- The Drawer Boy, by Michael Healey, remounted by North Vancouver Community Players, July 4-6 at 8 p.m. in the Theatre at Hendry Hall, 815 East 11th St., North Vancouver. Tickets: $10 at the door, or phone 604-983-2633. Info: northvanplayers.ca.
ANNE Marsh intended to take a year off.
Working at a law firm, her fellow employees would annually, over Christmas, put on skits as part of their office holiday festivities.
While the North Vancouver resident was usually a willing participant in the pageantry, that particular year, Marsh had abstained. However, fate had something else in store.
One of the cast members approached her, saying, "'I have to go and sign some mortgage documents so if I don't come back, you take my place,'" Marsh recalls, which she dutifully did.
"There was a very English lawyer there, and I'll never forget, he came up to me and said, 'Anne, are you in amateur dramatics because you were the only person I could hear!'"
Soon after, Marsh read a notice in the North Shore News on behalf of North Vancouver Community Players. The club was looking for people to help with an upcoming production of Early to Bed, asking them to go to Centennial Theatre on an upcoming Saturday afternoon to audition.
"I said to my husband, 'I'm going to that,' and I'd never volunteered for anything like that before. It was almost as if I was drawn," she adds.
That was 40 years ago, and while Marsh, now 76, wasn't cast in the show, she was asked to be stage manager and for the last four decades has been a fixture in the North Shore's active community theatre circle, including serving as actor, president and now secretary of North Vancouver Community Players.
"I've still got the ad," she says,
Marsh has also held a variety of roles in the wider theatre community, volunteering with other local groups, previously serving as president of Theatre B.C. and is currently the administrator of the North Shore Zone of Theatre B.C. Festival of Plays. Her recent claim to fame, she says, was being cast in a production of Hay Fever at Presentation House, directed by Nicola Cavendish.
"I was the troll under the stairs," she laughs. Whether it's helping people find their passion, like Marsh, or providing an opportunity for theatre lovers to exercise theirs, North Vancouver Community Players has continued to impact the lives of local residents, both on and off the stage. In addition to the theatrical opportunities, countless friendships, as well as a few couples, have emerged as a result of members' involvement over the years.
The award-winning community theatre club, based at The Theatre at Hendry Hall, marked its 60th anniversary last year. The celebration amongst those involved in the volunteer-run organization, comprised of approximately 200 members of all ages, has
continued into 2013 as the club recently earned a spot at Theatre B.C. Mainstage, an annual provincial community theatre festival being held in Kamloops July 5-13.
The organization was granted entry into the festival for its production of The Drawer Boy, following a stellar performance of the work at the North Shore Zone of Theatre B.C. Festival of Plays, May 6-11 at Presentation House Theatre. Acclaimed North Shore actor Jay Brazeau served as this year's adjudicator. The Drawer Boy was named best overall production and zone festival winner, as well as earned a number of additional awards, including best achievement by a director (Judith Barkley White), and special adjudicator's certificate for best ensemble (Barry Walker, Tyler Q. Felbel and Nick Palidwor).
The club last won the North Shore Zone festival in 2010 for Three Days of Rain, and last won Mainstage in 2000 for Da and 1998 for Someone Who'll Watch Over Me.
The club will present The Drawer Boy in Kamloops July 10 at the Sagebrush Theatre, but first members are remounting the production (following a local run in April) in a three-night stand Thursday, July 4 to Saturday, July 6 at 8 p.m. at Hendry Hall.
The Drawer Boy, written by Michael Healey, is a Governor General's Award-winning play, explains assistant director and North Vancouver resident Peter Zednik, 56. He joined North Vancouver Community Players four years ago following 25 years of experience in theatre as a professional actor (Stratford Festival), playwright, musical director and choreographer. He also served as general manager of Vancouver's Green Thumb Theatre for 14 years.
The Drawer Boy, inspired by an actual theatrical experiment, The Farm Show, is set on a farm in rural Ontario in June 1972 and is a fictionalized account of two middle-aged bachelor farmers who are visited by a young theatre actor from Toronto who's interested in learning about farming in preparation for an upcoming play.
