It’s not often that something I hear on the radio puts a big smile on my face, but it happened last week, when I was on my way home from Kamloops. Radio CHNL’s afternoon host Brett Mineer was talking to reporter Victor Kaisar about the latter’s recent trip to the Sagebrush Theatre to see their live production of The Wizard of Oz, and Kaisar was waxing lyrical about how much he loved live theatre and how great it had been.
My smile got bigger and bigger as he talked about the performances, the sets, and the special effects. It wasn’t until he talked about the dog playing the part of Toto, however, that a big soppy grin spread across my face. Kaisar said that at one point in the production he was at, the dog had barked at a totally appropriate moment, which delighted the audience, and made him wonder if it had been “scripted”. “But that’s the joy of live theatre; anything can happen,” he concluded.
By this time I was nodding my head up and down so vehemently that a passing motorist might have thought I was having a medical event. In my mind I was travelling back to the Stratford Festival in Ontario in the mid-1980s, when for several years I was able to stay with relatives in nearby Woodstock while on vacation and take in productions at the festival. I would sometimes go to a weekday matinee, which in September — the time of year I was there — was designed for school groups, meaning the theatre was filled with kids.
Before one production of Twelfth Night, an actor came out and took centre stage. He explained that the production the audience was about to see would never be repeated, because that was the nature of live theatre: no two performances are ever precisely alike. Actors say lines differently; a piece of business goes slightly awry; a prop doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to (or, worse still, isn’t where it’s supposed to be); prolonged audience laughter means the actors have to “ride the wave” and perhaps add a reaction or two until the laughter dies down.
It’s all part of the magic of theatre, and you don’t have to be an aging theatre kid like me to know it and love it. I remember the woman who, with her two granddaughters, was thrilled by the Winding Rivers production of My Fair Lady in 2015: “It was their first opportunity to see live theatre, and they loved it!” I remember taking my younger cousins to see a play at Stratford — the time where I accidentally ran my aunt and uncle’s car into a hidden ditch on the way home — and the long conversation we had about what we’d just seen and their delight in it (not as much delight as when cousin Barbara ran the car into a ditch, but close).
I remember going to see the play The Woman in Black in London 30 years ago, and the terrified silence in the theatre at a crucial moment. I remember seeing the play Ghost Stories at another London theatre in 2010, and my then 14-year-old son saying beforehand “How scary can a play be?” Pretty darn scary: after jumping out of our seats several times, he said, as we left the theatre, “That was awesome!”
I remember all the times I have sat inside a theatre (or outdoors, at Malkin Bowl in Vancouver or Heidelberg Castle in Germany or Ludlow Castle in England), thrilling to the live drama on stage. Most of all, I remember the wonderful productions — 10 in all — that I’ve been involved with here in Ashcroft as part of WRAPS since 2012. Its last production was in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit, and since then there’ve been countless questions about when there will be another one.
“Later this year,” is the answer, when WRAPS plans to produce the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Game’s Afoot. Whether I’m on the stage or back of house, I can’t wait for that theatre magic to strike again, and I’ll try not hit any ditches on the way home.