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Elmira Theatre Company celebrates 40 years

ETC members such as Doug McDonald, Rosemarie Ens, Alice Soeder and Bev Dietrich are celebrating the group’s 40th anniversary. [Damon Maclean]

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Elmira Theatre Company would normally have staged something to mark the occasion. That option being off the table just now, the group has opted for a digital reflection of the past four decades.

“There’s a couple of us that are, working like mad dogs to put together what we’re calling the blast from the past. And we’re putting together all our history,” said ETC’s Bev Dietrich.

With 40 years’ of productions under its belt, ETC’s history can’t be summed up quickly.

“It means that we are a very active, dynamic and incredible theatre company that has kept going for all these years,” said Dietrich of the milestone.

ETC has indeed been successful, staging numerous plays and growing to the point of building its own theatre space in Elmira, not to mention the numerous awards along the way.

Dietrich has been actively involved in the theatre since 1988 before attending nearly every performance by the troupe.

“Like most of us, we were really involved in theatre in high school, and we were under the Gord Davis reign,” she said, referencing the now-retired EDSS drama teacher and well-known director.

Among those involved in the 1981 launch were those who missed the feeling of performing in high school.

While the actual 40th anniversary season remains on hold due to the COVID-19 situation, ETC is technically still working on its 39th.

“We can’t even announce what our 40th season is going to be, because we’re still finishing off our 39th season. So our poor show Of Mice and Men is sitting there in limbo, waiting for their chance to go on and show us what they’ve got,” said Dietrich of the cast and crew of the classic John Steinbeck tale.

In the meantime, ETC has created a YouTube series entitled ‘Trip Down Memory Lane.’ The untraditional platform gives members the chance to reflect on their experience at the company and share favourite memories with the community. So far, there have been three episodes, and hosts have included Dietrich, Deb Deckert and Brian Otto.

“On our YouTube channel, [we have] 10 different members [that] have filmed themselves, highlighting some aspects of theatre to that have stuck out to them.”

Brian Otto’s volume is entitled Moonlight and Magnolias. In the video, Otto explains that his first show with the company was in 1992, and since then, he has been involved in approximately 12 productions. Otto has performed in plays, worked behind the bar, volunteered in 50/50 sales and worked in the parking lot. It’s the standard many hats of community theatre, though “mostly I’ve been an actor,” he said.

Otto reflects on the 2010 season play of Moonlight & Magnolias – “it was quite an experience.”

During the second act, Otto vividly remembers fellow ETC stalwart Gord Cameron “literally rolling around on the floor struggling to peel a banana. It was a very, very dramatic opening for [the second act].” The rest of the episodes reflects on the realities of the play, both positive and negative.

The video series is ripe with emotions from the members reflecting on the legacy that ETC has created and the impact it has had on many lives. The YouTube series is open to the public on their channel ‘Elmira Theatre Company,’ but the blast from the past is for members only to create a more intimate experience.

“The videos go out to all our subscribers and in-theatre patrons and members, with the blast from the past it’s just going to go to our members. We’ve got a 40th anniversary committee set up, headed by Doug McDonald, who’s one of the board members,” said Dietrich.

The blast from the past will include old photos and memories shareable between members. The walk down memory lane helps fill in the time until new stagings can resume.

“We can’t really do anything until we know what the future is going to look like,” she said.

With the uncertainty of the theatre industry during COVID-19, the company has mostly dismissed the idea of virtual productions and instead encouraged patrons to hold on.

“We will all conquer this. We will make our theatre as safe as possible for the patrons, our members and cast and crew, so that everyone can come back to the live-theatre experience, because that’s what it’s all about,” said Dietrich.

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