Twenty-five years ago, Bev Dietrich joined the Elmira Theatre Company as an assistant stage manager. “Back then, you just jumped in with both feet not knowing what’s involved,” she laughs. “My very good friend Chris Grose said, ‘Oh, come on out, we need a stage manager.’”Since that fateful production, back when the company still operated at the St. Jacobs community centre, she has worked on more than 90 shows – as an actor, director, producer, volunteer, and especially stage manager. In May, that hard work will be recognized. Dietrich will be honoured for her years of work by Theatre Ontario, which has voted to present her with the Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre.
“She just kind of fell into the role of stage management,” says Chris Grose. “As a result of that, she’s mentored many, many other people into the stage management position.”
Nominated by the Elmira Theatre Company and endorsed by the Western Ontario Drama League, Dietrich has been cited for involvement, commitment, and generosity of spirit “legendary” within the region.
“I didn’t give it another thought, because I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine that I would win,” she says. “The names were all given to the board to vote on, and I saw who else was up there along with my own name.”
Over the past 25 years, Dietrich notes that she’s gained more skill and experience in her job, but also that “It’s not the same as it was 25 years ago.” Indeed, in her long tenure she has been a witness to the company’s growth and evolution. The biggest change came six years ago, when the company moved into its own space at 64 Howard Ave. after years of rented, makeshift spaces.
“I stage managed the first show at the new place, and they were literally building the building around us as we rehearsed,” she remembers.
“One night we were rehearsing at one end of the space, and they were painting the ceiling and had the big scaffolding in. As the night went on, we just gradually moved as they moved the scaffolding.”
Since the move, the company’s annual schedule has expanded from two shows to four, and all the work that comes with it. “We have our own theatre space now, so now we’ve got to get bums in seats and we have to support that theatre space,” she says.
“It’s a huge involvement now if you want to be involved in all four shows. It can burn me out, and I recognize that. But I’ll have a major involvement in at least two of the shows, and the other two shows I’ll do house management, or something that’s not as time-intensive.”
One of her proudest accomplishments was bringing the Western Ontario Drama League Minifest to Elmira for the first time in 2009 (Dietrich is chair of the program, and sits on the WODL board). The festival, which gives six community theatre companies a chance to stage the same one-act play, provides an educational opportunity for aspiring directors and actors.
“After the end of each play, the workshop leader does a 20-30-minute workshop with them. ‘What if you did this? What if you tried this? This was really great,’ so it’s a learning experience for everybody.”
But stage management remains her legacy, says Grose.
“That’s a position that carries all of the organization and management of cast and crew within the umbrella of the production. The stage manager oversees everything that has to do with the production. … Anything that happens on the stage – lights, sound – that’s all her responsibility under that umbrella.”
When asked for advice for aspiring theatrical artists, Dietrich says, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, and try to learn as much as you can from different people. And have fun with it – if you’re not having fun, it’s time to get out. I would not be in it if I wasn’t having fun.”