The 45th season of ECHO Players is off to a strong start, according to club president Mike Andrews and vice-president Jennifer Kelly.
The Qualicum Beach theatre institution is just about to wrap up their Christmas play, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, on Dec. 29. The show sold out shortly after opening, and features 22 kids and teenagers from around the mid-Island.
“A huge highlight for us in the past few years and going forward is attracting more young people to this theatre. I think it’s one of the accomplishments that we feel strongly about,” said Kelly.
New for the season is the introduction of a Performing Arts scholarship for youth involved with ECHO, which helps provide young artists with a $1,000 award that can be used towards a recognized workshop, festival, performing arts class or a post-secondary course.
“Dance schools, music schools – these things are expensive. As of this year, our new scholarship will go to an ECHO Players youth,” said Kelly.
The 2019-20 season started off with Grace & Glorie, a two-actor play that was well-received by the community.
Don’t be fooled by the fact there are only two actors on stage – Kelly and Andrews stress that it truly takes a village to put on a theatre show.
In fact, ECHO Players boasts a membership of over 250 people. Out of those hundreds, only one person, a part-time bookkeeper, is paid. Everyone else does it for the pure love of the craft.
“Every show usually needs at least 60 volunteers to come forward,” said Andrews.
That includes stage hands, set builders, lighting and sound technicians, concession, tickets, ushers, a bartender, costume designers and many more.
“The people who don’t get seen – I call them the unspoken heroes,” said Kelly.
The group also works to share knowledge among themselves through a mentorship program. Many of the people wear different hats, like Andrews, who started out as a set builder and is now serving his third term as the group’s president. On the day he sat down for this interview, Andrews was filling in for an actor that wasn’t able to make it to the show that night.
“For every show, what we’re trying to do is take on different positions so that way we can have a mentorship program, and we can just keep growing our volunteers, keep learning and keep teaching,” said Andrews.
When asked what the best part of being part of ECHO is, both are quick to reply that it’s all about the people.
“It’s our full-time life. And we love it,” said Andrews.
Both also speak to the great importance of fostering the arts within a community.
“The arts have a profound effect on people’s lives. I think that we see so many cutbacks to education, in arts are some of the first ones to go. And yet, the arts touch peoples lives because they’re speaking stories, and humans can relate to these beautiful stories. They talk about emotions, and whether it’s a drama or comedy, ways that we can relate to each other,” said Kelly.
“I think they have a huge impact on our society. They create empathy, and we can relate to characters. Even if we’ve not gone through that story, it evokes that beautiful emotion. And music, and musicals, people love to hear it. Not just for the entertainment quality, but it’s a sense of incredible appreciation.”
Andrews adds that as a non-profit society, all the money ECHO raises goes directly back into the community, and the Village Theatre. The group recently had the roof redone, and put a new HVAC system in.
“Everything that we do is re-invested back into this building. So all the people that support us know, as a non-profit society, the money is back in here. To improve the situation for them, our patrons,” said Andrews.
For 2019 highlights, the two say they’re proud of being able to put on the Canadian debut of the play Second Chances written by Parksville resident David Jewell and featuring music by Jewell and Nanaimo’s Nico Rhodes.
They’re looking forward to the upcoming production of The Secret Garden. The musical is an adaptation from the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and is directed by Kelly.
“This is a musical for all ages alike. It’s a classic tale, and it’s really about the human spirit. It’s about healing, and how nature can heal. Just like when you tend to a garden, it will grow back. When you tend to the human spirit and you care about relationships and people, they will also heal. So it’s got a beautiful story, and a wonderful message, and the music is just captivating,” said Kelly.
For information about what ECHO is up to for the year ahead, interested folks can visit the newly revamped website at www.echoplayers.ca.