Theatre was alive and well in the Shuswap for a number of years before the current society was registered in 1978. Our archives contain newspaper articles and pictures dating back to the 1960s when the group called itself the Shuswap Players. In 1977, Jack Alouf, Recreation Director for the District of Salmon Arm, and teacher James Bowlby advertised a meeting. To their surprise, twenty- four people showed up at the drama room of J.L. Jackson Junior Secondary. From this group, three productions were organized for Shuswap Theatre’s first season.
Performing in a school gym presented many challenges. By the end of the first year it was clear that in order to thrive, the group needed its own home. The building next to Tappen Co-op, which had been a supper club among other things, was rented and for the next two years productions were held there. While it was a huge improvement over the school gym, there were still challenges with a complex heating system, a low ceiling and inadequate off-stage space. Over one hundred volunteers worked hard to raise funds and then harder still to renovate the old Shuswap Radiator building on Hudson Street, opening in our very own building (our current location) in 1981. The whole community was behind the effort with many businesses donating materials. It was a huge undertaking at the time, but well worth the effort and a big reason why Shuswap Theatre has had such a successful history.
With the wealth of experience and talent in the area, Shuswap Theatre repeatedly produces top quality theatre and has won numerous awards at both zone and provincial levels. Following the pattern of our first year, each season has consisted of three Main Stage productions, one each in the fall, winter and spring with the final production being our entry into the Okanagan Zone Festival. Some years a Christmas production, often a pantomime, has been added to the season. At times we have also mounted a summer theatre play. Most recently we have been offering Youth Theatre programs which have proven very popular. There is also a successful weekly happening of Seniors’ Theatre, led by Peter Blacklock.
A few years ago an Improv group was formed, taking the name Laughing Gas Improv Troupe, the group meets twice a month and performs for a growing and enthusiastic audience three times each year.
Many people, past and present, have been responsible for the success and growth of Shuswap Theatre. Agnes Rudeen (the grand dame of local theatre) was involved in almost every aspect, including the maintenance of an extensive archive. Steve Heal was an-other member who devoted his life to Shuswap Theatre. Voni Grindler was there from the beginning. Apart from directing, acting and being involved in other aspects of many shows, she mentored more than a few people over the years. Although never aspiring to be on stage, Lois Higgins worked tirelessly in many capacities. She and Marcia Beckner spearheaded fundraising and obtained grants to make the dream of our own theatre a reality. A few of those involved during the Tappen era are still very active with Shuswap Theatre, including James Bowlby, Jake Jacobson, Cilla Budda, Julia Body, Patrick Benson, Kim and Susan MacMillan.
In the last few years three people who contributed much to the theatre have died. In each case money was donated to the Theatre in their memory. The money has been used to buy capital items. At the annual meeting in 2014 theatre members voted to open a Shuswap Theatre Endowment Fund with the Shuswap Community Foundation. This would ensure that such donations would earn revenue on an ongoing basis. Donations to the fund are welcome at anytime.