It takes a village to raise the curtain at Theatre Night in Merrickville.
It’s a common theme that runs through the group, the performances and even the venue: community. This cohesiveness combines with good plain fun and unabashed love for the performing arts to be the trifecta of staging memorable productions with the small but mighty theatre group. In fact, that may be what makes it both unique and successful.
With almost a half-century of performing on set, Theatre Night in Merrickville is continuing to evolve live theatre in this picture-perfect community along the Rideau Canal.
Helen Steenburgh, President and long-time member of the volunteer-run organization, said that TNIM started in the mid-1970s when the community was raising money for a medical centre in Merrickville. She said it was informally established by Arnold Connerty with three one-act plays.
In a pre-recorded interview, veteran TNIM member and actor, Graham Thomas, said the initial group was made up of about 20 enthusiastic people who signed on to bring the production to life – and then hundreds of people showed up to see the show and support the fundraising efforts. “It was phenomenal and magical,” Thomas said.
The group had so much fun during the first production that an official theatre group was born. Now, almost 50 years later, TNIM stages two full productions a year, one in spring and the other in fall. Steenburgh said they also occasionally perform during the Merrickville Festival of the Arts in the summer or during the holidays in December. In fact, some of the original members who put on that first show are still active members today.
One of the most intriguing aspects of TNIM is the venue. Steenburgh noted that the performances take place at the Merrickville Community Centre – which means the crew is tasked with turning an empty room into a full theatre with seating, lighting, full set, and ambiance.
“It’s really something to see,” she said. “We start the week before and build entire sets, construct risers, rig stage lighting and completely transform the space into a theatre which seats 150 people.”
Timothy Malloy directed, produced and acted in many of the productions over the years. He noted in a previous interview that there’s a certain beauty which comes with TNIM working together and being a grassroots group. “There’s a strong element of community… it becomes part of the cement that holds the community together.”
On The Bill
Celebrate spring with TNIM, as the group is staging three, one-act plays written by local playwrights in May. An Evening of One-Act Plays is taking place May 11 to 13 at 7:30 p.m. and culminating with a matinee on May 14 at 2 p.m.
This fall, TNIM is will be performing Jigsaws by Jennifer Rogers, directed by Heddy Sorour. This play sees family life as a jigsaw puzzle and charts three generations of the same family as they come to terms with changing circumstances and attitudes. Look for it November 23 to 25, 2023 at 7:30 p.m., as well as Nov. 26 at 2 p.m.
Accolades And Moving Forward
TNIM also is a part of the Eastern Ontario Drama League which has been fostering interest and development in the performing arts for 90 years. The EODL provides community theatre groups with communications throughout the province, while promoting artistic and technical standards, as well as encouraging education in theatre arts. Steenburgh said it furthers that vision by hosting festivals and adjudicating performances.
She said TNIM has hosted and participated in the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s Full Length and One-Act festivals, and last fall TNIM was nominated for awards in several categories. In past, the group has been successful taking home top honours for its endeavours, stemming from categories such as acting, directing, costumes, music, original script, set design, and more.
Steenburgh notes that it speaks to the variety of roles needed to produce a successful run. She said there is more going on behind the scenes, aside from acting, which is essential to the play itself. In fact, Steenurgh said the organization is looking for more people interested in being involved. “You don’t have to be an actor; you can help with all sorts of roles from set design to stage managing – we’ll even mentor interested people. We have a lot of fun and it’s a wonderful way to be involved in the community.”
For more information or for tickets to upcoming shows once on sale, visit merrickvilltheatre.org or find Theatre Night in Merrickville on Facebook @MerrickvilleTheatre.