July 15, 2023
At the dawn of our 2022/2023 season, the threats and uncertainties of Covid-19 hung in the air, and we honestly weren’t sure what was going to happen. Would there be another lockdown that would force us to cancel our shows? Would people be reluctant to spend a few hours in an enclosed room full of strangers? We named our season “Welcome Back,” a literal interpretation of welcoming audiences and performers back to the theatre, after two years of mostly being shut. And we hoped and hoped, with each passing day before the season began, that another variant didn’t emerge, and that the government would not institute another lockdown.
Our fears were allayed in early-September, when country singer Johnny Reid entertained TWO sold-out houses on a Monday and Tuesday night. Covid was still front of mind for many people, and outbreaks had been recorded locally before the shows, but judging by the 1,400 people who watched the shows over two days, not many people seemed to care.
As the weeks and months went by, Covid and its attendant lockdowns were shuffled further and further back in our collective psyche. Throughout the season, audiences got bigger and fewer people wore masks. People seemed more comfortable with sitting right beside complete strangers for an extended period of time. We celebrated our 35th anniversary with a three-day gala, punctuated by a near-sellout on a Saturday night in mid-October, when Ring System and Triple Bypass blew the roof off the joint.
Optimism grew. People continued to get excited with going out for a show. At the beginning of November, we announced the first community musical in 5 years, and we had a huge response during the audition period. There were a lot of new faces auditioning, and there were also many veterans of the stage who auditioned, including Patty Forman.
The momentum of that joyful enthusiasm was abruptly stopped on a rainy Monday morning in late November, when Patty, who had performed on our stage many times, was murdered in a downtown mall. Our community went into mourning and the optimism of a non-Covid theatre was shattered. In the midst of shock, anger, and sadness, we did the only thing that decent people do in these situations: we took care of each other, cried with each other, hugged each other. Thousands of texts were sent out in those sleepless weeks after the tragedy: “hey, just checking in” or “how are you” or “I don’t know what to say….”
But theatre, like life, goes on. One form of theatre is the musical, which may be one of the most fun and silliest aspects of the performing arts. Less than two weeks after Patty’s shooting, the high school staged “The SpongeBob Musical,” featuring a cast of characters including a crab with boxing gloves, a dour squid, and the hero, a square sponge who wears shorts and a tie. Even so soon after the tragedy, audiences returned. There was an unspoken feeling that “this is what we needed.” People were still mourning, but they needed to be around people, they needed to come and sit and watch a silly play, and laugh, and enjoy the music, the energy of a live show.
After the usual Christmastime pageants, the new year began with celebrations of life for Patty, and for John Morogna, two services that brought many people into our seats, to remember lives that meant something to this community. By coincidence, our two main shows for January were comedy shows: the “Snowed-In Comedy Tour,” and, a few weeks later, “God Is a Scottish Drag Queen,” a one-man show that was equally hilarious and profound. Those two theatre masks, tragedy and comedy, sat in sharp contrast to each other throughout that month.
We announced that our community musical, “Mamma Mia!”, would be dedicated to Patty’s memory. In January, the cast, crew, and band began the enormous task of getting ready for the show, rehearsing for 3-4 days each week for the months leading to opening night on April 20. As that was going on, we saw some fantastic shows when Colin James came to our stage in February, as well as the AC/DC tribute band “Rock or Bust” in March, and a trip-down-rock-memory-lane show “Re-Live the Music” in early April. Somewhere in there, we also hosted a national ballet company, which put on a beautiful version of “Cinderella.”
The apex of the theatre seasonwas Saturday, April 22, when we celebrated a sold-out closing night for “Mamma Mia!” Everything culminated in that night: the hard work of everyone involved in the production; the sense that audiences were so happy that the theatre was open again and that we were once again staging a community musical; the acknowledgment that our community had gone through something tragic, with the dedication of the show to Patty.
Once the set was struck (inrecord time), we welcomed back more participants than last year with the B.C. Annual Dance Competition in early-May. A few weeks later, the final presentation of our season, Rockstock, saw the talented musicians of Ring System once again take the stage. Some of the musicians in their final year of the program took to the stage and played a beautiful version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” How could you not be moved by that?
After that, there were graduation ceremonies, and the Dance Academy’s year-end dance show, “Fusion.” Now, our stage is dark, and we’ll be getting ready for the 2023/2024 season. And then we’ll welcome back audiences and performers alike, gathering together to watch, enjoy, and be moved by something on stage, the way we’ve done since we opened in 1987.