Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Legendary Commitment to Community Theatre

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 2016, the award will be presented to someone in the QUONTA region of Ontario community theatre. The deadline for nominations to be received by Theatre Ontario is January 29.

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

Sharon Sproule (Espanola) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 1997

As one of the initial recipients of the Michael Spence Award I count myself as doubly privileged and honoured. I had the good fortune to meet and get to know Michael at the ‘birthing’ of Theatre Ontario in the early 1970s.To have been able to witness and experience his finely honed love of theatre in general—and of community theatre in particular—plus his outstanding organizational skills and expertise was inspirational indeed. Striving for those ideals became an indelible part of my theatre being. Then it almost goes without saying that to be QUONTA’s first recipient of the Michael Spence Award was a huge huge honour for me. 

Up until this year I have been able to stay physically active in theatre. The last few years I have focused mainly on my Espanola YouTHeatre , and working with kids has been extremely gratifying.

Arthritis and Age have finally caught up with me, and this year I am not able to take an active part in the physicality of theatre. I stay connected though, through the Internet and an Arts/Crafts/Entertainment network I have set up to help spread-the-word!

Harry Houston (Sault Ste. Marie) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2002

Boy, time flies when you're having fun. I was honoured with the Michael Spence Award back in 2002. My theatre activities shift back and forth between acting and directing with various local groups. I am currently in rehearsals (directing) for Norm Foster's The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby for Sault Theatre Workshop. We open December 2nd for a two week run.

Sault Theatre Workshop, my home theatre, is in their 67th season of community theatre. Each year I co-ordinate the hosting of a non-competitive One Act Festival Workshop. We invite entries from across the QUONTA drama region and it has proved an excellent training event for new and beginning directors. We have been fortunate to have the amazing Richard Howard as our adjudicator/workshop leader for most of these festivals. It is exciting to see some of our former first-time directors blossom and take on major productions.

STW has a rich history, rarely repeating any play and offering a mix of classic and new theatre. I am pleased and proud to be part of an exciting and vibrant group that doesn't shy away from the issues and keeps community theatre relevant. 

Walter Maskel (Gore Bay) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2012

I received the award in 2012, and since then have worked on 13 productions for my home group, Gore Bay Theatre, as well as 3 productions for the Espanola Little Theatre (ELT). In 2013, I directed the ELT production of Looking by Norm Foster which received the Elsie at the Theatre Ontario Festival.

Fortunately for Gore Bay Theatre, Andrea Emmerton, a highly respected former Theatre Ontario Community Theatre Co-ordinator with extensive directing and backstage experience moved to Gore Bay. Since I was the only director for the group, (our town has only 800 residents and our group is very small), her arrival has lightened my load and made it possible for me to get back onstage occasionally. We have similar philosophies about theatre and are highly passionate about the art. It is part of our life and we go from production to production (we have worked on 12 shows together to date) and do whatever is necessary in order to stage a production—which means we are both working on the creative, producing, and executive sides of a production.

In the past forty years I have directed over 150 productions, and for the first time I have co-directed productions with Andrea and I highly recommend it. Working as a team facilitates a collaborative learning process that shares and generates ideas and is artistically highly fulfilling because the bottom line is what is in the best interest of the production. Our motto is “four eyes are better than two.”

Currently, we are co-directing three productions together: Dear Santa, by Norm Foster for the Espanola Little Theatre, a QUONTA show for Gore Bay Theatre Kindertransport by Diane Samuels, and a comedy for our summer season. We also continue to work with a youth group for Gore Bay Theatre and produced Murmel, Murmel, Mortimer Munsch, as part of our summer season last year, and will produce another youth production for this summer.

I continue to work on the QUONTA Executive, and although I have served a term as President, feel that it is extremely important to work for the continued success of our Region.

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