4. All the Neighbourhood’s a Stage

This one began with what I suspect has long been for me, the attractive combination of a man and his dog.

My first such love was The Phantom …the Ghost who walks and shall never die. As a child, I poured avidly over the comics and desperately wanted a skull ring to vanquish wrongdoers. I still like purple.

This time, the attraction was a Canadian Mountie and a wolf/dog, courtesy of the 1990s TV Series Due South. 

Apart from red-coated stalwarts in old movies, Dudley Do-Right had been my stereotypical TV Mountie. Squared jawed and ernest, his heart was in the right place. He did save Nell from numerous incidents of death on train-track but he was a little foolish.

Mountie Benton Fraser as created by the writers and played at perfect pitch by Canadian Paul Gross was ernest but never foolish, straight dealing but kind, clever but never arrogant and serious minded without taking himself too seriously.  Amidst classic police/buddy plot lines there were often quite eccentric twists and humour.  Singing mounties on trains, Leslie Nielsen cameos and absurdly convoluted tracking techniques involving licking unsavoury objects.

All this might seem a long way from community theatre but I followed my own trails through the fine soundtracks which featured lots of Canadian musicians to discover that Paul Gross had both directed and written for the series as well as composed some of the music.

I became interested in other projects he had worked on and, as I trawled, the picture built of an individual with a great affection for his country, with a love of its landscape and a sense of connection to its traditions..a desire to explore these and bring little known parts of the history of his country to a broader public. A supporter of the creative arts, a talented writer, performer, director and songwriter. Wandering these trails, I was introduced to the intriguing sport of curling, and the concept of a Canadian wild west. I  knew a little of the battles in WW1 France from my grandfather’s memoirs but I came to learn more, in particular about the battle of Passchendaele.

It was at  the end of these trails that I found the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.  Love of language and drama collide with bureaucracy, obsession and a love triangle involving a ghost. It is at once, absurd and intense but grounded by human frailty and passion and the power of performance as each season the theatre company plays out its own drama/comedy of Shakespearean proportions while staging a play by the bard.

photo courtesy of Henry Lawson Theatre

As a result of all of this I set out to track down some completely new community theatre experiences. I’d never heard of any of the companies before. Naturally there were bits along the way that worked and some, not so much, but it was an overwhelmingly positive and eye-opening adventure.

 
I found community halls with scones, a charming intimate theatre at the back of a club offering fruit cake and complimentary tea and coffee at interval, clever set designs, and some very high quality acting.

My theatrical adventures were:

Brook Theatre Blue Mountains: Daylight Saving by  Nick Enright

Ruby Productions Penrith: Lady Windemere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

Henry Lawson Theatre Werrington: Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling

Emu Heights Productions Emu Plains: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

 

What I discovered was a vibrant community offering rich and varied productions. At barely more than the cost of many movie tickets, performers in the flesh with all the uncontrollability and unpredictability of that..with all the courage it takes to perform and the passion and commitment it takes to do it for the sheer love of it. Behind the scenes of course individuals plying their skills in costume design, staging, lighting, directing, admin and all the other bits that bring it together for the audience.

 

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