Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Legendary Commitment to Community Theatre

by Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

The Michael Spence Award recognizes outstanding contribution, generosity of spirit, involvement, and legendary commitment to community theatre in a region.  Originally presented every five years on Theatre Ontario's quinquennial anniversaries, the award is now presented annually within the region that is hosting the Theatre Ontario Festival.  In 2015, the award will be presented to someone in the ACT-CO region of Ontario community theatre.

We caught up with several past recipients of the Michael Spence Award to find out how they are currently contributing to theatre in their communities.

Maureen Lukie (Toronto) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2007 on the recommendation of the Association of Community Theatres—Central Ontario

It’s been seven years since I received this award, that magical number – don’t they say that every cell in your body changes within seven years, so that you’re literally a different person?  But even at the cellular level, I’m still part of community theatre.  In those years, I have stepped back from the ACT-CO Board (14 years, that’s 2x7), but focused on supporting the Downsview Park Arts Alliance, a group of Toronto community arts companies who pool their resources to share building and storage space, materials, set pieces and knowledge, cooperating to help ensure each other’s survival in challenging times.  The DPAA also devoted several years to mentoring programmes teaching set design/build skills for youth.

While I’ve had great experiences directing and acting for other companies like Bloor West Village and the Alumnae Theatre, I’m rooted in Amicus Productions and the Toronto Irish Players.  They’re celebrating 36-year and 40-year anniversaries this year and facing inevitable ups and downs in the life cycle of a company.  Amicus has recently undergone a revitalization and reorganization; change at that level is hard but invigorating and makes you think about what you really want and value.  TIP finds itself going back to its roots as a cultural haven for recent immigrants, as it began in the late 70’s; as it entered this century, it appeared that that role had passed, but global economic changes have brought a new generation from Ireland to our city.  Time is creating a cellular turnover here.

If the past seven years have meant one thing more than any other, it is that community theatres prosper best not as islands but in archipelagos with causeways from one to another.  You need a distinctive identity but you can’t be so separate that you are alone in times of difficulty.  ‘Community theatre’ shouldn’t just be a name that signals amateur status but describe our relationship to each other, hands joined across the city, the GTA and the province, as we bring our common passion for theatre to the audience.  No matter how things change, I think that’s what I want and value.

Joe O’Brien (Ottawa) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2013 on the recommendation of the Eastern Ontario Drama League

I had the pleasure of directing the Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors in January and, following its most successful run, I thought maybe I would hang it up.  Well, as the OLT representative to both the EODL and the Ottawa Community Theatre Association (OCTA) , along came reports to be written and meetings to attend, and I was back in the race.

And then, this fall I was asked to direct a production of W. Somerset Maugham’s Jack Straw for the Linden House Theatre here in Ottawa. This small local company has been building a reputation for performing  British plays, often period pieces, that are amusing, light-hearted entertainment for a loyal following based mainly in Rockcliffe Village and New Edinburgh. With a strong cast made up of Linden House regulars and some top-notch performers from the OLT, this year’s offering stuck to that tradition and was well-received by everyone who saw it.

Most recently the Ottawa Little Theatre chose to honour me, along with three other candidates, as a 2014 inductee into the Cornerstone Project.  This project, begun  for OLT's 100th Anniversary in 2013 “recognizes and acknowledges the contributions of many volunteers and supporters who have given their time and energy to making the Ottawa Little Theatre the thriving community organization it is today – the cornerstones of the theatre.”  Inductees names are placed on a sculpture commissioned for the project that will stand in perpetuity at the entrance to the theatre.

As to upcoming projects, I have been offered the opportunity to direct a mystery farce titled, The Murder Room, slated for production in January 2015 at the OLT.

Ken Stephen (Elliot Lake) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2007 on the recommendation of QUONTA

I was awarded the Michael Spence Award after over a quarter-century of active involvement in community theatre in Elliot Lake, and on the executive of the QUONTA Drama Region.  During that time I managed to write a few plays, and two of these were performed—the was never enough time for me to give to writing, and I always had more ideas than time to develop them.

Since retiring from teaching in 2010, I have changed my address to Woodstock, and shifted my activity emphasis from performing, directing, and administration to writing.  I blog about performing arts (including extensive writing about the QUONTA and Theatre Ontario Festivals this past year), rare classical music, and travel, and particularly enjoy frequent excursions to see various plays on stage.  One of my current projects is a most unusual one-act mystery play.  I remain passionately committed to the growth and development of theatre in Ontario—most recently as a Board member for Theatre Ontario.

Bev Dietrich (Elmira) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2014 on the recommendation of the Western Ontario Drama League

I have just finished stage managing The 39 Steps by John Buchan at Elmira Theatre Company and found it to be one of the most challenging plays I have ever worked on: 86 lighting cues, 46 ASM cues, 300+ sound cues, 4 actors playing 28 characters which means 28 costumes, all done in 33 scenes. To top it off, we then loaded up the show and travelled it to another theatre to do it all over again for another weekend. It was just like Festival week!

Auditions are coming up for our spring show Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, which I am stage managing.  As Minifest chairperson for WODL, I am working with Binbrook Little Theatre as they prepare to host Minifest in July 24 and 25 of 2015: six theatre companies doing the same one-act play.

Finally I love when my work and my theatre world collide. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the writing of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. McCrae House has commissioned a local playwright to write a play about John McCrae of which will be performed in the back yard of McCrae House for a summer theatre experience. I have been working with the playwright assisting him with research and sit on the committee which will take this idea and make it happen next year.

The 2015 Michael Spence Award will be presented to an individual from the south central Ontario community theatre region, which includes the City of Toronto, Durham Region, York Region, Peel Region, Halton Region (except for the City of Burlington), Simcoe County, Dufferin County, and the District of Muskoka.  Find out more about nominating someone for Theatre Ontario’s Michael Spence Award.

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