Pictou County talent the jewel of Rotary stage productions

Published on March 21, 2014

Don Hill, director of Pictou Rotary Club’s stage production, displays a poster for this year’s presentation, Wonderful Town, on next Thursday to Saturday at the deCoste Centre. 

©Rosalie MacEachern

As Rotary Club of Pictou’s production of Wonderful Town goes into its last rehearsals before it hits the stage at the deCoste Centre next weekend, director Don Hill took a moment to remember a boy who played the trumpet in a Rotary Club production of Guys and Dolls about 40 years ago.

“It was my first Rotary Club production and I was there as a member of the Pictou Firemen’s Youth Band. I had no idea Rotary Club and drama production were part of my future,” Hill laughed.

He grew up in Pictou, attended Pictou Academy, went to teachers college and took a job in Oxford. He was teaching what was then known as industrial arts for years before he ventured into drama.

“We had a staff member retiring and she was a great believer in products that could change your life. I put together a little comedy skit for her retirement party. A member of the Maple Players, a community theatre group in Oxford, happened to be at the party and invited me to join.”

As a member of a small drama company, Hill learned every aspect of production.

“I was involved for about a decade and it was great experience. I had the chance to act, to be involved in the music and to learn lighting, sound and directing, as well as set-building.”

Hill’s wife, June, acted in the past and is on standby for anything that might be needed while Hill’s two daughters grew up around productions. When Hill left Oxford to become vice-principal at Pictou Academy, he was invited to join the Rotary Club of Pictou where his drama skills were quickly put to good use.

“Art MacDonald was the director when I got my first acting role. He had been directing for years and after a bit I took over from him.”

One thing has consistently impressed Hill who is directing his 12th show this year.

“I can’t say enough about the talent we have in the county and we’ve got very committed, dedicated people involved in our show. It is an opportunity for people who enjoy drama and it is always fun to see another side of someone you may know in a different setting.”  

To accommodate as much talent as possible, Hill always chooses a show with a large cast – Wonderful Town will have 41 performers.

“It is a comedy, which is what I’m always looking for. It is set in the 1930s, an autobiographical story about two sisters, a journalist and an actress, who go to New York, to Greenwich Village. It is a great show with great music and we’re not Broadway but we’ll make it our own.”

The lead roles in Wonderful Town will be played by Karen Corbin Hughes and Sally O’Neill who debuted last year in Rotary’s Sweet Charity.

“We’ve also got veterans who have been with us for years, including Randy Gilby and Charles McPherson. We depend on Dorothy Bush to co-ordinate costumes and manufacture them when necessary. The 17-piece orchestra of incredibly talented musicians is directed by Dave Pos and we have a solid core of dancers.”

The Rotary production, which is the club’s major fundraiser, also has an avid following in terms of audience.

“We’ve been fortunate to have very good crowds. It really inspires the cast and the orchestra to see the seats filled and we always hope for a sell-out. The royalties for the production are expensive and we need a good crowd to fund local and international projects like the Rotary Shelter Box Program which provides emergency assistance around the world.”

Wonderful Town is a three-day event for the public but Hill spends three-quarters of the year on it. He reads scripts over the summer and announces his choice in September. Auditions begin in November, rehearsals in January.

“We have three rehearsals a week, everybody knows the schedule, and there is a definite time management issue to a production like this.”

Things can and do go wrong, requiring the director, cast, crew and orchestra to improvise as they had to a few years ago when Hill became seriously ill and unable to continue 10 days before the show was to go on stage.

“I was the director and I also had an acting role in The Drowsy Chaperone. A production like ours has no understudies so it was a crisis. John Spyder Macdonald was in the chorus and he stepped up and learned my role in record time. Everybody pitched in and I’m happy to say the show went on without me.”

Before Hill, who is a consultant with Chignecto Central Regional School Board, spent so much time in community theatre he was a competitive curler, playing or practising every day.

“I just took part in Curl for Cancer and I felt quite at home being on the ice again but I can’t do both. I see the show as a bit of a break we provide for the community, a couple of hours of leaving worries behind and getting caught up in a comedy. If the audience response is good and the cast is asking what we’re going to do next year, as they usually are, I’ll take that as a sign people are having fun and want to continue.” 

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca