For her longstanding contribution to the area’s arts scene, Michele Boniface was last week one of 15 recipients of an Ontario Senior Achievement Award.
The Stratford resident was nominated by her city council in recognition of her support of theatre and the work she does with volunteer organizations.
“I was astounded because I had no idea. People I knew, I’d worked with, sent letters of recommendation to city council. I didn’t know anything about it until August when Mayor Dan Mathieson called to tell me about it. I was quite astounded that I was chosen by the city and by the province,” said Boniface.
The award ceremony had to go online this year, as with many events over the last year and a half; family and friends watched from another room. The recipients of the award were recognized by Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho.
Boniface is the co-chair of the board of directors for Off the Wall Stratford Artists Alliance, which teaches students a blend of courses such as prop making, costume design, and set design, all of which can help propel students into their future careers. It also gives jobs to backstage artists who may be out of work due to time constricted contracts.
She noted some of them work at the Stratford Festival, and often find themselves out of work when the shows are over. She has been on the board for some 13 years, working alongside artists and helping propel youth towards their theatre goals. All the board members are volunteers, the artists however, are all paid for their work.
“When you see them coming into the classroom shyly and then you see them coming out with a prop they’ve created or piece of theatrical jewelry they’ve created, and they come out so proud of what they’ve done, I love it. We’ve also had many students go on into careers in theatre – they’ve been inspired by taking some of our Off The Wall courses, and then going on into apprenticing in large theatres like Stratford or being employed in some of the smaller theatres like Blyth or Drayton. We’ve had some success stories and those are really always very gratifying. We’re also very happy to be able to give some work to the backstage artists,” said Boniface.
She is also a member of the Kiwanis Festival of the Performing Arts advisory committee and has routinely been involved in community arts projects.
“Theatre is kind of in my background and in my blood. I’m always interested in being involved in these volunteer organizations.”
Her love for theatre started at an early age, as she fondly remembers playing Cinderella for a family play in her uncle’s backyard when she was a young child. She has been part of theatre on stage and behind the scenes ever since.
“We performed on a stage that was set up between the birch trees on my uncle’s property. I went into children’s theatre, then I performed in high school. I taught school for 10 years and I used to direct the school shows, the musicals. I went out to Alberta for 25 years and there I worked in television and in video production, so I was working with actors, directing actors. And then when I came back to Stratford, I became involved with Off The Wall and others,” Boniface explained.
A love for theatre had her returning to Stratford over the years. She remembers going to her first production in one of Stratford’s well-known white tents, her parents would take their family to see a play there at least once a year.
“My first production was in the tent in 1954, a production of Taming of the Shrew; I was so young I didn’t know what the heck was going on, but I remember the big dresses and I remember lots of yelling and The Taming of the Shrew. My parents made sure we came to the theatre – every year, we came to Stratford. When I was a schoolteacher, I brought my students to Stratford, when I was a high school student, I came to Stratford on the bus.”
Boniface has contributed to numerous projects for her community over the years that involve arts, music, civic beautification, and environmental awareness. She currently has a plaque for the senior achievement award proudly hung on her wall.
“Seniors across the province have felt most directly the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is a delight to be able to celebrate the positive difference seniors make to our communities,” said Dowdeswell in a statement.
“Michele’s tireless efforts over many years to the arts and culture community of Stratford has been exemplary. She has been a dedicated member of a number of organizations, as well as taking on numerous leadership roles. Michele has used her senior years as an opportunity to serve her community, and in doing so, has contributed to the cultural and social fabric of our city. She is a very deserving recipient of this prestigious award,” said Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson.