Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Legendary Commitment to Community Theatre

Our Michael Spence Award recognizes outstanding contribution, generosity of spirit, involvement, and legendary commitment to community theatre in a region. The award is now presented annually within the region that is hosting the Theatre Ontario Festival.

In 2017, the award will be presented to someone in the Eastern Ontario region of Ontario community theatre. The deadline for nominations to be received by Theatre Ontario is January 31.

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

Arlene Watson (Ottawa) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2002

I was very honoured to receive the Michael Spence Award in 2002, and have remained quite active in local community theatre. Community theatre in and around the city of Ottawa has blossomed over the last fourteen years, and because of that, I have had the good fortune to work with Ottawa Little Theatre, More Theatre, Goya Productions, Suzart Productions, Kanata Theatre, Phoenix Players, and Kemptville Players, both on and off stage.

In addition to holding a position on the board of the Eastern Ontario Drama League (this is my 27th year!), I have recently joined the boards of Suzart Productions and Phoenix Players. Suzart Productions is a youth-based musical theatre company that is currently transforming into a much more formal organization and it’s gratifying to be able to share my knowledge and organizational skills with them in this venture.

The family of community theatres in Ottawa is alive and well. Some of our groups work hand-in-hand with local professional theatre companies, to everyone’s advantage. Phoenix Players, for instance, is part of a user group working with professional companies at The Gladstone Theatre. We all benefit from this cooperative sharing of ideas and experience, and our patrons are richer for it.

Theatre has been a big part of my life for the last 33 years, and I plan to continue my association with—and support of—community theatre for many, many years to come.  

Beth McMaster (Peterborough) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2007

It was a great honour to be named the Michael Spence Award winner in 2007. I had received the Maggie Bassett Award seven years earlier and thought that would be the end of my accolades. It's amazing how recognition by your peers motivates you to continue to learn and to practise the craft you love.

My work started with writing and directing plays for children for Peterborough Theatre Guild, then evolved into creating two thrillers for the stage. During that period I chaired the Board that created Showplace, Peterborough’s downtown performance space. More recently I have been writing and producing fundraisers for Showplace. I started with several Spring Tonic Shows that involved a huge number of talented people bringing songs, skits and dances to a script I had written, usually about some historical aspect of Peterborough.

More recently I have been doing a Legendary Icon Series based on the lives of well-known entertainers such as Noel Coward, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. Again, I write the script and wonderfully talented people do the songs. 

All the while I have produced several shows for Peterborough Theatre Guild, including The Mouse House by Robert Ainsworth which won the Theatre Ontario Festival in 2012 and has gone on to be produced by many other companies. Those of us involved in creating that premiere production are very proud of that show.

I also directed the winning play at the Eastern Ontario One Act Festival in 2013.

When Peterborough Theatre Guild celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015, I found myself very involved speaking to various groups to tell our story. As one of the few remaining Founding Members it was an honour to relate the struggles of that brave group who laid the groundwork for the still bustling organization.

Margaret Shearman (Merrickville) was awarded the Michael Spence Award in 2012

I was more than honoured to have received the Michael Spence Award in 2012. Reading back on the accomplishments of previous and subsequent winners, I feel a little overwhelmed being named in such illustrious company.

So, what have I done since receiving the award? Well what I haven’t done has been onstage, I envy those who can still learn lines well on into their 80s, but that is not me unfortunately and I don’t want to put myself, or others on stage with me, in that awful terrifying heart stopping terror of ‘Drying on stage.’

But, the wonderful thing about community theatre is that there are so many other areas in which one can submerge themselves. The administrative side of keeping a company alive and well, which unfortunately very few people want to do, can be so rewarding. Then there are all the backstage and front of house positions. I have kept myself involved in the production, directing and administration areas in our company.  I am a past president of the Eastern Ontario Drama League and am still on that board as their Newsletter Editor, a position I have held now for 15 years.

I have been instrumental in securing a 10-year lease with the village starting in January 2017 to allow our community theatre to have priority use of the upstairs room in the community centre to accommodate our costumes and to use as our meeting and rehearsal space—at last after 42 years we will have a space to call our own. Yes, this is real Community Theatre.

Four years ago, one of the plays I directed won the EODL Festival—it was the first time in 35 years that we had won, what a thrill that was. If you have heard the story of the unfortunate theatre company that had the lights go out on their performance at the Theatre Ontario Festival: well that was us. After all that work, five minutes before the end of Act One there was a major power failure in the area and the building was evacuated—that was the end of our performance. Well, we are entering the EODL festival again this year with another play I am directing, Robert Ainsworth’s Frozen Dreams. Should we be lucky enough to get to the Theatre Ontario Festival again, well, they say lightning doesn’t strike twice, so that is good news!

Related Reading

We also fondly remember Joan McRae of Peterborough, one of the inaugural recipients of the award in 1997 who passed away in 2013.

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