History: Story of Showboat – Part 1

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History: Story of Showboat – Part 1 2017-05-11T17:08:29+00:00

Artistic Directors From 1987 to 2003

In many ways, the story of Showboat is also the story of its Artistic Directors. Each one has come to us from an extensive and varied background in theatre and has brought with him a unique personal vision for Showboat. We are now a magical amalgam of all of their goals and achievements over 29 years.

Our journey began in 1987 with DEAN TEDESCO as Artistic Director for our first year.

He was one of a number of local citizens who joined together and formed Showboat. What an extraordinary gift to Port Colborne…… professional theatre!

He produced three comedies which played in our first venue, the auditorium of Lockview Park Secondary School, and set in motion the Showboat tradition of summer laughter and fun.

BLAKE HEATHCOTE was Artistic Director from 1988 to 1997.

He had already directed many Canadian premieres as well as over a hundred productions in England, the US and across Canada before coming to our theatre.

Under Heathcote, Showboat would become known for its work in creating new scripts that feature humour. He would go on to write many comedy reviews and plays that saw their premiere on our stage.

He once wrote, in an essay entitled “The Trials of a Humourist”: “In these gray, modern times, playwrights are writing nothing but that grim, stark stuff… I am all for tortured souls in moderation, but a good laugh from time to time never hurt anybody.”

His goal was “to create the best plays and productions in the world for our audiences” and “to define a healthy arts / community / business relationship.

Undoubtedly, however, his most significant contribution to Showboat was his mandate to change the way people watch a play. While working at the Stephen Joseph Theatre – in – the – Round in North Yorkshire, England, he conceived the idea of creating this extremely intimate form of theatre here in Port Colborne.

To this end, the disused curling rink at the Roselawn Centre was transformed into a theatre space with extraordinary flexibility… all of the seating was moveable and removable – a truly unique design. His dream became a reality in 1997. For years to come, as our logo clearly and proudly stated, we were Showboat Festival Theatre in the round.

BURTON LANCASTER was our Artistic Director from 1998 to 2003.

He had begun his professional theatre career in his native England with such companies as The Royal Court and the Old Vic. After extensive touring in Britain and Europe, and fifteen West End productions, he came to Canada to work at Expo 67. He stayed on to work in Canadian cities from coast to coast.

Lancaster soon established a Showboat tradition of ending (and sometimes also beginning) each season with an original musical review. In a 1998 interview he said “I think it’s good to open and close with a musical….it makes for an upbeat season.” These shows – 9 in all – included Lullabye of Broadway, Blue Suede Shoes and Pretty Woman. They always took audiences on a happy trip down memory lane and sent them home humming the tunes.
Music was one of Lancaster’s early loves – he played guitar, bass and trumpet in several bands.

One reviewer wrote, “He admits the stories of his musicals, as with most, are a bit silly but the music drives the show… audiences love them and it’s a big hook to bring them back next year.”

There was much more than music during these years. In a 2001 interview, Lancaster said, “I look for plays that have something to say, that are ‘good’ plays for the actors and audience, serious plays, no fluff.” His playbills included an adaptation of Misery by Stephen King, Educating Rita, and the multi award winning Salt Water Moon.

A review in Pulse Niagara says that his production of Affections of May by Norm Foster “has a regional flavour and small town feel to it. When combined with the intimate ‘theatre-in-the-round’ which sets this play in the middle of the audience, you feel that what you are watching could be just around the corner from your own home. This slice of life, staged in the heart of the audience, is sincere.”

Over the years, many distinguished Canadian actors returned often to Showboat for the pleasure of working in this unique and challenging format… Theatre-in-the-Round.

Written by: Carole Black Brisley
Thanks to: Beth Jeffery, Mickey Mayne and Michelle Vosburgh

Sources: Quotations are taken from reviews and interviews in the Tribune, the Leader, Pulse Niagara, a 1995 prospectus ‘Showboat Festival Theatre at the Roselawn Centre’ and the Archives.

Continue to: The Story of Showboat – Part 2
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