WHAT began as a meeting of mostly school teachers 60 years ago is now a vital part of Terrace’s arts and cultural community.
“It was really a collection of people who just wanted to act,” says Marianne Brorup Weston, a long-standing member of Terrace Little Theatre, of the beginnings of the enterprise.
That desire to act was modest at first but today Terrace Little Theatre is not only the oldest arts group in Terrace and area, it bills itself as the longest continuous running amateur theatre company in the province.
“Father of the Bride” was the first production. It was later staged again on the occasion of TLT’s 40th anniversary. In fact, reviving past productions has become a bit of a tradition: TLT’s current production, Arsenic and Old Lace, was first performed in 1977.
The original group, which included Loreen and Bud McColl and other members of the McColl family, Molly Nattress and Mien van Heek, put in place a culture that has remained over the years.
A scholarship in van Heek’s name is awarded annually by Theatre BC, the provincial association of amateur theatre companies.
In the early years, rehearsals took place at the old Terrace Hotel and performances at the old city community centre, located on the grounds of the current George Little Park. When the community centre burned to the ground in 1971, the ensemble rehearsed and performed in local schools.
That changed in 1975 when, with the help of a $28,000 provincial grant, Terrace Little Theatre purchased the Zion Baptist Church on Kalum, its home to this day. The cost was $85,000 and carried an interest rate of 25 per cent.
Under threat of losing the building in the early 1980s, Merry Hallsor (nee McColl) mounted a drive to raise money, selling $100 shares.
“People drew lots to see who would get their money back as fundraising went on,” said Brorup Weston of the financial effort.
In 1988, in recognition of the McColl family’s contributions to theatre, the building was renamed the McColl Playhouse.
A number of internal and external renovations have taken place over the years, including the construction of an outbuilding.
There had been thought over the years to blend in with a multi-purpose building. But that was eventually rejected because the theatre’s society directors thought it was best to have their own building.
“The feeling was to maintain our autonomy and we would forfeit that privilege if we had to share space. It could be really, really difficult,” said Brorup Weston.
The decision to stay with its own facility has focused efforts on making improvements to the McColl Playhouse.
“We’re a self-sustaining social enterprise and we appreciate very much the support we get,” Brorup Weston said.
And as much as people who wish to act are attracted to the theatre group, so are those who have other talents.
“What you see on stage is only the tip of the ice berg,” says Brorup Weston.
“It takes many people who are off stage to get a production going.”
The list includes people who love carpentry, makeup, set design, lighting and so on.
Brorup Weston’s particularly pleased with the responses the theatre gets from the company when it looks for specific items for its production.
“That tells you people in the community love the theatre,” she said. “And they love to see their stuff on stage.”
Every new contact with the theatre, whether it be someone who donates an item for a production or someone who volunteers for a specific production, is an opportunity to attract new members, Weston continued.
With two shows and one dinner theatre offered each year, Brorup Weston said there’s plenty of opportunity for people to become involved.