Featuring: Swing Street Band with guest vocalist Beth Hunt February 8th at Victoria Hall, Cobourg Cocktails – 8 p.m. • Dance at 9 p.m. Dessert buffet – 11 p.m. Tickets: $50 per person Call 905-372-2210 or 1-855-372-2210 Featuring the Swing Street Band with guest vocalists Beth Hunt.
Liz Clark: Well hello, Mrs. Fletcher! We have been working together on theatre projects since before the VOS was founded. You have such a wealth of experience and so many great theatre stories – wanna talk?
Florence Fletcher: Love to!
LC: So you’ve taken a six year break from work as an actress with the VOS to take on projects for the organization as artistic director and producer and props mistress. How does it feel to be back singing and dancing again?
FF: It’s great, I’m enjoying being a cast member again. Getting back to my roots in theatre having the opportunity to step in front of an audience again.
LC: What is the most exciting thing for you as a performer – why do you do it because it’s a lot of work and rehearsal time before the Opening Night pay off?
FF: I enjoy the whole process; rehearsals, developing a character, learning the music and lines, working with the other cast members; the on-stage rehearsals leading up to Dress Rehearsal when we work through the show night after night honing the performance until it is just right; the excitement back stage waiting to hear “places”; that special feeling on Opening Night when you step out into the light and “strut your stuff”, feeling the response from the audience and hearing the applause, it’s all magic.
LC: Executive producer Joel Varty wants to know about your accent……where were you born and raised?
FF: I was born in Glasgow Scotland, just as the noon whistle blew at Beardsmore’s Forge in Parkhead, of a Scotish father and an English mother. We moved down to England when I was 2 1/2 to Blackpool where my mother’s parents ran a boarding house (English for a small family run hotel).
Blackpool is a seaside resort town in Lancashire, on the West coast North of Liverpool. In the 50’s and 60’s it was still a very popular destination for summer vacations. Not so much these days as the Brits have started to travel abroad much more. Blackpool had a thriving theatre comunity with many famous performers appearing at the various theatres in the summer season. During my high school years I worked for 2 summers at Blackpool Tower, a tourist complex incorporating a circus, menagerie, aquarium, ballroom, bars and amusement arcades.
We emigrated to Canada in 1966 and lived in Toronto until I married in 1969 and moved to Cobourg where I worked at the Royal Bank until children took over the leading role in my life.
FF: They are right when they say you never forget your first…. I do have many wonderful memories of my first role in Cobourg as Marion Parue in Music Man with Blair McFadden back in 1983. That was so exciting, I couldn’t believe that it was all over when we had completed our final performance. I’ve been hooked ever since. Camelot is one of my favourite shows and playing Gueneviere was spectacular. The range of emotions required to play that role was a wonderful challenge. Working with so many amazing people over the past 20 plus years has brought so much depth and joy to my life, I wouldn’t change a moment.
LC: We’ve built sets together in buildings without heat in the winter so when we laughed we could see our breath, we’ve put costumes together on Saturday mornings using sewing machines older than God and material almost that old, we’ve hand glittered hundreds of posters and sat up all night working on press releases and marketing ideas to set in motion the next day. We’ve moved into the hall in April during snow storms, built parade floats out of toilet paper tubes and Christmas string lights, spent hundreds of hours on bookwork and the planning of seasons. Together we’ve been through divorces and weddings, kids leaving for university, work stresses and the birth of my kid and always there was always theatre in there too. How does it fuel you?
FF: I love to sing. I love to perform. I enjoy the opportunity to enable others to have the same amazing experience as I do, so I enjoy directing and producing as well as all the other jobs I have tackled over the years. We have done some extreme things over the years to get a show on the stage from taking out loans to fund shows in the early days to putting in all the hours there are to get something done by deadline. Covered in paint, exhausted, frozen, wearing whatever costumes we could create from bits and pieces. Together we’ve done it all – and more. Then we have dragged everyone else along behind us at times to get the job done. The VOS at times was my family. Once the kids had grown up and I was on my own Liz Clark and the VOS was my family. I met Alan through the VOS, we became friends, we worked together on the VOS board, eventually we fell in love and we even got engaged on the stage at Victoria Hall. One of the things that Alan and I love about being involved in the VOS is that it is a group that we can both be involved with, offer our various talents and both enjoy the satisfaction of working together for a common goal.
LC: What’s the most fun – what part of a production truly brings you joy as an actor/singer.
FF: The people, working with all the talented people over the years, seeing some youngsters grow up in the VOS family becoming wonderfully accomplished young adults. Walking into the hall after move in when the set guys have done their magic and we see the set for the first time. The excitement starts to build right there. Getting it right! The feeling when it all comes together and “YES” we have a show.
LC:I loved watching you and your dad work on shows together. You had such a sweet and loving relationship. What’s your favourite theatre memory that involves your dad?
FF: That’s a tough one. I choked up just reading the question, I think my favourite memory of working on a show with Dad was listening to him sing “More I cannot give you” (I’m not sure what the correct name is) from Guys and Dolls. He brought such love and warmth to his role it was inspiring. I also loved his choice of costume in Pirates of Penzance when he chose to be a kilt wearing pirate, lovely.
We sang many duets together in church here in Cobourg and in Glasgow that was a special bond we had. I remember turning to him one time after we had sung something that had particularly moved me and I kissed him. It was very special. Every time we go to visit my family in Glasgow I sing in our church there in his memory.
LC: Well, we want folks to come and see Broadway On the Rooftop. Other than the fact that you’re back singing onstage again – why should they buy tickets to see this one?
FF: This show has everything; great music from some of the most famous shows to grace Broadway in the last 50 years, a few standards that everyone will recognize to some lesser known gems that will surprise. A group of talented performers including not only some favourites from past shows but a number of fresh new faces. It has wonderful comedy, rousing dance numbers and a fun script to tie it all together. It’s going to be extremely entertaining and everyone will leave the theatre with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
LC: You’ve directed several productions for VOS. Tell us about what it’s like to do that.
FF: I love working with a cast, bringing a group of people from first read-through to final Dress rehearsal through all the process of developing characters, coaxing the best performance out of each person; encouraging performers to dig deep and risk putting themselves “out there” to portray a character; working with young people, fostering their interest in theatre; seeing some of them continue on over the years growing up and maturing into wonderful young adults – it’s very satisfying knowing that perhaps I have been able to have some small positive influence in their life that has brought them to be the confident, accomplished people we see now.
Our executive producer Liz Clark sat down last week with the stalwart Joel Varty.
Liz Clark: Well hello Mr. Varty. How about a chat? