Director sees Saltspring fantasy come true

Nicola Cavendish’s It’s Snowing on Saltspring, which opens Wednesday, Dec. 7, is the first show of Powerhouse Theatre’s 2011-12 season,.

It’s a place where it rarely snows: a big dab of hilly green, known as much for its coastal beauty as it is for the eccentric characters that call it home.

But even Santa has visited the hippies and their suited counterparts on Salt Spring Island, as seen in Nicola Cavendish’s beloved play, It’s Snowing on Saltspring, the first show of Powerhouse Theatre’s 2011-12 season, opening next week.

The play, which made its debut at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre more than 25 years ago, is finally making it to the community theatre stage. And Powerhouse director/actor Dave Sayer, who saw that first production in 1985, couldn’t be happier about bringing this magical, silly and very funny tale to Vernon.

“It has always stuck in my brain that it would be a fun show to do here,” said Sayer.

However, there was one problem to overcome when Sayer brought the idea to Powerhouse’s artistic committee, which chooses the plays to stage each year, to bring Saltspring to Vernon.

Cavendish’s script has never been published.

However, Sayer solved the problem by getting in touch with the Arts Club, which provided him with a script. And he also received Cavendish’s blessing, making Powerhouse the first community (non-professional) theatre to stage the play.

“She is happy we’re doing this and I hope it inspires her to publish her script,” said Sayer.

With the script in hand, Sayer’s next act was to cast the production, which proved to be a harder task than he originally thought.

“The casting was tough. I had people who had done a really nice job, but a lot of them had other commitments and other plays,” he said, adding that two actors had to back out of the original cast, and when rehearsals started with the new cast, another actor had to drop out mid-way through.

Sayer ended up handing over half of the director’s chair to his stage manager, Sarah “Scotty” McLean, so he could step on stage to replace the actor.

“I had directed a show before that I was in. It’s very difficult, but luckily Scotty stepped in. I trust her judgement. We’re at the end of the technical things, so I can now concentrate on my part and getting my lines down.”

The story around It’s Snowing on Saltspring may sound sort of similar to many a Christmas tale: a disillusioned grump doesn’t want anything to do with Christmas until something, or someone, fantastical makes him see the error of his ways. But it’s the band of characters that make the show unique, as they are decidedly B.C.

“It has some adult humour but there are no offensive words,” said Sayer. “Nicole wrote this for adults but it is a universal story and it is definitely a fantasy as there is a North Pole sequence (more on that later).”

The story centres around disillusioned dentist Bill Bannister (played by Geoff Ingram of Lend Me a Tenor fame),  his nine-and-half-month pregnant and slightly fed-up wife Sarah (newcomer Cara Nunn) and their aptly named dog Karma.

All are settling down to NOT celebrate Christmas, when their hippy preacher neighbour and his tie-dye loving wife, the Kanes (played by Sayer and Sue Johnston), and a Patsy Cline obsessed realtor (Powerhouse regular Jean Given), enter the fray, bringing along a bottle of champagne.

“We’ve had to update the script a bit as back then there is a scene of Sarah drinking the champagne, now it’s non-alcoholic champagne,” said Sayer.

Also on board are two puppets, on loan to Powerhouse by Arts Club, that are operated by Mike Ruscheinsky. Think of them as Muppets with slightly human traits.

“They are big hand-puppets and are very heavy,” said Sayer.

Four of the five human cast members play multiple parts, including good ol’ St. Nick himself, Mrs. Claus, a pair of cheeky elves, and a certain red-nosed reindeer. (This, as you may have guessed, is the fantasy part.)

“It’s definitely tongue-in-cheek,” said Sayer. “I think as long as people come with the mind set that is a really silly, fun and very heartwarming play.”

Sayer is also hoping Cavendish will be able to attend one of the shows in Vernon.

Although he appeared with her in a film that was shot in Edmonton in 1990, Sayer says they have never met face to face.

“We are now e-mail pen pals, and I am looking forward to finally meeting her,” he said. “She is familiar with Powerhouse Theatre. She used to live in Penticton and had heard about (Powerhouse founder) Paddy Malcolm English.”

It’s Snowing on Saltspring takes the stage at Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday, Dec. 7 to Dec. 10 and Dec. 13 to 17 at 8 p.m. Sunday matinee shows, Dec. 11 and 18, start at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.