Married to the Theatre

Actor Ian Deakin, who has two featured roles this summer with the Watermark Theatre, has been a professional actor in this country for 45 years. He has also been with his wife, costume designer Bonnie Deakin, for those same 45 years. Ian has had a long and prolific career by any standard and his relationship with Bonnie has endured while navigating the often rewarding but difficult world of Canadian theatre.

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Ian plays Victor Velasco in Barefoot in the Park and Sir George Crofts in Mrs. Warren’s Profession on stage at the Watermark until September 2nd. Bonnie designed the costumes for both plays at the Watermark this summer while also working as Head of Wardrobe at The Confederation Centre.

A busy schedule for them both but at least they’re on the Island together. Both artists have traversed the country chasing work their entire careers. “Dashing across the country from job to job is really no different now than it was 45 years ago”, says Ian, “the world has changed, and we have both grown richer as artists because of it. Longevity is possibly the only mark of true success for a working actor or designer in this country, as fame is often fleeting. Fortunately we will go on as long as there is someone willing to take a chance on either of us. Retirement is merely another signpost to observe as we head off to the next contract in another part of the country. In the theatre we’re all wastrels and vagabonds and thieves!”

The two met in high school in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “We were both in a production of Dr Helen Creighton’s The Broken Ring, says Bonnie, “we were good chums then, and fell in love years later, during a production of Cosi Fan Tutti”. Ian describes the proposal: “I was on my knees in formal dress in the green room of Halifax’s Neptune Theatre between the second and third act of The Matchmaker, I was playing August the waiter. I immediately dashed back on to the stage to await my answer.  The reply solidified both my personal and professional future.”

Bonnie talks about those first years together: “when we were first married, I followed Ian everywhere. We had a big steamer trunk, and those days were exciting and fun. It was a great way to stay together and learn about theatre and each other. We met, and worked with, so many of this country’s theatre greats.” Of course life has its ups and downs and relationships in this business aren’t always easy.

“After 10 years, when our son Robin came along”, Bonnie explains, “I stayed home, often taking freelance work that could be done from my kitchen. Feathers and trims and bits of materials would be in every room, but it meant that Robin was able to come home for lunch, and I could take him to school, and hockey, and lessons. Ian was always on the road it seemed. It was hard. There was no internet in those days and phone calls were expensive. His return home was always an adjustment. We had to keep reminding ourselves of what our intent was when we made our commitment to each other.”

Ian has worked from coast to coast and spent 13 seasons at the Stratford Festival in such productions as The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Cymbeline and The Odyssey. He appeared on Broadway with Christopher Plummer in King Lear at the Lincoln Centre, and Off Broadway at City Centre in Much Ado About Nothing and The Miser. Bonnie worked for many years at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario and has designed costumes in theatres across Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and El Salvador. She recently designed costumes for A Christmas Carol for Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon, and at The Confederation Centre she designed for Glenda’s Kitchen and The Voices of Canada.

Bonnie and Ian are especially grateful to have this summer together here on the Island. “For the last year and a half Ian has been the primary caregiver for our son Robin, who sustained a catastrophic brain injury in a car accident”, explains Bonnie. “Ian has been on the front line every day and I have been the breadwinner. This summer has been a golden opportunity for Robin to rediscover independent living, and for us to get reacquainted, and for Ian to perform in two great roles. It’s a rare thing for us to work on the same production, this has been a very positive experience.”

And how has their time been on the Island? “I’m delighted to be working with the Watermark this summer” says Ian, “my admiration for the amazingly gifted cast and crew, to be working with Bonnie again after many years, being here on PEI, and to be sharing with her the beauty of this Island”. Bonnie concurs, “I love this island. The people are warm and welcoming.  I have the kindest landlords who look after me, and now welcome Ian. There is music, art and theatre all around, always something to do, and the restaurants and seafood are wonderful.”

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What is Young at Heart?

Young At Heart Musical Theatre For Seniors, Inc. is a not-for-profit, charitable organization, based in Prince Edward Island that provides professional and original musical theatre productions for senior citizens in long-term care and retirement facilities.

We are currently in our 10th year of operation and we are the only organization of its kind east of Ontario. We exist to enrich the lives of senior citizens who are generally isolated by giving them a vibrant and interactive experience that will brighten their spirits and potentially improve their health and well-being.

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The Atlantic region’s aging population solidifies our mandate to continue to provide vibrant and original Canadian musicals to those with little chance of seeing a show outside of their retirement and long-term care facilities. We have touched the lives of thousands of senior citizens in more than 30 facilities in PEI with several original Canadian musical shows.

