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Photo Credit: Elinor Hendrix

Beverly Wilson May

$1,760.00 (raised so far)

About Beverly Wilson May

Beverly Wilson grew up in Nanaimo, BC. She was the daughter of devoted working-class parents whose families had emigrated from the north of England to find work in the mines near East Wellington. It was decided at a very early age that Beverly would receive elocution lessons (she ultimately received a license in the Theory and Practice of Elocution offered by Trinity College of Music – London). This early training later proved to have enormous professional value.

Beverly received a BA degree with honors from the University of British Columbia in 1948. During her time at UBC, she was the President of the Players Club and a member of Delta Sigma Pi. She was also awarded UBC scholarships to summer programs at the Banff School of Fine Arts and the UBC Summer School of Theatre. She appeared in many classic plays at UBC including The Taming of the Shrew and Berkeley Square. She went on to earn an MFA in directing from the Yale Drama School where she was awarded the Henrietta Lord Scholarship for Best Actress.

After completing her graduate studies at Yale, Beverly joined the theatre department at the University of Alberta as Technical and Associate Director of the Studio Theatre. In response to this appointment, William F. May – then a graduate student at the Yale Divinity School – promptly hitchhiked from New Haven, Connecticut to Edmonton with a counterproposal of marriage. Accepting Bill’s demonstrably earnest proposal, Beverly returned to the United States the following year. Together, Beverly and Bill would go on to celebrate 70 years of marriage.

While raising four children in Northampton, Massachusetts, Beverly – now Beverly May – taught, directed and acted in productions of classic plays at Smith College, the University of Massachusetts, and Amherst College. Her family subsequently moved to Bloomington, Indiana where she continued to take leading roles in productions at Indiana University, including the title role in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Beverly made her professional debut at the Actors Theater of Louisville, Kentucky as the understudy for Mary Tyrone in Jon Jory’s production of the same play featuring his parents: the Hollywood actors Victor Jory and Jean Innes. Roles in classic and modern American plays followed at the Actors Theater and Indiana Repertory Theater. She then made her New York City debut in an off-off-Broadway production of Female Transport at the Performing Garage on Wooster Street and immediately after, her Broadway debut in Equus, replacing Marion Seldes in the role of Dora Strang.

Beverly would go on to originate character roles in Broadway productions of Whose Life is it Anyway? with Tom Conti and then Mary Tyler Moore, Rose, The Curse of an Aching Heart, Slab Boys, Once in a Lifetime and The Front Page; in numerous Off-Broadway productions; and dozens of plays at over 10 leading League of Resident Theatres across the United States. She received an Obie Award for ensemble acting in an Off-Broadway revival of My Sister in the House. She also appeared in several movies including Witness and made guest appearances on television, the family favorite being an appearance on Sesame Street with Big Bird. She retired from the stage in Dallas, Texas as a regular member of the acting company at the Dallas Theater Center.

Beverly was the consummate stage actress: hard-working, versatile, reliable and respectful, with a love of and facility for language (with a broad range of regional English accents at her call – aided by her early training in elocution.) She was generous with her talent and always ready to teach and mentor younger actors. She was a favorite with early-career actresses for whom Beverly seemed to embody the idea that as improbable as it may seem, it is possible to have talent, a home, a stable marriage, a family and a successful professional career as an actress.

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The impact of your support

In honour of Beverly’s dedication to the theatre, Beverly’s family has created the Beverly Wilson May Memorial Fund. Your gift will pay tribute to Beverly’s life and career by supporting students following in her footsteps in theatre at UBC.


Photos from left to right: actress portrait; Berkeley Square at UBC (Beverly pictured far right); in character in Dallas; character actress (photo credit: Linda Blaze); Equus on Broadway; Taming of the Shrew at UBC (Beverly pictured center stage).

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