Cultivating Creativity: Bitten hard by the theatre bug

By Peter Paylor

Ian Feltham traces his love for theatre back to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. As he tells me about first seeing Robert Chafe’s Butler’s Marsh at the Longshoremen’s Hall, the depth of that love becomes more and more obvious as his accent grows thicker.

Feltham didn’t get involved in theatre himself until he turned forty and his wife, Siobhan, got the acting bug after taking on a role in Godspell with the Mokami Player in Happy Valley Goose Bay. When the company couldn’t find an actor to play the male lead in their next production, Feltham was thrown in at the deep end. The play was A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. Feltham, now a veteran actor, says the part was “to this day the biggest role of my life. I studied harder than I did for medical school.”

That was it. “After that”, he says, “everything in my eye was seen through the lens of theatre.” That included his job as Medical Officer of Health. He became convinced that theatre could play a vital role in public health messaging. He believed that research had more impact when presented as a human story. When the province’s economy shifted from ground fishery to crab fishery, forcing more and more women to take on jobs in crab processing, Newfoundland and Labrador found itself facing a public health dilemma with an endemic condition known as crab asthma. That’s when Feltham added playwright to his theatre resume. His play, A Second Wind took the public health message from the confines of the clinic and onto the stage, playing in crab plants and union halls and eventually in the Stephenville Theatre Festival. It was later adapted into a short film.

When Feltham moved to the Quinte region in 2005, he was encouraged by someone he met at CFB Trenton where he served as a Civilian Flight Surgeon, to try out for a part at the Brighton Barn Theatre. After a few years there, he heard that the Belleville Theatre Guild was casting for The Mousetrap and from that he found a new theatre family closer to home, first as an actor and more recently as a director; a role he has taken on with passion and critical success.

Feltham describes 2019 as “a dream year for me.” First up is a return to acting in the role of Robert in David Auburn’s powerful drama Proof, directed for the Belleville Theatre Guild by Bill McMahon. Feltham says working with the veteran director has taught him a lot. “Being directed informs the way I direct, as well as the way I act. Working with Bill, I’ve been listening much better than I ever have, which gives me more fulfillment as an actor.”

After that comes a project that Feltham has been looking forward to for a very long time; in May he will be directing the play that first excited him twenty years ago at the Longshoremen’s Hall, Robert Chafe’s Butler’s Marsh. His excitement for the project is infectious. “I want to know, can I create something that’s a little different, a little darker maybe, but different from what we’re used to? Can we use the space in a different way?” Feltham will be producing the play at the Old Church Theatre in Trenton along with the world premiere, his own play Nightshade, a supernatural love story with a twist.

Later in the year, the Belleville Theatre Guild will open their 2019-2020 season by presenting another one of Feltham’s original plays as part of their annual One Act Festival before Feltham takes on the directing role again later in the season for another Robert Chafe play, the bittersweet Tempting Providence. Sounds like a dream year.

Proof opens January 31 and runs until February 16 at the Pinnacle Playhouse (www.bellevilletheatreguild.ca)

Butler’s Marsh and Nightshade run May 3, 4 and 5 at the Old Church Theatre (www.oldchurch.ca)