Miles (Brad Arlitt) and Angus (Wes Buckle) take the stage with Courtenay Little Theatre’s The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey in preparation for Theatre BC Mainstage 2017. Courtenay Little Theatre won best production in North Island Zone Festival in May. (Tim Penney photo)

Festival celebrates B.C. community theatre

The CFL has the Grey Cup; the NHL has the Stanley Cup; and Theatre BC has Mainstage 2017

The CFL has the Grey Cup; the NHL has the Stanley Cup; and Theatre BC has Mainstage 2017.

The annual festival brings top community theatre performances from 10 Theatre BC zones to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre June 30 to July 7, with an awards banquet signalling the end of the festival at the Vernon Curling Club.

Productions on display are those that won the Best Production in their respective zones, such as May’s Okanagan Zone Drama Festival (OZone) in Salmon Arm. This year, there will be eight performances.

“We have asked all of our clubs to put on Canadian productions,” says Mainstage chair Adele Kuyek. “They then went to their specific zone festivals and competed and all finished this past weekend. We now have eight winning productions from community theatres in B.C. that are coming to Vernon to compete and be the best in the province. Every night a different show — a different winning production.”

However, Mainstage is about more than just enjoying high-level community theatre. In the morning following the nightly performances, a dramaturge provides the theatre houses and interested guests with a coffee critique — an opportunity for the community theatre groups to receive advice from professionals to increase production value and iron out any kinks lurking in the performance.

“It’s an opportunity to learn more about what happens behind the scenes,” Kuyek says. “Just to hear (the critiques) as an audience member opens your eyes.”

The critiques are adjudicated by Vancouver’s Katrina Dunn, who was formerly with Touchstone Theatre and is a substantial proponent in Canadian theatre.

“The whole purpose for Theatre BC is to help the community theatre to grow and get more people involved,” says Theatre BC administrator Richard Kerton. “There’s no money in community theatre — it’s mostly volunteers. This gives them the opportunity to show their work to somebody in the professional field. As a company grows, they learn more and more.”

But running a theatrical performance built largely of volunteers is host to numerous benefits.

“The advantage is they get to see community theatre without going to Vancouver and paying $200 per ticket,” Kerton says. “Community theatre players are there because they love theatre. Sometimes you get a better production because of it.”

Every night of the provincial festival is host to a different performance. However, this year, Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge is put on by two different zones — North Shore and Skeena — offering fans two perspectives on one story.

“It really hones in on how different a production can be,” Kerton says.

Kuyek agrees.

“Seeing them back to back is fascinating,” Kuyek says of the July 3 and 4 performances. “It’s nice to bring in different view points. Everybody’s area is a little different. As a theatre lover, I just love to see how they adapt. The way you would read a script and put it on stage could be completely different from how I would, and that’s the beauty of theatre.”

Running alongside the critiques and performances are public workshops covering eveything from marketing a theatre club and production with Kerton to solving technical and set and light design challenges with Dave Brotsky.

Wendy Lill’s Sisters, performed by Powerhouse Theatre in the OZone Drama Festival, will also be workshopped.

“They’re super excited to be doing this,” Kuyek says. “You get your production to a very good level, and then you get someone coming in to bring it to an even higher level. I’ve had chills when I’ve seen this happen. I’ve had a couple of shows that have been workshopped, and I can’t believe what I’ve learned.”

Youth camps for ages 13-18 covering all aspects of crafting a theatrical performance are also available through Mainstage.

“That’s going to be really interesting for them to see,” Kuyek says of the youth camps. “It’s a huge learning experience.”

The youths participating in the camps also have the opportunity to audition for Unity, the performance of which signals the end of Mainstage 2017.

“They actually get to go up there and strut their stuff,” Kuyek says. “I get really excited about all this. It’s amazing.”

And as the youth camp brings Mainstage to an end, it marks the end of an important and influential year for Theatre BC, Canada, and Vernon.

“It’s our 85th birthday this year, Canada’s 150th birthday, and Vernon’s 125th birthday,” Kuyek says. “We’re thrilled to have this and the fact that it’s all Canadian and (the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan) has given this grant to us, we’re so grateful for.”

Theatre BC received a grant from the foundation to bring Mainstage back to Vernon — the original site of the festival in 1953 — to honour the three landmark birthdays.

“Arts and culture in this area is really huge. To be bringing this to the community is great,” Kuyek says.

“I think it’s important for the province. To have it in Vernon to bring to the community lovers of theatre from across the province and see their work, it’s really huge. We’re just so excited about having it here.”

For a full schedule of Mainstage performances and workshops, visit www.theatrebc.org. Festival tickets are available for $216 for an eight day pass, $140 for a five day pass, $87 for a three day pass, and $30 for single show tickets from the Ticket Seller, 250-540-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.