He was a gentle giant of community theatre.
Always a large man physically, Mike Busswood, who passed away at his Langley home on Saturday at the age of 62, was also a huge talent – who often downplayed his considerable theatrical gifts with self-effacing humour and a keen sense of the more ridiculous aspects of the human condition.
His humour – of the driest kind – could also be directed at others. But whatever wry comment he expressed, in a measured, soft-spoken delivery that was uniquely his own, would be cushioned by a certain twinkle in his eye.
“Mike was someone you wanted to know,” actor Mahara Sinclaire noted in a Facebook comment.
Busswood had most recently been president of Surrey Little Theatre, but in a more than 60-play community theatre career had become a well-known and well-liked participant in shows with other local groups including the White Rock Players Club, the Langley Players and the Vagabond Players.
The six-foot-two actor – who had slimmed down his frame considerably in recent years – had a history of heart problems and had received two quadruple-bypass operations. He suffered a serious health crisis in November which had left him in a coma for several weeks until he rallied just before Christmas.
The retired Telus electrician is survived by his wife, well-known community theatre actor and stage-manager Cathe, and their daughters Samantha and Kaitlyn.
The family often worked in tandem on theatre projects – including one Christmas season which they spent together as chorus members for a Scott Wheeler-directed pantomime for White Rock Players Club.
He also appeared in a number of Vancouver-filmed Hollywood and independent productions over the years, including a memorable bit in the Kurt Russell/Kevin Costner film 3,000 Miles to Graceland.
In 2016, he was both an actor and producer for the Surrey Little Theatre production of the The Last Lifeboat, a drama about the sinking of the Titanic, which also featured Kaitlyn, and was the winner of best production at both the CTC awards and the Theatre BC Fraser Valley Zone festival.
Ben Odberg – Busswood’s longtime friend and theatrical collaborator – posted on Facebook that “I’m unable to describe what Mike meant to me and how his passing has affected me…” as a preface to sharing a series of songs that Busswood loved as a tribute.
“Music was such a huge part of his life,” he wrote.
Peace Arch News editor Lance Peverley, who directed the Busswood-produced Twelve Angry Men for Surrey Little Theatre last year and also directed Busswood in small film roles before that, noted the world not only lost a skilled thespian but a knowledgeable man who was equally at ease conversing with academics and working people.
“Mike was extremely well-read,” Peverley noted. “He would astound us with his trivia, his take on world events and, of course, his cutting humour. I will forever cherish our banter.”
On stage, Busswood’s gravitas and economy of action carried absolute conviction, no matter whether the play was serious drama, like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, or wacky comedy like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – and he excelled on either side of the theatrical spectrum.
While his stature inevitably drew attention, his performances didn’t crave it. He always sought to strengthen a show in whatever role he had been cast, rather than indulge in theatrics for theatrics’ sake.
His overarching desire was always to make the play better, and he added a wealth of experience and assurance to whatever he tackled.
As a director – his most recent effort was the well-received thriller The Woman In Black presented by White Rock Players Club in October of last year – he brought a thoughtful, intelligent approach, rather than self-serving egotism, to each script.
Ironically, up until his heart attack, 2017 had been a signal year for Busswood. The Community Theatre Coalition, in which he had long been involved as an organizer and booster, recognized him with a lifetime achievement award.
At the same ceremony he received best director honours for Surrey Little Theatre’s The Dixie Swim Club, for which Cathe received the best supporting actress award.
This week, a post on Surrey Little Theatre’s website says simply “our beloved president, Mike Busswood passed away at home on the weekend. There will be a service toward the end of August and we will send a message out once details are confirmed.”