That family feeling that is a hallmark of Sooke takes centre stage within the local theatre community.
Ryley Brown, a 10-year-old Sooke Elementary school student, will make his debut with the company in the Sooke Harbour Players presentation of Oliver. A veteran of several Four Seasons Theatre productions, Brown will handle the role of Captain, a member of the Artful Dodger’s gang, in the musical treatment of the Dickens classic.
“I feel like I can really be myself when I’m on stage,” said Brown when asked what he enjoys about live theatre. “It’s fun, and you get to meet new friends. The people are really nice most of the time. It’s more challenging to play several roles, but I like the challenge. I definitely want to continue with theatre when I get older.”
Brown will be joined by his grandmother, Carey Woodward, who plays the rose seller and is also part of the ensemble cast. Although she had no background in theatre whatsoever, Woodward auditioned for a part in the Sooke Harbour Players production of Blythe Spirit, which ran last year. “You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the part,” Woodward said. “I was even more surprised when I found out I had to learn pages and pages of dialogue. “It was nerve wracking, but the people were amazing.”
In addition to the opportunity to work with her grandson, Woodward said the wide spectrum of people from the community that you work with in the theatre group makes the experience special. “You meet everyone from professionals to trades people, people aged seven to senior,” she noted.
Woodward and Brown will be working with Ryley’s mother, Jenn Brown, who is handling the duties of stage manager for the first time. “I initially got involved because I was the mom in the green room and thought I could help out,” Brown explained. “I eventually found myself doing a little more with each production.”
As stage manager, Brown is responsible for setting up rehearsals, and then props, lighting, sound, crew and child wranglers once the production begins. “You have to ensure the cast has everything thy need,” Brown said. “People don’t realize how many people volunteer tirelessly behind the scene to pull a show together. The lovely part of community theatre is that you get to connect with a lot of really talented people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. It’s sad to see the end of the production because you become a family with each show.”
Director Drew Kemp, who has been with the Sooke Harbour Players for 18 months, brings more than 50 years of experience to the group. His background includes 30 years as a drama teacher in the Victoria school system, and 17 years as head of the musical theatre faculty with the Courtenay Youth Music Centre.
“Every director starts with a concept for a show,” said Kemp, a graduate of Banff School of Fine Arts. “I went back to Dickens original novel to try and create on stage how the story was written. The scenes are built to be visually engaging, and the story is great entertainment for people of all ages.”
Rehearsals started at the end of June and kicked into high gear in August. “We’re going through some fine-tuning now,” Kemp said. “My philosophy has always been to put out out a product that’s worthy of patronage. People are paying for the performance, so we owe them a high level of quality.”
Andrew Donnelly, president of Sooke Harbour Players, said a good turnout is essential to keeping community theatre alive. “Oliver should appeal to a broad audience of children to grandparents, so I hope we fill the theatre every night. There’s lots of family involvement in this show. We håve three sisters and some parents working with their kids,” said Donnelly, whose wife, Susan Browne, is part of the production.
Oliver runs from Nov. 10 to 25 at the Edward Milne Community School Theatre, Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and under 16 of age, with family packages for two parents and two children under 16 for $35. Tickets are available at the Shoppers Drug Marts in Sooke and Langford, and the Stick in the Mud coffee shop. For tickets or more information, call Donnelly at 250-507-4979, or visit sookeharbourplayers.com.