I’m a relative newcomer to the Northumberland Players. My wife Chris and I returned to Ontario in 2015 after living in Cape Breton for six years. I had a new job at a young university in Oshawa, and being more country than city mice we bought a house in Harwood, just north of Cobourg.
We had both grown up in the Toronto area, and we’d lived as a couple in Guelph and London for almost 30 years, so Northumberland County was a new adventure. I had been involved in community theatre in London and Cape Breton, so I scouted opportunities and found out that auditions for that year’s musical, The Secret Garden, were happening soon. I booked an audition and started working on my stuff.
A few years before, I had been Ben Weatherstaff (the gardener himself!) in London, but I knew they didn’t want a song from the show. I thought I would show my incredible range (you can’t be modest in theatre or you’re doomed) by doing a verse of Miles Gloriosus’s “Bring Me My Bride” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and a chunk of the Bishop’s bit from Les Miserables. I had played both roles in Cape Breton to great acclaim (mainly from myself). How could I go wrong? Well…
In the weeks leading up to the audition, I started hearing about this incredible production of Les Mis that had happened only a few months previous. This was exciting and a bit terrifying, since the same production “dream team” was doing The Secret Garden. I began to have doubts about doing the Bishop’s song from Les Mis, since it would no doubt pale in comparison to the performance in their production (I later found out their Bishop was the incredible Jim Finan).
But I decided I’d better go with what I thought was my strength, and show the contrast of a comic and a serious character. I got there and was flummoxed to see that we all sat in a half-circle around the production team and people volunteered to sing, in front of everybody else. I was totally freaked out. Luckily, a few really good and some just OK singers went before me, and they were really nice, especially the guy sitting beside me. I introduced myself and told him he was a very good singer (he was!). He told me his name was…Jack Boyagian…
My Big Moment
So the moment came when I volunteered to sing…I wasn’t last but I was pretty far down the list. I got up and did my two bits, and although I didn’t totally embarrass myself, I think the production team was a bit bemused. They may have even wondered aloud if I was capable of singing through a whole song…I don’t really remember because I was just glad to be done.
The only thing I really recall was Jack telling me he was directing Harvey, made most famous by the Jimmy Stewart film, and me telling him that I was sorry that I would be away for the auditions for Harvey because I absolutely loved the show. He said that he would fix it so I could come in and I left really excited to be auditioning soon for Harvey…
The Secret Garden Call Back
Somebody, probably either Val Russell or Marie Anderson, contacted me to do a call back at Marie’s (I think) house out in the country. They wanted me to sing a complete song (I guess to see if I could do it!), so I went and sang all of the Bishop’s little bits in Les Mis. A while later they offered me something in The Secret Garden and emphasized the commitment I would be making to do a musical with the team. As it turned out, I had to back out early on because I really didn’t have time to devote myself to both the musical and Harvey…
The Harvey Audition
A short while later, Jack had his auditions for Harvey. That’s when I met a bunch of very nice, welcoming people who came to be good friends in the shows and years since, but at the time I was just nervous and awkward being the “new guy” at the audition. I remember Catherine Holland and Bill Corcoran being in the room with Jack when I did my audition, and doing their best to make me feel comfortable. I was oblivious since I was frantically “in the audition zone”, by far my least favourite part of theatre. Things went ok and I think there was a callback after that before…
Jack called me and spoke at length (this is Jack Boyagian I’m talking about!) about how he liked my audition and thought there was a part for me but he was torn in his choice for Elwood (the lead) between me and Neil Torrie. This “uncertainty” went on for quite a while…in fact, I think it’s part of the reason Neil and I became good friends. We both thought the whole thing was pretty absurd, and neither of us was ready to kill the other to get the lead. Well I wasn’t, anyway!
So Jack eventually decided he wanted me to be Elwood and Neil to be Wilson, the orderly in the asylum. I was very excited to be in a play I loved, and a little terrified to be doing a lead role. But it was such fun, and as many writing these little stories have mentioned, the friendships you make when you “do a show” are deep and awesome. That was the start of my time with the Players, and I‘ve done a few things since and hope to do many more things in the years to come with this group that I love.