Senior citizens, as many studies have shown, benefit greatly from both music and theatre. Some noted improvements included increased awareness and concentration, enhanced awareness and social interaction, improved memory and recall, better mobility and coordination, diminished pain and tension, improved recovery times and relaxations, and of course a happier outlook on life. Older adults that are exposed to music and theatre have shown improvements in anxiety, depression and loneliness levels which are three key factors in maintaining proper mental and physical health.

Our company, whose primary focus is on performing for long term care residents, touches on every one of those benefits, lifting their spirits, hearts and minds, and enriching seniors’ lives.

Confederation Centre Remembers Michael Shurman

The staff and board of Confederation Centre of the Arts are mourning the loss of Michael S. Schurman, a beloved friend who served for 12 years on the board of directors, and for the past eight years as chair of the Major Gifts and Endowments Committee. He was also the Founding Chair of the Confederation Centre of the Arts Foundation Board, a position he held until his death on Saturday, October 15, 2016, at age 79.

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“Mike’s counsel to the board of directors and management, and his contributions, insights, and knowledge across both boards were greatly valued by his fellow directors as well as Centre staff,” said Wayne Hambly, chair of the board of directors, “His presence at Confederation Centre will be sorely missed. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Mike was also a generous, long-time Centre donor, passionate about the value of arts education and the significance of Confederation Centre to Prince Edward Island. Mike spent Friday night at the Centre with his wife Pat, dining at Mavor’s before attending The Nylons concert in the Homburg Theatre.

His legacy at the Centre will continue through the Michael S. Schurman Family Foundation Endowment Fund, which supports programming in arts education. Through school collaborations, summer camps, and year-round classes and activities, this fund helps introduce children to the arts in a fun and professional setting. The Schurman Fund also provides individual youth scholarships, arts outreach to youth in Summerside, and allows the Centre to continue long-running programs, such as the Confederation Centre Youth Chorus and dance umbrella. Appropriately, the venue where a number of these activities take place is named The Michael S. Schurman Family Studio in honour of his dedication and kindness.

In 2009, Mike was honoured with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Patron of the Arts, honouring an Islander who has made a significant financial contribution in any of the practices of visual arts, writing and publishing, music, dance, fine craft, theatre, film, or video. He donated the honourarium portion of the award back to dance umbrella.

“Besides being an exceptionally generous supporter, Mike’s experience, leadership, and commitment was extraordinarily valuable to the board, and he was hugely important in the creation and oversight of the Confederation Centre of the Arts Foundation,” said Centre CEO Jessie Inman. “This is a great loss for the Centre, and for our entire Island community.”

The Schurman family were well-known for their leadership in business and the local community, having owned and operated a construction, building supply, and related businesses throughout the Atlantic region for over 100 years. The Schurman family were Summerside residents for more than a century, with Mike having only recently relocated to Stratford. Mike led his family’s lifelong and very active involvement in many Island community causes through their charitable foundation, the Michael S. Schurman Family Foundation.

Mike built a great reputation as a talented business executive, a passionate community leader with an unparalleled commitment to his home province and devotion to his family. He was awarded an honourary degree from UPEI in 2009 in recognition of his many contributions to P.E.I. Generous gifts from the Michael S. Schurman Family Foundation span the entire Island, some of the highest profile being the re-launch of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Change of Heart program; the dramatic entrance at UPEI’s School of Business Administration, The Schurman Market Square; and The Schurman Resource Centre located at Holland College’s Waterfront Campus in Summerside, encompassing both a library and a computer commons.

Resting at Belvedere Funeral Home, funeral service will be from the St. James Presbyterian Church ‘The Kirk’ this Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Visiting hours are Wednesday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Memorial donations may be made to the Prince County Hospital Foundation or the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation.

Who is Robert Tsonos?

Robert Tsonos, Artistic Director of the Watermark Theatre, has had a distinguished international directing career having worked in Japan, Hong Kong, England, and Venezuela; he was a member of the Watermark Theatre acting company for the past two seasons; and was the Director of the company’s national tour of Canada 300. Mr. Tsonos was the resident director at the Canadian Embassy Theatre in Tokyo from 2003 to 2006 and has been the Artistic Director of Sometimes Y Theatre for the past 17 years.

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Robert’s directing credits include Shakespeare’s Will and Old Times at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Elisa’s Skin for TEATRELA in Caracas, The Goat at the Hong Kong Fringe Club, La Ronde for Temple University Japan,‘night, Mother at the Etcetera Theatre in London and the Dancehall Theatre in Manchester; Vigil, The Drawer Boy, and For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again at the Canadian Embassy Theatre; and A Doll’s House and Proof for Tokyo International Players.

