The name has changed, the building has been renovated and board members have come and gone, but one element has always remained: it’s all for the love of theatre.
That’s the feeling in the air as Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre prepares to embark on its 55th season.
Originally purchased as a home for Vernon Little Theatre, the curtains first opened Nov. 23, 1963, with Jean Giraudoux’s The Mad Woman of Challiot directed by founding member Paddy Malcolm.
While Sarah McLean, known affectionately as “Scotty,” missed that debut performance, she has stepped up to the Powerhouse stage and taken on everything from the director’s chair to the president’s helm since her first performance starring as one of the children in Jack and the Beanstalk in 1964.
”We’ve probably gotten a bit more organized than in the past because we were finding our way about,” McLean said of Powerhouse. “We’ve kept up with times as far as technology goes. Our lighting and sound systems are far ahead of many professional theatres. We worked hard for it. It’s a gem of a place.”
Part of what sets Powerhouse apart is their dedication to the theatre.
“They do it because they love it,” McLean said. “At times it can be frustrating, but the focus is always for the good of the play.”
Founding members took out a loan to sew the Powerhouse Theatre seeds and put their own money on the line as a surety.
”People take pride in their work,” McLean said.
One such person is Gordon Bannerman, a carpenter who continuously commutes for more than 45 minutes each way to build sets for the plays.
“He takes such pains to get it right. I really admire someone like that,” McLean said of Bannerman.
In honour of the theatre’s landmark birthday, season 55 welcomes three unique performances: two iconic classics and a 2013 Tony Award-winner.
Kicking off the season is A Christmas Carol Nov. 28 to Dec. 8.
Based on Charles Dicken’s iconic 1843 novel, the fall show will be Ebenezer Scrooge’s second appearance on the Powerhouse Theatre stage in 26 years.
Adapted by Michael Shamata, longtime Powerhouse Theatre member Jackson Mace is set to take the director’s chair.
Next up is Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike Feb. 20 to March 2.
Written by Christopher Durang, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play. This comedic performance, directed by Kristine Larsen, follows three middle-aged sisters in their childhood home and mayhem ensues as they are enveloped in a blend of lust, rivalry, regret and the possibility of escape.
An open reading for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., followed by auditions Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Rounding off the slate is William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While McLean is looking forward to the production’s return, she’s hopeful that certain odd occurrences that tend to surround the play remain in the past.
”We did Macbeth years ago, and I don’t believe in these superstitious things, but we were doing a warm-up and the woman who played Lady Macbeth somehow smashed into something and injured her foot,” McLean said, adding that she then rushed the actress to the hospital.
And that wasn’t the only trip to the hospital during the run.
Scotty’s husband played Duncan, the King of Scotland, who is murdered in his sleep by Macbeth. During the rehearsal of Duncan’s death scene, McLean heard her husband scream.
“I said, ‘He sounds really good tonight,’” McLean recalled. “The man playing Macbeth, instead of hitting the foam, hit him in the arm.”
McLean’s husband was rushed to the hospital where he received stitches to remedy his stab wound, but he was ultimately OK.
“Things happen when you do this play,” McLean laughed.
Open readings and auditions have yet to be determined for Macbeth, which is set to take the Powerhouse Theatre stage under the direction of Matt Brown May 1-11.
As with the production Sveva, which opened the 54th season last fall, McLean said the theatre will host a talkback night for each performance where the cast and crew field audience questions post-performance.
“The audience seems to really like that,” McLean said. “It’s kind of interesting what people ask.”
For the future, McLean hopes that Powerhouse will continue to uphold the high quality, community-centric standing for which it is known.
“I just hope it keeps going,” McLean said. “It has a good reputation, Powerhouse. It will continue on, I really hope so. People come and do things a bit different — I welcome that. I’d really like to see more teenagers coming in. There’s a real place for them.”
And McLean said she will always be around to support the theatre and its community.
“I will continue to be involved. It’s so much a part of my life, I can’t see myself without it.”
For more information about upcoming shows or to get involved with the theatre, visit powerhousetheatre.net.