"It is all about being Canadian and Canadian identity. . . ." says Zednik. "But it's mostly about how theatre can change your life."
"It's extraordinarily moving, it's a beautiful story, accessible to a wide range of people. It's got comedy (and), drama," he adds.
Marsh, who serves as the show's publicist and sound designer knows they'll face a tough adjudication come Kamloops as it's being presided over by Dean Paul Gibson, an accomplished actor and director, as well as director for the Arts Club Acting Intensive and associate artistic director for Bard on the Beach.
When asked what she attributes the longevity of North Vancouver Community Players to, Marsh replies: Hendry Hall.
Prior to taking over the space in 1972, North Vancouver Community Players used a number of local venues, including the Lonsdale Theatre at the corner of 16th and Lonsdale, the Horticultural Hall at 23rd and Lonsdale (which had very squeaky seats), and an old Scout Hall near 22nd and Lonsdale.
Built in 1942 for $800, Hendry Hall was intended as an air raid precautionary post. It takes its name from the street it's on, named for a turn of the century local lumber company officer. Following the end of the Second World War, the building was repurposed and used by a variety of community groups until North Vancouver Community Players moved in.
Hendry Hall has gone through a number of upgrades over the years, including making it possible for actors to not have to go outside to access the stage. However, the theatre still has its quirks, adding to its charm. For instance, in order to access the technical booth, crew members must climb through the enclosure's window, laughs Marsh.
The District of North Vancouver makes Hendry Hall available to the club for $10 a year. "That's a huge advantage to this group," says Marsh, explaining other local theatre groups face high facility rental charges whenever they're interested in mounting a production, a challenge for any non-profit organization. "It's made it financially viable for us to put on these shows," says Marsh.
Hendry Hall's intimate 76-seat theatre is a major drawing card for audiences, allowing them to become emotionally engaged with the production before them.
"Coming here it's so close that you can't help being caught up in it and I think that's why the audience likes to be here because if you're laughing at something, everybody's laughing, so there's a big energy and of course you get that off the stage as well," says Marsh.
The club has a huge season ticket base, seeing approximately two-thirds of their seats sold that way, and shows are often sell-outs.
"We're almost drowning in our own success," says Marsh, who, as publicist, constantly hears from people who've been unable to get tickets.
The club also provides a tremendous opportunity to members, both those with experience in theatre as well as those looking to learn about all aspects of the art.
Zednik is pleased with the opportunity to be involved, having recently made a career change from working in the arts to working as an accountant in North Vancouver.
"I now do the theatre as a sideline, as a hobby," he says. "I think the difference is when you're doing (theatre) professionally, there's a lot of anxiety about making a living, and as an administrator, will I raise enough money so other people can make a living," he adds.
Through North Vancouver Community Players, Zednik is able to continue to pursue his passion, but in a more relaxed manner.
"It's nice to have that outlet available. You don't have to let it all go away because you've made a career change," he says.
Fellow club member and North Vancouver resident Rosemary Hundal, 66, also joined the organization four years ago. A longtime season ticket holder, she finally found herself with some extra time on her hands and decided to volunteer, potentially offering some assistance with opening night catering. However, Hundal has continued to learn and has since held a variety of roles, from props and costumes, to most notably, production manager on The Drawer Boy. She also serves on the club's executive.
"I've learned tons and just by people like Peter and Anne telling you how to go about it and you just sort of learn as you go. They're very welcoming," she says.
North Vancouver Community Players' 2013/2014 season, featuring six plays, will get underway in September with The Kitchen Witches, followed by Zombies from The Beyond in October and seasonal production Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale.
For more information on North Vancouver Community Players, upcoming shows, and becoming a member ($20 annually for adults and $10 for youths and supporting members), visit northvanplayers.ca. For more information on Theatre B.C. Mainstage, visit tbcmainstage.ca.
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