A History of Shuswap Theatre
Community theatre had been 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 September 1977, Jack Alouf, Recreation Director for the District of Salmon Arm, and James Bowlby, drama teacher at J.L. Jackson Junior Secondary advertised a meeting to gauge interest in reviving a theatre group. To their surprise, 24 people showed up. The group organized three productions for Shuswap Theatre’s first season. The first show was held in the log building on 5th Ave. which was then a Youth Centre (now the Church of Christ). The following two productions, including Fiddler on the Roof, were performed in the gym at J. L. Jackson.
Performing in a school gym presented many challenges. Often the set had to be erected and dismantled for each rehearsal and performance because the gym was needed for school programs. By the end of the first year it was clear that in order to thrive, the group needed its own home. A small hall (no longer existing) next to the Tappen Co-op (which had been a supper club and the Tappen Women’s Institute among other things) was rented. 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 very low ceiling and virtually no offstage space.
The group worked hard to raise funds to purchase the old Shuswap Radiator building on Hudson Avenue, and harder still to renovate it extensively, opening the doors in 1981. 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 a wealth of experience and talent in the area, Shuswap Theatre repeatedly produces top quality plays 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 being our entry into the Okanagan Zone Festival. Some years, a Christmas production, often a pantomime, is added to the season. On occasion, a Second Stage production is performed, such as a public play reading or a radio play. As the school district has cut back on drama courses, we have tried to involve more young people in some of our shows. Some years ago an Improv Group named the Laughing Gas Improv Troupe, was formed, meeting twice a month and offering public performances.
In July 2015 the first annual Theatre on the Edge festival was held, a kind of mini fringe type festival featuring seven plays over three days with entertainment between shows on the patio (the Edge Club). TotE has attracted artists from many parts of Canada and the US. During the pandemic, the 2021 Festival was held online, but 2022 saw it happen in person again. Seniors Theatre has been another highly successful program over the past several years. Initiated by Peter Blacklock, adults of any age were given an opportunity for creativity, storytelling and stretching themselves in numerous ways, all while meeting important social needs. The program paused during the COVID pandemic and we hope it will start up again soon.
Beginning in 2021, Shuswap Theatre, in partnership with Moving Theatre Performing Arts, has offered a highly successful three-week musical theatre camp for kids and teens called Musical Youth Summer Theatre (MYST). It culminates in a fully staged musical for the public, complete with costumes, lighting, sets and choreography. Apart from the benefits to the youth themselves, this program has provided young performers for our regular productions.
The pandemic did curtail our activities but we managed to keep doing theatre in some form throughout. We have learned some new skills in live streaming performances and video recording. And our finances are still sound.
Our current building has served us well, but it is showing its age. We have had to do many repairs and upgrades recently, including a new roof and a new heating/cooling system. At this writing we are embarking on a major renovation of the theatre façade. We are blessed with much support from community organizations and foundations. We continue to move forward artistically and in our relationship with the community.
Updated September, 2022