My mom started taking me to see plays by the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre company when I was four. I remember distinctly sitting before my father and mother in our kitchen, with my mother very solemnly asking me if I could sit still and listen for several hours and that I had to be very quiet and not speak when the actors were speaking. I felt a tremble go through me because I knew this was something big. And special. And required a serious answer.
Yes. I nodded. Yes.
I can’t remember the play, but remember the pooling blue lights, the actors words as they echoed round the space and I wanted to stay forever in that cocoon of perfume, rustling programs, clearing of throats, and the feeling that something very important was happening to all of us. We were not the same people when we left as when we entered the theatre.
This was the very serious thing I realized my mother was trusting me with.
I went to every show the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre company produced with my mother until I left for university. We always dressed up, with my mother spritzing me with some Chanel No. 5 to my giggling self, excited to escape the everyday mob of my brothers into the rarefied air shared with magnificent actors like William Hutt, who under the tenure of Walter Learning, became like a surrogate father figure to me that I longed to hear and see disappear into his characters. Few nights will ever top his performance in A Man for All Seasons, where you could literally hear the entire audience weeping in tandem with his powerful, deeply commanding voice. So many wickedly talented Canadian actors that shone soared across that stage like comets in productions like Glass Menagerie, Amadeus, A Doll’s House, The Dresser, I’m Not Rappaport–just to name a few that I can distinctly remember caused my mother and I to drive home in utter silence, still spellbound by the performances and much-deserved standing ovations.
Between shows, I obsessively wanted to put on plays, and harangued my neighbours, Neil and John Ingram, into attempts at ‘great theatre’. I also regularly recruited my niece and remember distinctly saying to her when she was five: If you want to be a professional, you have to memorize your lines.
I was nine.
It was no wonder I volunteered in theatre in my teenage years then went on to study with the Phoenix Theatre at UVic, and continued to work on many shows in Victoria, Vancouver, and San Diego. I was at home in the darkness of backstage and never grew tired of standing beside actors, whispering quietly, settling their nerves before their entrance, or hanging by a harness reading a lighting plan and adjusting lights nearly as big as me, or sitting in a booth, looking out at the audience as they settled into the story. Theatre and the performative arts has never lost its magic for me and I am always searching and seeking to re-create that moment I had when I was a young child, and feel strongly that if I can tell stories half as well as that company did I could die with some pride in my work.
Hearing that the Vancouver Playhouse company is closing after 49 years of storytelling is, well, breaking my heart. I will treasure more than ever the memories of my mother and I racing along Richards street, rushing into the theatre on cold rainy nights to escape into the capable storyworlds of those great directors, designers, stage managers, and actors.
I hope they all know they changed lives, every night.