Robert‘s theatre acting credits include An Ideal Husband, Romeo & Juliet, The Rainmaker and The Lion In Winter (Watermark Theatre); Macbeth (Shouson Theatre Hong Kong), The Domino Heart and Problem Child (Canadian Embassy Theatre, Tokyo), True West (Akasaka Playbox, Tokyo), The Qualities of Zero, Ines de Castro, Total Body Washout, and Romeo & Rosaline (Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space), Othello (Persephone Theatre), The Grey Zone (Poor Alex Theatre) and Three Days of Rain (Sudbury Theatre Centre).

As a playwright, Robert‘s play It’s Time won the Uprising National Playwriting Competition, placed 2nd in the 84th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, and was a finalist for the Herman Voaden Playwriting Competition. His play The Hum was produced in Hong Kong; was a finalist for The Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition; and was published by Level 4 Press in “Regional Best 2012”. His play William & James has been produced in Toronto (Theatre Passe Muraille), New York, Montreal and Ottawa. His other plays include In His Name, Sharnoozle!, which toured international schools in Tokyo, the CBC Radio play Ice Age, as well as I Am Not The One, and Running – 3 short plays.

Mr. Coward at the Watermark Theatre

Noel Peirce Coward, whose play “Blithe Spirit” is at the Watermark Theatre all summer, was born on December 16, 1899, receiving his first name because Christmas was just days away. From an early age, Noel was intelligent, temperamental, and an instinctive performer, making his first stage appearances in amateur concerts at age seven. He loved to sing and dance at any excuse and threw frightful tantrums if he was not summoned to perform for guests.

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With his mother’s encouragement, he launched his professional acting career at the age of 12, making his London debut as Prince Mussel in a children’s show called The Goldfish. He appeared in several West End productions, including the “lost boy” Slightly in two West End editions of Peter Pan.

In the early 1900s, England was a very class-conscious society. A boy actor born to poor parents would have been snubbed by the upper classes. However, Coward’s extraordinary determination and charm won him an entree into the chicest circles. His professional and social ambitions were insatiable.

I Leave It To You (1920) was Coward’s first full length play produced in the West End, with Noel playing a leading role – quite an accomplishment for a lad of 21. The brief run brought encouraging reviews, whetting Coward’s appetite for more.

The London production of his play The Young Idea (1923) was a mild success, with Noel playing one of the lead roles. That same year, producer Andre Charlot featured several of Coward’s songs in the hit revue London Calling. While all this was happening, Noel put the finishing touches on a daring drama that would change his career – and his life – forever.

He wrote, directed and starred in The Vortex (1924), a searing look at sexual vanity and drug abuse among the upper classes. When most producers refused to consider such a lurid project, the small Everyman Theatre in suburban London agreed to take it on.
On opening night, the audience was both shocked and fascinated by The Vortex. The combination of fiery acting and scandalous subject matter made The Vortex the talk of London. Other plays had depicted drug abuse, but not among the rich. Demand was such that the production soon moved to a larger West End theatre for an extended run, making Coward a sensation.

With the sudden success of The Vortex, Coward was in demand. Over the two years he starred in the London and New York productions, as well as an American tour. Coward also wrote the hilarious comedy Hay Fever (1925), which triumphed in London, and the hit West End revue On With The Dance (1925). He also turned out Fallen Angels (1925), Easy Virtue (1925), The Queen Was in the Parlour (1926) and The Rat Trap (1926). Most of these plays were at least partially successful, but he was working at a punishing pace.

Coward prospered through the worst of the Great Depression, enjoying a lifestyle most people could only dream about. A dedicated traveler, he went on a series of extended journeys to escape the pressures of show business. During one 1929 stay in Singapore, he finished the first draft of Private Lives (1930), which proved to be a highlight of his career. Coward co-starred with a then unknown Laurence Olivier, playing to packed houses in both London and New York.

Coward then wrote and directed Cavalcade (1931). Acclaimed on the London stage, the film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1933.

In 1942, he turned out a trio of hit plays, including the semi-autobiographical comedy Present Laughter (1942) and the cockney drama This Happy Breed (1942). His biggest wartime hit was Blithe Spirit (1942). The play proved one of Coward’s most popular successes, with character actress Margaret Rutherford winning stardom as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati. She repeated her role in a superb film version three years later.
The years following the war were difficult for Coward. Other than the London revue Sigh No More (1945), most of his new works met with commercial failure. Coward knew instinctively that his writing was better than ever, but it seemed that the public’s tastes had changed.

