Theatre was alive and well in the Shuswap for a number of years before the current society was founded. Theatre archives have newspaper articles and pictures dating back to the 1960s when the group called itself the Shuswap Players. In 1977, Jack Alouf, Recreation Director for the District of Salmon Arm, and James Bowlby advertised a meeting and, to their surprise, 24 people showed up in the drama room of J.L. Jackson Junior Secondary. From this group three productions were organized for Shuswap Theatre’s first season.
Performing in a school gym presented many challenges. In many cases the set had to be erected and dismantled for each rehearsal and performance because the gym was needed by the school programs. By the end of the first year it was clear that in order to thrive the group needed its own home. The building next to the Tappen Co-op, which had been a supper club among other things, was rented and for the next two years productions were held there. While it was a huge improvement over the school gym, there were still challenges with a low ceiling and barely adequate off stage space.
The group worked hard to raise funds and then harder still to renovate the old Shuswap Radiator building on Hudson Street, opening in our very own building (our current location) in 1980. It was a huge undertaking at the time but well worth the effort and a big reason why Shuswap Theatre has had such a successful history.
With the wealth of experience and talent in the area, Shuswap Theatre repeatedly produces top quality theatre and has won numerous awards at both zone and provincial levels.
Following the pattern of our first year, each season has consisted of three Mainstage productions, one each in the fall, winter and spring with the final production entered as our entry into the Okanagan Zone Festival. Some years a Christmas production, often a pantomime, has been added to the season. Second Stage productions began in 2002, recognizing a need to provide a venue for play readings, and to provide new actors and directors with an opportunity to gain experience. In some years Shuswap Theatre has also sponsored a popular summer theatre program. Most recently we have been offering Youth Theatre programs which have proven very popular. In the last few years an Improv Group named Laughing Gas, has been formed, meeting twice a month and performing for the public a few times each year.
While our current building has served us well, it is showing its age and will need replacement in the years to come. A dedicated committee has been meeting regularly for several years to find a location and develop a plan for a new Community Theatre building in Salmon Arm. In 2013, a new society called the Shuswap Society for Arts and Culture has been formed specifically for the task of fund raising for and erecting a performing arts centre which will be a new home for Shuswap Theatre as well as providing a venue for many other events.