An insider’s look at Theatre BC’s Mainstage Fest

John Devitt

As many readers of The Revelstoke Current already know, the Revelstoke Theatre Company recently traveled to Kamloops to perform its hit production of ‘Mending Fences’ during Theatre BC’s provincial Mainstage Theatre Festival.  In front of an audience of 350 people at the Sagebrush Theatre our performance opened the festival and kicked off seven days of the best of British Columbia community theatre.

Here’s how it works:  Each year theatre companies from around the province submit plays to Theatre BC to be entered into the regional festival competitions.  Each region, or zone, needs to submit a minimum of three plays in order to hold a festival.  This year’s Kootenay Zone Festival was hosted here in Revelstoke, next year it will be hosted by the company in Nakusp.  The festival is judged by a professional adjudicator who provides constructive critiques for each show as well as honouring great performances with a variety of awards.  The winner of “Best Production” then moves on to the provincial festival to represent its zone at Mainstage.

The Mainstage competition works the same as the regional zone competitions.  Companies have 4 hours to move in to the theatre and put up sets, set lighting and sound cues and hopefully rehearse a couple quick scenes.  For many, being in a large theatre such as the Sagebrush is a new experience.  Not only are the technical systems significantly different, but it is entirely different for a performer to be in a space that sits hundreds of people versus one that sits dozens.  Load in can be a little bit like herding cats at times, but is part of the process, part of the competition to help level the playing field between companies of various sizes.  Similarly, on the back end of the performance, you have one hour to move everything out of the theatre.

The festival isn’t all just about running around like crazy trying to get everything set up only to perform and rip it down again.  For those of you who had the opportunity to see Mending Fences while it was in Revelstoke, you know that it is at equal times funny and heart wrenching.  As a performer it was extremely rewarding to not only hear 350 people laughing, but also to listen to the collective sniffles as the three of us brought many to tears.  This was the culmination of 4.5 months of work, a process that began in mid February with rehearsals 3 to 4 nights a week for 2 to 3 hours at a time.  Once you step onto the stage you begin to exist in the moment.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you which line comes next, it just does.  The next 2 hours goes by in a blur until you take a bow with a goofy grin that says, “I’m not really sure what just happened” and then that’s it.

Over seven days 9 other companies all share a similar experience with a diverse array of shows.  Some shows are admittedly better than others.  Larger centres have greater areas to pull talent and expertise from.  Some have the benefit greater time to prepare and rehearse since theatre is their full time job, whereas others fit rehearsal time in between work and family commitments.  Regardless of origin, everyone who performs at the festival does so because they love it.  When that intensity of passion exists, it elevates all performances above any perceived “amateur, community” level and creates a week of theatre worthy of watching.

The festival is a celebration of theatre in British Columbia and it brings people from all over the province to watch and learn.  However, it is also a competition, which means there are winners and losers.  Unfortunately, unlike sport there is no common ground by which art can be judged.  Art is subjective and a matter of individual taste and opinion, so how can one piece be deemed ‘better’ than another?  The festival week culminates with a gala awards night and those opinions become evident.  For performers and technical teams who have invested hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, it can be difficult to not feel recognized for their efforts, to feel somehow that it just wasn’t good enough.

Someone once said “There is no ‘best’ in a world of individuals.”  Be that as it may, the best way to experience the best the theatre world of British Columbia has to offer is to experience all the individual talents at the annual Mainstage festival.