decorating, and can be cheered up by having a design idea.
“The important thing though is I’m an introvert, and actually draw my energy by starting each day from home base. That’s a place where my life is ordered, feels controllable, and beautiful. Then I can go out into the world and deal better with the dis-ordered, un-controllable, and sometimes ugly.”
Recently, another of Rita’s projects was launched to positive reviews. It’s a multimedia, educational kit called ‘Women, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Resistance’. Free and downloadable, it includes a DVD:
Photos by Rex Deverell.