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White Rock play wins big at festival

After winning six awards in Greater Vancouver, Ladies of the Camellias to compete at provincial level
White Rock Players Club production of The Ladies of The Camellias won six awards at a recent festival

The White Rock Players Club has taken top honours in Theatre B.C.’s Greater Vancouver Zone Festival with its production of The Ladies of The Camellias by Lillian Garrett-Groag.

The play was named best production at the zone festival, hosted April 26-30 by New Westminster’s Vagabond Players.

Adjudicator Ted Roberts, resident designer for Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, also recognized the show with awards to Paul Kloegman (best director), Lori Tych (best actress), Ryan Johnston (best supporting actor), Pat McClean (best costumes) and Eric Driscoll (best lighting); while festival technical director Des Renard presented Camellias’ stage manager Shelagh Shermann with the award honouring the production for best backstage etiquette.

Nancy Ebert (who played Sarah Bernhardt to Tych’s Eleanora Duse in the fanciful comedy about duelling stage divas in 1890s Paris) was also recognized with an honourable mention for her performance.

The win means the play will travel to Kamloops for Theatre B.C.’s Mainstage festival in early July, to compete for best show in B.C. with productions from other zone winners.

Kloegman told the Peace Arch News this week that while this year’s Greater Vancouver festival featured only three plays (Raving Theatre’s Confessions of a Mad Drag Queen was cancelled due to illness), The Ladies of the Camellias still faced strong competition from two other period costume shows: Vagabond Players’ production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (about the life and death of Mozart), and an original production by Burnaby’s Leaping Thespians, How The West Was One.

“They were both of a very high standard,” said the Vancouver-based director and actor (he will play the plum role of William Randolph Hearst in the White Rock Players’ upcoming 1920s drama The Cat’s Meow).

“Amadeus was very well received and the Leaping Thespians’ piece about the old West was very, very good as well.”

That made the awards very gratifying and pleasantly surprising, he said.

“In any kind of festival where there is one adjudicator, one judge, you can’t expect anything at all,” he added, but noted Roberts’ reaction to the show echoed the response of the White Rock audience to the play.

“Most people who saw the play during the run said they were happy and pleased that it was as good as it was. It was a bit of a departure for a White Rock show, and the strength of the characterizations held the audience’s attention.”

While Kloegman said he gives most of the credit for that to his cast and crew, he said he was heartened by Roberts’ comments on his direction during the show’s adjudication.

“He was very complimentary about the blocking (of stage movement) that seemed to move so effortlessly that nobody would notice it – except him, because he’s looking for that. He liked all the characterizations and noticed some touches which, he felt, were directed to happen. When he handed me the award, he said I had managed to cross almost all the Ts – I was very pleased by that.”

But just as gratifying was the recognition of cast and crew, he said.

He was pleased by the singling out of Tych for best actress honours, even though she was playing against a strong performance from Ebert.

“(The Duse character) was a little more difficult to portray, and for Lori – at her first festival ever – to win best actress was fantastic,” he said.

“And Nancy is a very seasoned actress who has already won many, many awards. It was lovely to see someone new recognized.”

Kloegman said he was also pleased to see Johnston, with whom, like Tych, he has worked several times before win supporting actor honours for his role as Duse’s pompous co-star Flavio Andio.

“Both he and Lori had to work with an Italian accent,” he noted.

“Ryan’s a pretty seasoned actor, but he really excelled himself. He worked very, very hard from day one and not only nailed the accent, but all the comedic stuff I wanted to put in.”

The awards for best costumes and lighting illustrate the degree to which crew work can make or break a production, particularly in evoking period atmosphere, Kloegman said.

“It’s kind of a foregone conclusion that whenever Pat does costumes they’re going to be fantastic,” he said.

“Even over Amadeus, which had wonderful costumes, he felt that all Pat’s costumes conveyed the 1890s period admirably, and particularly thought a theatrical Cyrano de Bergerac costume was perfect,” Kloegman added.

“Eric’s lighting was very, very good, particularly the mood lighting at the beginning of the show using footlights. It gave the real feeling of an 1800s theatre, and Eric’s idea of doing that was spot-on.”

And Shermann’s award for backstage etiquette really recognizes the professional way she ran the show, he said.

“Her director couldn’t be there at all for the day when the set was moved into the Vagabonds’ playhouse – she had to supervise the placing of the set for sight-lines, arranging a rope for the Cyrano character to swing in on, and a sandbag that has to drop near one of the actresses,” he said.

“She’s quite probably the best stage manager I’ve ever worked with – she had a big job to do and stayed focused on that.”

For those who missed the show on its initial run, there may also be some good news.

Kloegman said there are plans to restage The Ladies of the Camellias at the Coast Capital Playhouse for several fundraising performances prior to taking the show to Kamloops, although dates are still to be confirmed.

About the Author: Alex Browne

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