Lennox Community Theatre
The Lennox Community Theatre: Where Stage & History Knit Community
By Ardith Racey
What keeps a village theatre group going for almost 90 years? Andy Palmer, Secretary of the Lennox Community Theatre group in Selby, ON, credits the group’s founding members, as well as the community’s generosity and passion for theatre. Palmer’s been personally involved with the group for 27 years as an actor, playwright, and board member.
“The group goes back to 1937 and has existed in a variety of locations,” says Palmer. Its home today is a quaint, brick, former Methodist church, built in 1875, and although the lancet windows have been painted over, the space has a strong spiritual essence. The church later became the Richmond Township offices which were relocated in the late 70s, after which it was leased to the group for a nominal fee. In the early 90s, the group began fundraising for renovations, and with the help of a ‘Wintario’ grant, the volunteer labour of community members, which included inmates of the Quinte Detention Centre, the church was transformed into a theatre. Its 80 maroon seats (with vintage wooden arms) were purchased from a movie theatre in nearby Deseronto. A sophisticated lighting system (with a travelling spot) was added, as well as a sound system which is rarely used given the excellent acoustics of the space. When the township became part of Greater Napanee, the group purchased the building in 1998.
“We try to have a finger on the pulse of what our viewing community would like to see, and we encourage multi-generational interaction and participation at every level – on stage, backstage, with administration, costuming, sets, lighting, sound,” says Palmer.
They do four or five productions each year, which adds to more than 120 shows, and although they’ve done musicals such as Godspell, and serious works such as A Walk in the Woods and Wait Until Dark, they try to stay with works that are lighter, as well as at least one large cast production that includes children and teens. In fact, Avril Lavigne starred in a production of Charlie Brown when she was eleven years old.
Over the years, they’ve done several Nunsense series, Christmas pantomimes such as Cinderella and A Christmas Carol, as well as dramatic plays such as Proof, Steel Magnolias, The Sunshine Boys and Educating Rita. They use Canadian playwrights as much as possible: their most recent production last September was Norm Foster’s The Ladies Foursome (they did the male version of the same play twenty years ago) directed by Chris Newton. Local playwrights such as John Corrigan, Richard Linley, Michelle Dorey Forestell have been strongly featured. Auditions are open to all and “almost always the actors are local,” says Palmer, who has been in at least 37 different productions. The seven-member board decides on the play.
That this theatre has survived for so long is due to its community support. Its founders (Ron MacPherson, Wes & James Alkenbreck, Judy Dowling, William Smith), together with the staunch support of people such as Jean Morrison (former owner of The Napanee Beaver) have pillared a tremendous loyalty. The local drugstore – Gray’s IDA – acted as their ticket agent until just before COVID. Tickets can now be purchased online on their website.
Given the group’s mandate to be as inclusive as possible, together with a very dedicated band of volunteers – the backbone of every community theatre – and a history of support that knits together the Selby community, theatre in this village is very much alive, collected and connected.
For tickets and more information check out https://www.lennoxtheatre.ca/
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