In a previous post, we looked at the life of distinguished Canadian playwright George Ryga, who spent part of the 1980s living and writing at his “cottage” on Lake Chapala. Many family and friends visited Ryga’s winter getaway in San Antonio Tlayacapan. This post introduces some of those visitors to Ryga’s Mexican home who are well-known writers and personalities in their own right.
First up is George Ryga’s daughter Tanya (a drama teacher) who visited Lake Chapala, with her husband Larry Reece. Reece, a musician and artist, was drama professor at Red Deer College, where his colleagues included Brian Paisley.
Paisley was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is well known in Western Canada for his numerous contributions to the development of Canadian theatre, most notably as the founder in 1982 of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival (EIFF), the first Fringe festival in North America. While visiting the Lake Chapala area, Paisley spent some time with Phyllis and Georg Rauch, and was so impressed by an early version of Georg Rauch’s war-time memoirs that he arranged to have them turned into a play, which received its world premiere at the EIFF. The memoirs were reissued in February 2015 by mainstream publisher Farrar Straus Giroux, as Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army.
Ken Smedley was a long-time friend of George Ryga. Ken and his wife Dorian Smedley-Kohl (photo) stayed at “the cottage” in 1978 and then lived at Lake Chapala, mainly in Ajijic, for the following eleven years, until 1989.
Ken Smedley is an actor, director and dramatist who grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia. Smedley has presented one-man shows such as “Three of a Certain Kind” at Fringe festivals in Edmonton and Vancouver (both in 1986) and was a founding member of the Western Canada Theatre Company, now a professional theatre. He has directed plays at the Phoenix Theatre in the U.K. and several radio plays for CBC.
During their time in Mexico, Smedley directed several productions at Lake Chapala, including plays by Joanna Glass, Jack Heifner, David Marnet and Harold Pinter. Perhaps the single most noteworthy production was Smedley’s dinner-theater offering, in 1979 at the (Old) Posada Ajijic, of Portrait of a Lady, a Tribute to Margaret Laurence. This work, based on George Ryga’s seminal adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic novel The Stone Angel, featured Dorian Kohl’s acclaimed portrayal of heroine Hagar Shipley, a role Kohl has reprised numerous times since, in theaters across British Columbia.
Smedley was later appointed director of the George Ryga Centre, a cultural venue occupying Ryga’s former home in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada. Due to funding problems, the center was forced to close in 2013.
Dorian Smedley-Kohl (also known as Dorian Kohl, Dorianne Kohl) is a Canadian model, actress and artist. Dorian was a fashion model in Toronto, New York, Paris and London for more than a decade, before becoming a regular on the “Wayne & Shuster Hour” on television. She has also appeared in the CBC TV series “The Party Game”, “The Actioneer” and many other works. Her stage performances include roles at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre, in “The King and I” and in “Pal Joey”.
In 1988, Ken and Dorian Smedley were instrumental in mounting the first (and only) Ajijic Fringe Theatre – “El Fringe” – which included performances by Dorian in “Circle of the Indian Year”, and by Ken in “Ringside Date with the Angel”, alongside various other events.
The couple’s son Terence “Diego” Smedley-Kohl was born in Ajijic and spent the first ten years of his life in Mexico. Diego later became a member of “El Mariachi (Los Dorados)”, a Canadian mariachi band that had the honor of playing at the the prestigious International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara a few years ago.
Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.