A 1963 revival of Private Lives took London by storm, sparking renewed interest in Coward’s plays on both sides of the Atlantic. Revivals and TV productions of his works followed and continue to this day.

In January of 1973, Noel visited New York for a gala performance of the off-Broadway revue Oh Coward! He arrived with longtime friend Marlene Dietrich on his arm. Bent with age and illness, he remained the personification of elegance. Friends sensed that he was declining, but no one realized that his would be his last public appearance. In the early morning hours of Monday, March 26, 1973, Noel Coward suffered a stroke at his home in Jamaica.

Mr. Williams at the Watermark Theatre

Tennessee Williams wrote “The Glass Menagerie” – on this summer at the Watermark Theatre! Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III was an American playwright and author of many stage classics. Along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller he is considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama.

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Tennessee was born on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second of Cornelius and Edwina Williams’ three children. Williams described his childhood in Mississippi as pleasant and happy. But life changed for him when his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The carefree nature of his boyhood was stripped in his new urban home, and as a result Williams turned inward and started to write.

His parent’s marriage certainly didn’t help. Often strained, the Williams home could be a tense place to live. “It was just a wrong marriage,” Williams later wrote. The family situation, however, did offer fuel for the playwright’s art. His mother became the model for the foolish but strong Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, while his father represented the aggressive, driving Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

When he was 28, Williams moved to New Orleans, where he changed his name (he landed on Tennessee because his father hailed from there) and revamped his lifestyle, soaking up the city life that would inspire his work, most notably the later play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1940 Williams’ play, Battle of Angels, debuted in Boston. It quickly flopped, but the hardworking Williams revised it and brought it back as Orpheus Descending, which later was made into the movie, The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani.
Other work followed, including a gig writing scripts for MGM. But Williams’ mind was never far from the stage. On March 31, 1945, a play he’d been working for some years, The Glass Menagerie, opened on Broadway.

Critics and audiences alike lauded the play, about a declassed Southern family living in a tenement, forever changing Williams’ life and fortunes. Two years later, A Streetcar Named Desire opened, surpassing his previous success and cementing his status as one of the country’s best playwrights. The play also earned Williams a Drama Critics’ Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.

His subsequent work brought more praise. The hits from this period included Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.

The 1960s were a difficult time for Williams. His work received poor reviews and increasingly the playwright turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. In 1969 his brother hospitalized him. Upon his release, Williams got right back to work. He churned out several new plays as well as Memoirs in 1975, which told the story of his life and his afflictions.

But he never fully escaped his demons. Surrounded by bottles of wine and pills, Williams died in a New York City hotel room on February 25, 1983.

From Art to the Arts, and Musicals, Too

The massive complex in the heart of Charlottetown might seem a tiny bit intimidating on first glance – imposing architecture, a full city block, four large sandstone cubes. But once you’ve stepped onto the property of Confederation Centre of the Arts, you soon sense the people-friendly atmosphere that permeates this cultural centre that is officially Canada’s memorial to the founding fathers. Visitors enjoy ice cream and a live brass quintet, families crowd into the amphitheatre for a rousing (and free) noontime show by a corps of young “triple threats,” and culture buffs study public works of art.

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Venture inside and the fun continues. Newly opened in 2015 is “The Story of Confederation,” a startlingly realistic replica (also free) of the original Confederation Chamber, where the 1864 Charlottetown Conference discussions led to the creation of a country. The original chamber in Province House next door is currently closed for conservation work, but the first-rate film and interpretation provide a full and entertaining explanation of nation building Canadian style. For more on Confederation, visitors take in a vignette or walking tour with the Confederation Players, easily recognized by their warm wool suits and charming gowns – really the only folks around town wearing top hats and carrying fluttering fans.

Stepping across the pavilion and into Confederation Centre Art Gallery, you find yourself in a completely new setting, surrounded by contemporary art exhibits and historical artifacts. The exhibits extend from the four upstairs galleries into the lower concourse of the complex, and the classic Brutalist-style architecture of the 1964 building protects the treasure trove of culture within, but a pleasant surprise in the partly underground hallways is the beautiful light-filled, marble-clad space called Memorial Hall, where the founding of Canada is officially commemorated.

It’s not possible to leave Confederation Centre without taking in some live theatre. The Charlottetown Festival is noted for its first-class Canadian musicals, most famously for Guinness-record setting Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™, in 2016 running alongside the blockbuster Mamma Mia! and Soulpepper’s latest success Spoon River. With tickets in hand, fully inspired by visual art and historical anecdotes, it seems a perfect moment to settle at a table in Mavor’s courtyard – the finest outdoor dining in the city – with dinner and a drink before the show.