“The Players changed my life for the better” – Kevin Ward

In the early 80’s, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect, guaranteeing all Canadians fundamental political and civil rights.  Except the Charter excluded the defeated Bill C-242, an act to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. 

In the early 80’s, AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was still known as “Gay Cancer”, then GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).  The “gay plague” was a source of fear, panic and loathing – “justification” for homophobia.  

In the early 80’s I dropped out of C.D.C.I. West, to escape the bullying.

In the early 80’s I came out to my parents. In the early 80’s I was estranged from my parents. 

In the early 80’s, Northumberland wasn’t an easy place to be gay.

But, in the early 80’s I met my partner, my soul-mate, now my husband of nearly 40 years.

And, in the early 80’s, looking for something to do as a couple, we volunteered to work backstage on the Northumberland Players production of My Fair Lady.

The Northumberland Players instantly became a refuge for me. A surrogate family.  A safe, accepting and non-judgmental place.  And it was fun. Ridiculously, outrageously fun.  People we met during that production are still some of our most cherished friends to this day. 

Kevin Ward in Angels in Love.

Now personally, I prefer being backstage to being onstage, and historically, audiences seem to agree.  Nevertheless, I auditioned and was chosen for a role in Hugh Mills’ Angels in Love, directed by the shockingly patient Gail Malenfant.  It must have been one of the very first theatre productions mounted in the newly restored Victoria Hall Concert Hall?  Again, we were introduced to people through that production that became lifelong friends.  

With newfound confidence, an incredible partner and the support of our network of theatre friends, I eventually reconciled with my parents, on my terms. I went back to the West as a “mature” student and then studied advertising in college. I worked as a copywriter for many years, but eventually came back to Northumberland to work, as well as to live full time.  

In 2001, after not having been involved as anything but an audience member for many years, I heard that Val Russell was Directing the NP production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Marie Anderson as Music Director.  I sent Val an e-mail stating “I will do ANYTHING you need, just please let me be a part of this production.”  Almost immediately, there was an offer for Backstage Right.  

Seriously?  After all those years, you would have thought she knew I leaned left, but for my theatre family, I’ll make concessions. 

That production was life altering.  The cast and crew were inspiring, and my passion was re-ignited. Remember the finale of that production?  How incredibly tense and dramatic that was?  I’m a middle child, so my raison d’être is breaking tension.  During one of the final rehearsals, with Don hanging from the cross wearing nothing but a loin cloth, beautifully illuminated, dramatic music playing, and me with a perfect side profile view, I breathlessly whispered into the mouthpiece of my headset connected to stage left and the Stage Manager in the booth: “Judas ain’t the only one hung in this show.”  So for the cast, crew and band who always wondered about the ill-timed guffaws, mea culpa.

After that reintroduction to the Players, I tried my hand at producing, I had the honour of wheeling Dr. Frankenfurter onstage for his grand entrance, I designed some posters and some cast photo installations, I’m a lifelong member of the Hair tribe, I’ve been on the Board of Directors and I’ve facilitated Strategic Planning Sessions for the organization.  We’ve attended some pretty wild cast parties over the years, and we’ve even hosted a few at Tayward Cottage.  When Jer and I got “legally” married on Valentines Day in 2012 – the “Family Day” party we hosted to celebrate filled the house beyond capacity, and the vast majority of guests were fellow Players!

At the end of the day?  The Northumberland Players are family. We’ve watched our friends’ kids grow up in the organization and become such confident, successful and inspiring young adults.  (That’s anyone under 40 by my reckoning!)  We take immense pride in their successes, and support them like they are our own.  Because they are.  

It was exactly 20 years after our initial involvement with My Fair Lady that Jer and I were sitting in the back, watching a rehearsal of the The Rocky Horror Show, and during a break Jeff jumped down off the stage and so casually, so comfortably, kissed his boyfriend, Paul, who was sitting in the front row.  RIGHT IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY!  Jer and I nearly broke one another’s hands – we squeezed so tight.  

Community Theatre provides a safe place.  A nurturing place.  A welcoming, educational and non-judgemental place.  A potentially life-saving place.  The Northumberland Players is the epitome of community theatre.  The Players changed my life for the better, and we continue to support them because there will always be those among us who need a safe, nurturing, welcoming, educational and non-judgemental place to let their brilliance shine.