legacy n. Late 15th Century. A tangible or intangible thing handed down by a predecessor; a long-lasting effect of an event or process.
How could Verna Conant have imagined she would spawn the legacy that has become The Oshawa Little Theatre, over a cup of tea in 1928?
Here is a sample of that legacy from “When We Are Married”, November 1958: Art Elliott, John Francom, Barbara Lloyd, Gwen O’Regan, D’Arcy Smyth, and Janet Stevenson. Moreover, this play was the first association of Robert Aldsworth Photo, a relationship that continues to this day, and one for which OLT is eternally grateful.
OLT is, of course, ripe with anecdotes, including frozen paint, moving sets in the rain and snow, fire alarms, sparking lighting boards…even actors who were apparently advised by God to leave a show during the middle of the run, rather than before opening night.
In “Dirty Work at the Crossroads”, 1963, Bert Heaver was unfortunately rushed to the hospital in the middle of the run. Director Harry Chapman knew the blocking but was not confident of the lines.
Enter Norman Edmondson, who read the lines from the wings stage left, while Harry twirled his moustache and oiled his way around the stage, mouthing the lines as he went. Only in a melodrama could we have got away with it. Oddly enough, Harry said he had laryngitis afterwards from the strain of pretending to talk, while Bert Heaver boasted forever after that it took two men to replace him!
Henderson’s Book Store, Harleighs Draperies Ltd., and Nesbitt’s Ladies Wear began advertising in our programmes in the Fifties and Sixties. They are now long gone. Our subscription in 1962 was 700. Our first programme photo was of Art Elliott in the December ’61 production of “My Three Angels”. In 1967, a young man named Tony Castaldo, played Sergeant Gregovich in “Teahouse of the August Moon”. That same year, homes were selling in Forest Glen Heights for $18,700. One year later, Tony would begin an unprecedented run of producing plays. And, in the winter of 1974, Martin Shaw hatched this crazy idea we should have our own theatre.
Our subscription is now approximately 3000. In the 1999-2000, 50th anniversary season we filled our seats with 22,000 people. Current fundraising activities finally allowed us to pave the mudpit out back. Candy and water sales now often outsell the bar! In 2002-03, OLT will once again host the Theatre Ontario Festival.
My own affiliation with OLT began in the spring of 1993. What struck me then and continues to this day, is the sense of family that permeates every nook and cranny of this facility. Likewise, is the sense of accomplishment, it gripped me then, and inspires me now.
Several months ago, I began updating the play history of the theatre. The producers, who were initially absent from the list, were also added to the list. A myriad of telephone calls and the reading of every OLT programme was required to make the list as accurate as possible. This research exposed me to a depth of history I had neither anticipated nor expected. I became cogently aware of the breadth of the contributions and selflessness of the individuals now present during this special evening.
The record of volunteerism at The Oshawa Little Theatre defies description. Adjectives such as astonishing, remarkable, extraordinary, and unprecedented, are merely rendered superfluous because they do not adequately enlighten us as to the breadth of hard work that has preceded each and every one of us assembled here.
What we are celebrating this evening is 1621 years of theatre. What we are acknowledging this evening, is the vision of a small group of people who made this theatre at 62 Russett Ave. possible. What we are recognizing this evening, is the appreciation, friendship, respect, and admiration of one's peers. What we are defining this evening is the culmination of all three, a legacy.
Legacy’s however, are not self-fulfilling prophecies. Their strength is their torch-bearers. And what a list of torch-bearers we have accumulated! Indeed, OLT is truly a sacred trust that seems to imbue each new torch-bearer within our non-profit charitable organization, to protect and strengthen the Theatre with a continuously renewed enthusiasm, and a replenished spirit of artistic and fiscal vigour.
Despite our success, we are neither boastful nor smug. We do not rest on our laurels, nor do we wear our pride on our sleeves. We do not sustain mediocrity, nor do we encourage vanity. We glow in the shadows and we bow humbly in the light. We are the servants of imagination and the stewards of industry. We seek, find, and administer that which serves the greater good of us all. May humility always be our compass.
We are privileged individuals. We are a coterie of magic carpet riders. We are the art of the possible. We are the benefactors of the human spirit. We are ‘the apple a day that keeps the doctor away’. We are the proprietors of personal enrichment, and the enrichment of others. We are the stage managers of altruism. We are the manufacturers of an inestimable debt of gratitude within our community. We are special. Is it not time we told each other how special we are? I am in awe!
Verna Conant would be proud.