Doug Huggins, a founding member of Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, passed away earlier this week. (Photo submitted)

Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre founder remembered

Founding member Doug Huggins passed away earlier this week

Doug Huggins was many things — an architect, a potter of merit, a father, a husband and an enthusiast instrumental in cultivating the theatre scene in Vernon.

Huggins, a founding member of Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, passed away earlier this week in his Lower Mainland home at 95-years-old.

“Doug was a great mentor for me,” said longtime Powerhouse Theatre actress Sarah (Scotty) McLean.

The English-born Huggins relocated to Vernon with his wife Mary in the 1950s. An architect by trade, Huggins and business-partner Drew Allen were approached by City Council in 1962 when the building, that would later become the home of Powerhouse Theatre, was slated for demolition.

“They were asked to come in and see if it could been salvaged and used for a fire hall,” McLean said. “They said, ‘No, it would make a lousy fire hall, but it would make a wonderful theatre.’”

While Huggins and Allen hadn’t set out to create a theatre at the time, as it seemed too wild a dream, the enthusiasts were enamoured with the building. Vernon Little Theatre and the Theatrical Arts Centre moved in and would eventually become what is now Powerhouse Theatre.

Related: Powerhouse, a theatre for 50 seasons

Formerly a power station covered in vines, Huggins and Allen redesigned the building and came up with the concept for the iconic Vernon building.

“On the evening of Nov. 23, 1963, the Powerhouse Theatre opened with a production of Jean Giradoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot, directed by Paddy Malcolm. The title was apt and timely, for the six weeks prior to opening the theatre was a ‘madhouse’ of activity every night, with rehearsals, set construction, lighting and sound equipment installation all going on simultaneously. Nevertheless, the theatre and the production were ready for this special gala performance. Every one of the theatre’s 150 seats was sold at $10 per seat,” wrote Huggins in his history of the theatre, as transcribed by Margaret Wood in Powerhouse Theatre Vernon B.C.

And, according to fellow founding member Lorraine Allum, the whole team behind Powerhouse Theatre was involved in that opening production.

“Everybody who worked on it, everybody was given a part,” Allum said.

“Whether they wanted it or not,” laughed McLean.

Since that original performance, the curtains have continued to open for more than 50 years, with the final performance this season, Calendar Girls, slated for May 2-12.

Related: Cast bares it all on Vernon stage for Calendar Girls

Huggins’ impact on the industry extends beyond the confines of Powerhouse Theatre, though, with numerous set designs for other theatre companies under his belt.

“Every set he designed done won an award,” McLean said. He was so dedicated to theatre, they said, that Huggins continued to design sets well into his 90s.

“Theatre was a passion for Doug. He designed many, many, many sets for sure,” Allum said. “He was sharp as a tack.”

Allum credits Doug and Mary Huggins as the two who taught her everything she knows about theatre.

“They really push you to your limit to get the best out of you,” McLean said.

Huggins’ architectural work is also seen in various locations across the city, including City Hall, the RCMP building, and the fire hall, to name a few. Huggins also provided theatre consultation to the Vancouver-based TASK construction and architects T R Thorburn Architect Ltd on the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.

“His work is embedded in the clay of Vernon,” Allum said, adding that Huggins played a role in the formation of the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. McLean agreed.

“His contribution to the city is major and his contribution to Powerhouse — it (exists) because of Doug, Drew and people like them.”

Prior to the founding of Powerhouse Theatre, Vernon Little Theatre members rehearsed on the top floor of Beairsto Elementary, produced in the Scout Hall and Fulton Secondary and used members’ basements for storage. Because of Huggins’ hard work, Allum said, it gave theatre buffs an outlet in Vernon.

“As far as I was ever concerned, it was my second home,” Allum said. A mural that stands on the side of Powerhouse Theatre plays out that history, with the backs of Huggins and Allen depicted within the paint.

Related: Mural plays out Powerhouse history

Huggins is survived by his wife Mary, sons Michael and Peter and his daughter Susan Sambol, and is remembered by all for his contribution to Powerhouse Theatre and the City of Vernon.

“A theatre is only a building and is of no value without the human resources to fill it and bring it to life,” Huggins wrote. “Our aim is that the Powerhouse Theatre, with its advanced and excellent physical resources, will continue to attract the people of this community in providing high standard of live theatre.”


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