A Theatre in Five Acts: Fifty Years of Sudbury Theatre Centre, a tale with as much drama off stage as on stage, is told for the first time by writers Judi Straughan and Vicki Gilhula.
“A Theatre in Five Acts is a fascinating story of toil, joy, pride and innumerable setbacks. It's the real deal,” says Straughan, who first began researching the project in January 2019.
“Being isolated during COVID gave us time to research and write.”
Straughan has worked with all eight artistic directors and has been a witness to the ebb and flow of the only English professional theatre in northern Ontario.
During the research phase, Straughan dug through the boxes of archives in the back room of STC.
“It was cold, dusty and the lighting was poor,” she remembers. “There were times I was holding a flashlight in my teeth so I could dig with two hands.”
Straughan also contacted many people who had been involved with STC over the 50 years to get their stories.
“Some of my favourite parts of the book are the tales from community members, actors, technicians and designers,” she said.
“I laughed when Sudburian Bill Sanders thought he'd struck it big at STC. And the story
of the actor who was trying to get back to Sudbury from Toronto for the 8 p.m. curtain in the midst of a white-out snowstorm — now that's a good one,"Straughan adds.
“We were able to blend much of what we researched from publications with the personal stories of those who were involved. We paint a broad picture of factual and anecdotal history," said Straughan's writing partner Vicki Gilhula, a professional writer and editor (she’s a former editor of Northern Life and a Sudbury.com contributor).
“The book's tone and style are polished thanks to Vicki Gilhula, who came aboard the project in the fall of 2020,” said Straughan. “She's key to the success of the book.”
“It's more than a coincidence that TNO, (Theatre du Nouvel Ontario) began in the same year as the STC. There was a great deal of cultural funding at the time and Sudbury took advantage of it. The story of how it all began is fascinating,” says veteran journalist Gilhula.
Does the book reveal some of the not-so-pretty stories? “Yes, it does” confirms Gilhula.
The book includes excerpts from newspaper reviews, even when critics hated the show. Sudbury Star reviews in the 1990s and early 2000s were known for skewering STC productions. Critic Rob O'Flanagan's praise and venom were legendary. “I'm so happy Rob wrote an article for the book looking back at those days,” says Straughan.
A Theatre in Five Acts: Fifty Years of Sudbury Theatre Centre includes the names of 50 years of plays and directors and a tribute to the many visual artists who have exhibited at STC. In short, it's a walk down memory lane.
Straughan and Gilhula praise graphic designer Tony Jurgilas for the beauty of the book. “Tony's design work is exceptional. It's a great story stunningly presented...a large 246 page coffee-table format that could quite possibly sell out soon,” says Straughan.
The book can be reserved now on the Sudbury Theatre Centre website sudburytheatre.com for $30 until Sept. 14. After that, the cost is $35.
Pre-release sales indicate the book's popularity and advance orders are recommended for those who want to be assured of a copy. Gilhula and Straughan will be available for book signing on the evening of Sept. 14 at STC.
Pre-ordered copies can be picked up that same evening when a 50-year celebration will be held at the Sudbury Theatre Centre. Copies will be available for sale as well.
Beginning Sept. 15, copies will be available for $35 at Sudbury Paint and Framing on Elgin Street as well as at the STC box office.
Doors open at 6:30 pm September 14 for this free celebration. Displays, hand-crafted cookies and complimentary beverages are part of the celebration. Seats for the 7:30 presentation should be reserved since COVID restrictions mandate only 144 seats can be used. For seat reservations, contact STC at 705-674-8381. Reservations are not required to come to the theatre for refreshments and displays.
Everyone is welcome for this special evening.