Harry and Liz Boardmore came to teach Cape Breton’s college students in the late sixties and almost immediately began producing provocative and topical plays that spoke to the times and to the people of their new community.
Thirty years later, they are still at it. Also, equally important, they created a surprisingly deep talent pool of performers, directors, writers and technical people, all drawn from the local community, and an astonishingly high number of them have gone on to professional careers. Harry and Liz gave this young talent focus and direction and they set high standards for the work presented in their theatre at UCCB. They knew when to push, when to gently nudge, and when to administer a therapeutic boot up the arse.
On Wednesday, May 8, most of the best-known names in Cape Breton theatre were onstage at the UCCB Boardmore Playhouse to give their thanks to Liz and Harry. The occasion was Harry’s retirement from teaching this year (Liz retired in 1995). The show featured snippets from Liz and Harry’s thirty years: Gary Walsh performed a monologue from the very first play he ever did with Liz and Harry; Bette MacDonald, Maynard Morrison and Todd Hiscock did some hilarious send-ups of some of the Dramagroup’s best-known plays; Max MacDonald beautifully sang “Small Town Wind”; Duncan Wells and Maura Lea Morykot did a sunny, funny rendition of one of Duncan’s children’s songs; Kym Butler and partners performed an evocative modern dance piece; and the cast of the Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr: Abridged did the Othello rap from their show. Another Dramagroup regular performed a song written specially for the occasion which repeated the words “Thank you very much” over and over again. It seemed appropriate.
The sister and brother team of Bette and Ed MacDoanld cut their theatrical teeth on UCCB Dramagroup shows. Bette went on to become one of the comedic anchors in the Summertime Revue, while Ed concentrated on his writing career. After winning a Gemini Award this spring for his comedy writing on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Ed came back home to write another monstrously funny skit show for his sister.
Two’s A Crowd (which toured the Maritimes recently) featured, not only many of Bette’s most popular characters including Mary Morrison and Beulah Claxton, but it also re-introduced Ed as a great comedic actor in his own right. The show was fast-paced, consistently hilarious, and exquisitely acted with the bonus of musical back-up from the virtuoso trio of Richard Burke, Fred Lavery and Brian “Moon” McInnis.
The Cape Breton Summertime Revue is an offshoot of the groundbreaking Rise & Follies of Cape Breton Island which was a summer grant project created by some founding members of the Dramagroup. The Follies was all social commentary and satire (with great music) while the Revue evolved a softer side with character driven humour (like Bette’s “Mary Morrison” and Maynard Morrison’s “Cecil”) along with great music. Now with a new producer, Douglas Brown, and a new director, Bryden MacDonald, has returned this summer with a harder, angrier edge to the comedy (which seems to reflect the local mood of late) while serving up the traditional blend of original music (some of which I wrote so there goes my objectivity). The new cast doesn’t try to replace Bette and Maynard, but is working hard to establish a new Revue identity. The opening night was bumpy and a bit hurried in places, but that’s every opening night. I think the new cast will quickly grow into the material. The change in direction has re-invigorated the Revue format and if the satire sometimes hits the red on the good taste meter, I say good. People forget how much the original Follies shook things up. But the Follies was almost a generation ago and maybe it’s time to shake things up again. This year’s Revue takes on that job with an irresistible glee.
Our intrepid editor, Dave, a Riverview grad, sent this intrepid theatre writer, me, a Sydney Academy grad, to take a look at the Riverview show Calender Girls. This is the type of show with a very specific audience as evidenced by everyone being made to stand and sing the Riverview school song (I stood but I did not sing). The premise was interesting, using Neil Sedaka’s song to look at women’s roles and images from medieval to modern times using song and skit. But the closest the show came to 1996 was some songs from Grease (a 1970’s show about the 1950’s). Why not a song or two from the 1990’s to show how things stand for the students in their own lifetime? The huge cast was talented and energetic and everybody got a little chance to shine which is also a function of a show like this. But a section that allowed the cast to speak in their own voices would have been welcome.
Not only did Liz and Harry help create a local community of theatre-makers, they (with other people doing their own work in other areas of the arts) also created an appreciation and loyal audience for the home-grown product. That is why I have so much to write about today.
The 1996 Cape Breton Summertime Revue will be running throughout the summer. Check posters and ads for places and dates.
Festival On the Bay has four productions on the go: the main stage show is the bedroom farce, Run For Your Wife by Ray Cooney (mid July) and directed by Bruce Cathcart. Their yearly rock’n’roll cabaret, directed by Wendy Muise with music directed by Stephen Muise, will be playing at various venues and dates throughout the summer. The F.O.T.B. Young Company has two shows for young audiences: Charlotte’s Web, the classic children’s story by E.B. White and directed by the multi-talented Terrance Murphy; and Beauty and The Beasts, a locally written twist on the fairie tale with songs, written and directed by, er… me. These shows will run on alternating nights at the Miner’s Museum beginning in late July and finishing in early August.
Centre Bras D’Or Festival of the Arts in Baddeck (under the management of Rave Entertainment) is offering a wide variety of theatrical entertainment. First, in partnership with the St. Ann’s Bay Players, they are presenting four plays including Down North, “the play of Cape Breton’s Magazine”; The End of the Beginning, a one-act Sean O’Casey play; Sure Thing by David Ives, a one-act play where “boy meets girl again and again and again …”; and Lemonade by James Prideaux, a hilarious one-act about two elderly society ladies with rival juice stands. Performances start early July and run at various dates until August.
Centre Bras D’Or also has three nights of dance works: Coastal Dance Theatre; First Nations Mi’kmaq Dance; and an evening of Celtic Dance (early August).
Rave Entertainment is also producing a project at the Louisbourg Playhouse, tentatively titled Fortress Follies. Max MacDonald is assembling the script using locally written comedy and songs and a slightly skewed version of Cape Breton History. The show opens in July and runs until September.
Tried and True Productions will be remounting their original dinner theatre show, Can’t Buy Me Love at the Delta Hotel in Sydney (July).
Until next time, remember: All the world’s a beach and all the men and women merely Baywatch extras.