Considering that I was an enthusiastic participant in live theatre productions in high school and attended many of same during the early years of my journalism career, it has been an appallingly long stretch since I set foot inside a theatre to watch real, live people ply their trade. That extended absence ended recently when we headed to the tiny town of Chemainus – a place that 30 years ago was little more than a dying mill town (see my previous article on the town history at: http://vancouverislandbeyondvictoria.com/?p=1646 ).
We had been hearing for many years about the excellent productions staged in Chemainus, so when the weather turned sour early this autumn we began looking for more indoor activities. A wet, stormy afternoon found us checking in to our charming bed and breakfast (more about that at: http://vancouverislandbeyondvictoria.com/?p=1930 ) and then heading off to the exquisite purpose-built theatre perched on the edge of town to pick up our tickets for the evening performance and explore the beautiful gift gallery located just off the main floor lobby.
The theatre building occupies two floors, with box office, gift shop and lobby on the main floor and a 160-seat dining room and additional lounge area on the second level. The actual theatre and stage is a beautifully-designed space that offers excellent viewing to every single patron.
Our evening began with a leisurely meal in the Playbill Dining Room on the upper level of the theatre. A large area with the potential to be impersonal and not very appealing has been transformed with the skilful use of suspended tapestries that divide the dining room into more intimate spaces where you can enjoy a quiet meal for two, or spread out with a group of friends. We are never sure what we are in for when it comes to buffet meals – more often than not the mass food production disappoints, but the folks in the Playbill Dining Room seem to have mastered the art of ‘just in time’ delivery and providing many interesting dining options. Each menu is tailored to the play that is being performed, with ethnic specialties or other unique dishes on offer – a nice twist that keeps things from getting boring if you are a regular patron.
Service in the Playbill was excellent – friendly and welcoming, and very efficient, all of which enhanced our dining experience. It was a treat to have the option of enjoying a local wine with our meal, and the live piano music in the background throughout the evening certainly added to the ambiance – over-all it was one of the nicest buffets we have ever enjoyed.
From there, on to the performance – an engrossing play about the reunification of a Polish family divided for 20 years between Holocaust-seized Poland and New York city. Riveting acting and simple but very effective stage design combined to whisk us into another world that left us thoughtful and, truth be known, just a little bit taken aback at the renewed realization that thousands and thousands of families faced the same situation after the Second World War. It was food for thought, to be sure, and a sign that the actors and everyone else involved with the production had done their jobs, and done them well.
The Chemainus Theatre Festival is just rolling in to the final couple of months of its twenty-first year, and has grown to the point where it now attracts more than 80,000 theatre-goers per season. It is the third-largest theatre company in the province – testimony to the excellence of its productions and the dedication of the folks who make it all happen. But then, none of this should come as any surprise – Chemainus just seems to keep producing one delightful miracle after another.
Further information on the Chemainus Theatre Festival can be found at the website:
The theatre building is located at 9737 Chemainus Road, Chemainus
GPS co-ordinates for the theatre building are:
Lat. 48.9209461 Long. -123.7169126
N 48 55.257 W 123 43.015