Building ‘Theatre in the Country’
On a stage decorated with a view of an English garden, Reg Parks holds court with a cup of tea.
Opening night in the newest space for local thespians went off without a hitch.
“We didn’t have any malfunctions and it was a really fun evening,” the artistic director of Theatre in the Country says with relief.
It’s taken two years to build Theatre in the Country, a space that calls the old school gym of Whonnock elementary, now christened the North Fraser Events Centre, home.
For Parks, who teaches drama at Maple Ridge Christian School, Theatre in the Country fills a void – one others have tried to fill before, without success.
It’s odd that there isn’t a single permanent dinner theatre space in Metro Vancouver, he says.
“It’s a great form of entertainment. I like the social aspect it puts into theatre.”
The brainchild of Parks, Theatre in the Country is comprised of a small group of actors and technical people who are collaborating to get four productions on stage this year.
Everyone takes turns acting or helps backstage as needed.
The small, intimate space is a hit with actors, especially those who enjoy being close to the audience.
Parks acknowledges that “dinner theatre” often gets a bad rap in the theatre world.
“It’s seen as a second-class citizen in some ways, but I think it’s an engaging way to spend an evening,” he says.
Parks’ position as a drama teacher has allowed him to extend opportunities to students and others who are anxious to experience theatre beyond the realm of high-school.
Mariah Van Herwaarden plays Amy Spettigue in the company’s first production, Charley’s Aunt. For her, Theatre in the Country “creates a safe environment to perfect one’s craft.
“It offers people variety so that they may explore different things,” says Van Herwaarden, who graduated from Maple Ridge Christian in 2010. “It is an opportunity to meet new people, and revel in the arts. Most of all, it allows the expression of creativity, and gives the word ‘possibility,’ meaning and truth.”
Theatre in the Country already has big plans for the future beyond dinner theatre, such as those for adult acting classes, yearly arts trips to London, and summer camps for kids.
The current venue only seats 100 people at tables, but the ambitious group of thespians is already planning what to do when the place fills up.
There will be opportunities for others to audition and participate, as well.
Parks would like to see the company grow to include more professional actors so they can interact and share their skills with up-and-coming performers from Maple Ridge.
“I like to see young people succeed in the arts, and I know if we can give our young actors a chance to work with our local professional talent, then that will be a great boost to the start of their careers. The bonus is that we can provide our community great entertainment at the same time.”
There’s a sentimental reason behind Reg Parks’ choice for Theatre in the Country’s first production.
“I fell in love with Charley’s Aunt on a field trip when I was in Grade 8,” says Parks, who saw the hilarious British farce at Studio 58 in Vancouver.
“I laughed, I become enthralled, I was hooked. Charley’s Aunt started a passion for theatre that has lasted to this day.”
It is fitting that the play that sparked a love of theatre in Parks opens the season at a venue he’s dreamed about for years.
Written by Brandon Thomas, Charley’s Aunt follows the antics of an Oxford student forced to impersonate a fellow undergraduate’s widowed Brazilian aunt.
Parks says Charley’s Aunt has become one of the old ‘chestnuts’ of theatre since it first ran in 1892.
The story, at its core, is about love, devotion, sacrifice and hope realized.
“It’s a feel-good piece of the first order and I hope that it will touch your heart and fill you with joy as you watch,” he adds.
Charley’s Aunt runs until Feb. 16 at Theatre in the Country, 9975 –272nd Street in Maple Ridge. Book your tickets 48 hours in advance for dinner theatre. There is theatre seating available for those who don’t want a meal.
• For tickets, the menu and showtimes, visit theatreinthecountry.com or call 604-259-9737.