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 school programs needed the gym. 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 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 inadequate offstage space.
The group worked hard to raise funds to purchase the old Shuswap Radiator building on Hudson Street, 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, was added to the season. Eventually the occasional Second Stage production was added, such as a public play reading or a radio play. Some years Shuswap Theatre has also sponsored a popular summer theatre program. As the school district has cut back on drama courses, we have tried to involve more young people in our own shows or offered a “youth intensive” over a weekend. A few years ago an Improv Group named Laughing Gas Improv Troupe, was formed, meeting twice a month and offering public performances.
In 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). At this writing, planning is underway for the fourth edition. Another highly successful program over the past several years has been Seniors Theatre, initiated by Peter Blacklock. This offers adults of any age an opportunity for creativity, storytelling and stretching themselves in numerous ways, all while meeting important social needs. Some participants report that it is life changing for them.
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 was formed in about 2006 to develop a plan for a new Performing Arts Centre in Salmon Arm. In 2013, the committee branched off, forming a new, separate society called the Shuswap Society for Arts and Culture to continue this work. If our needs can be assured in the new facility, we expect it will be a new home for Shuswap Theatre while also providing a venue for many other events.
Last updated March, 2018