As the saying goes – time flies when you’re having fun.
Earl Marriott Secondary’s proud history of theatrical productions began 40 years ago this month with Sandy Wilson’s engaging pastiche of 1920s musical theatre, The Boyfriend, directed by a young teacher named Rick Harmon.
Harmon’s tenure as head of the drama department lasted another 32 years until his retirement in 2008 – during which time Marriott’s annual productions, particularly the musicals, acquired a legendary reputation as something special, with an energy, freshness and professionalism far beyond the usual expectations of high school theatre.
It’s a proud tradition of excellence that Candace Radcliffe, Harmon’s former teacher assistant, has continued as drama department head herself for the last eight years.
Now the pair – who continued their felicitous association by creating the Crescent Beach summer attraction Beach House Theatre five years ago – are teaming to pay tribute to Marriott productions over the years, and the many students, teachers and parents involved, in a special gala variety show/fundraiser in the school’s Wheelhouse Theatre (15751 16 Ave.) on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.
<i>Forty Years of Play</i> will be a chance for alumni to meet and reconnect, to summon memories of past productions with musical numbers from former shows, and to give the current crop of theatre kids a chance to see some of the ‘troupers’ who set the bar so high at the school during their high school years.
It will also be a chance for the community to contribute to a $40,000 fundraising drive (through ticket sales, commemorative seat and ‘brick’ sales and a silent auction) to help fund new equipment for the Wheelhouse Theatre.
The fundraising element is important to continue the theatre tradition at the school, they said.
“Not that we wouldn’t celebrate the anniversary anyway, but it’s been more than 15 years since the theatre opened at the school,” Radcliffe said. “That’s three generations of five-year cycles of grad classes.”
“And the equipment has been aging all along,” Harmon added. “Until last year, the computer controlling the lights and sound was still running off floppy discs.”
Harmon and Radcliffe, who will host the show, are still trying to negotiate a guest appearance by one of the Marriott most famous alumni – award-winning director and actor Dean Paul Gibson, a crew member of the original The Boyfriend, who has gone on to become a leading light of the theatre scene both in Vancouver and internationally.
But they’re honoured by the number of alumni – particularly from the last 25-30 years – who’ve confirmed that they will return to perform numbers.
These include Sabrielle McCurdy-Foreman (who will join her mom, Heidi McCurdy – also an EMS grad) and other luminaries such as Keri Minty, Kerry O’Donovan, Mckye Voth, Travis Clifford, Ginny Dunnill, Rachel Fornier, Sean Goodall, Kirstin Hain, Jake Hildebrand, Cassidy Johnson, Ashley McConnell, Anna O’Brien, Emma Schellenberg, Marika Stanger, Sophie Stanger and Tessa Burnside.
“It’s been interesting to connect with them now – to find out what they’re doing and where they’re living,” Radcliffe said.
“Some of them are performing-arts professionals, some have moved on to other things, but they’re all really excited to be involved.”
Radcliffe noted that, with busy schedules, many will only have a brief window before the night to run-through their numbers on the Marriott stage.
“It’s kind of terrifying to be directing this by email,” she said.
“We may end up filling in and improvising a few things as MCs,” said Harmon, laughing.
Things have changed a lot at the school since he first began teaching there, he said – and not just the luxury of having a dedicated theatre space (for many years the major shows were rehearsed in a former woodwork shop and the cafeteria, before travelling to the White Rock Playhouse or the Surrey Arts Centre for frantic load-ins and run-throughs).
“White Rock was a small town – there was one traffic light at the corner of North Bluff and 152 Street,” Harmon said. “There were few opportunities for kids of that age to get involved in the community.”
“It’s a huge challenge to do theatre now with the extended days at Marriott,” Radcliffe said. “The pace around the school is so fast, and students are on different schedules.”
But to show that theatre traditions are just as strong among new generations – and the dedication is just as impressive – the evening of music and nostalgia will also be highlighted by a cast preview of the opening number from the latest Marriott musical, The Addams Family, due to debut in April.
Tickets ($40) can be purchased at the Wheelhouse box office at the school, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Feb. 22-25, or by email reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org (tickets must be picked up a half-hour before showtime).