Where else but in White Rock do a mayor and a pantomime dame get to cut a ribbon together?
Mayor Wayne Baldwin and White Rock Players Club member Bryce Mills – in full dame make-up and costume – were on hand Tuesday morning for the formal unveiling of the new 50-by-30 foot mural, The Wonderful Year We Fell In Love, on the side of the Coast Capital Playhouse.
But the real star of the occasion – aside from the colourful, evocative painting itself – was artist Elizabeth Hollick, resplendent in a pink jacket emblazoned with heart designs.
The project, commissioned by the club and enabled by a $13,500 grant from the city and contributions from individual residents, is Hollick’s personal valentine to Players Club history and traditions – and the tradition of the Christmas pantomime in particular, and its signature song, The Wonderful Year We Fell In Love.
For Hollick, it was the culmination of a labour of love that has gone on longer than the two months it took to paint on the side of the building.
It was three years ago that the project was suggested and Hollick’s design was accepted, but although fundraising was started, it stalled due to the prevailing economic climate.
But, thanks to the incentive provided by a grant championed by White Rock Couns. Helen Fathers and Louise Hutchinson, chair of the the city’s Public Art Task Force, the mural is now a reality.
Among those thanked by Hollick during her welcoming speech was club historian and prop-builder Tom Saunders (creator of the pantomime giraffe Shananigans and writer of the annually revised topical lyrics of The Wonderful Year…) who provided her with historic images of club performances and personalities (including Franklin Johnson, Scott Wheeler, Enid Saunders, Phyllis Clifford, Guy and Barbara Weston, Guy Foreman, Neil Primrose and Riette Hilliard) to inspire the design.
Also among those thanked were club past-president and mural proponent Dave Baron, project supervisor Pat MacClean, the Rotary Club of White Rock and Hollick’s fellow artist, Laurie MacIsaac, who was on hand to advise on certain questions of anatomy, as well as rein in some over-exuberant painting (“Elizabeth!” Hollick said, mimicking MacIsaac’s deep, booming voice, “this woman has five fingers and a thumb.”).
Baldwin paid tribute to the popular painter and muralist’s “perseverance, skill and probably a lot of courage painting high on the scaffold,” adding “we’ve seen her art throughout the city – but nothing on a scale like this.”
He said the painting “captured the pantomime – the silliness of it, and all the good stuff that goes on at the theatre,” and said it was also a fitting tribute to a club that has been part of the city’s cultural fabric for decades.
“We should acknowledge what they’ve accomplished – they’ve been here for 70 years and they’ve been doing the pantomime for some 60 years,” he said.
“They’re one of the only groups of its kind in Canada that has its own building and doesn’t rely on public grants – which is a tribute to the community as well.”
Among old friends and long-time supporters of the theatre who were there for the ceremony were Hollick’s daughters Briony, Deb and Jo and the painter’s youngest grandchild, Jo’s son Tiego, who also found a place in the composition.
“He represents the future of the theatre, whether as an audience member, an actor, a director or as someone else behind the scenes,” she said.