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Memory Lane: Theatre pros with Sudbury connections found their passion at Sudbury Theatre Centre

STC has not only entertained generations of Sudburians, it has ignited the artistic passion of several people who went onto to turn their local experience into theatre careers 

Earlier this month invited readers to share memories of performing or performances at Sudbury Theatre Centre. The theatre was created by a handful of professionals and an army of volunteers 50 years ago.

Fifty-five children appeared in the production of Oliver! in 1982. The musical was the first production performed at the theatre building on Shaughnessy Street.

After seeing Oliver!, Kelly Straughan wanted to join the fun. She was only six when she auditioned for her first part.

"One of the big kids at school told me about the upcoming auditions for The Music Man. For my audition piece, I created a song and dance from the musical Annie. I wore a purple dance leotard, white tights and carried a parasol as my tap shoes echoed in the big audition room. 

"That night … the telephone rang. Choreographer Kimberley Timlock wanted me in the show and I could have a part. I was dumbstruck,” Straughan said.

"I loved it all from the very beginning, every moment, every day. The Music Man changed my life. I was in as many STC and school plays as possible. I went on to be a drama major in Sudbury Secondary's performing arts program, then earned a BFA in theatre at the University of Toronto and  my master's in directing at University of British Columbia."

Straughan works in the arts in Toronto and returned to the STC in 2014 to direct The Rocky Horror Show.

Canadian screenwriter and director Robert Adetuyi made his professional acting debut at Sudbury Theatre Centre in 1979 in a play directed by his mentor, legendary artistic director Tony Lloyd. Productions that year were held at Fraser Auditorium.

"As you can imagine some of my fondest memories of Sudbury are of my time with the STC. I believe we did The Little Hut during the summer of that year. The show toured the North as part of a dinner theatre program," he said.

Adetuyi, a graduate of Sudbury Secondary School, attended York University where he learned his true talent was writing. He pursued a career in the arts – precarious at the best of times – and started Inner City Films in Toronto with his brothers.

He now lives in Hollywood and his writing credits include Stomp the Yard, Beat the World and High Chicago.

High Chicago, directed by his brother Alfons, was shot in Sudbury in 2010 and shown at Cinéfest in 2012. The inspiration for the main character was his Nigerian-born father, Joseph, who famously was the first Black person to work at Inco in Sudbury.

Most recently Adetuyi directed the musical Stand!, which was shot in Winnipeg and released last year. Described as an immigrant Romeo and Juliet, it is set during the 1919 General Strike. 

Matthew Heiti is another Sudbury actor and writer who has been featured at the theatre centre. He was exposed to professional theatre at an early age. 

"I do remember very clearly seeing Alice in Wonderland at STC. This might've been the first proper theatre production I ever saw. I do know the program is at the bottom of a shoebox under my childhood bed at my dad's house."

After graduating from Sudbury Secondary, Heiti attended Ryerson Universtiy and the University of New Brunswick. Several of Heiti's plays have been produced at STC and he was writer-in-residence in 2011. 

His plays include Black Dog: 4 vs the World and Mucking in the Drift. In December 2021, Heiti appeared as Scrooge in The Christmas Carol.

"For me what is most powerful about theatre is its ephemerality. We gather – the play, the audience, and the performers – for a handful of minutes on a single night, and unlike Netflix or a good book, it can never be repeated. But that momentary experience shapes and changes you for a lifetime," he said.

Heiti's play Ever Falling Flight, featuring Sudbury actor Ruthie Nkut, was expected to open at the STC in February, but it has been postponed to March. The play is inspired by Amelia Earhart’s 1937 record-breaking round-the-world flight.

At Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, performances of Aéroportée, Miriam Cusson's translation of Heiti's play have also been postponed.

Josée Jacques responded to the Memory Lane article to announce her father, actor and writer Michael Shepherd, had died at the age of 91.

"What a great memory! My father Michael Shepherd, who sadly gained his wings last week (Jan.6, 2022), absolutely adored working with Sudbury Theatre Centre. I bought him the 50th anniversary book of the STC for Christmas and he was so excited to receive it. Unfortunately, he did not get to finish reading it but his memories of his time with STC were near and dear to his heart."

Shepherd appeared at the theatre centre in the 1995-1996 production of Running on Frozen Air, written and directed by artistic director Gordon McCall. It is the story of five men and women on a quest to win one of the toughest dog sled races in the world.

Born in London, England, Shepherd performed in many theatres across Canada and worked in television. He wrote short stories and plays, and before his death started a blog.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer and co-editor of "A Theatre in Five Acts, 50 years of the Sudbury Theatre Centre." Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.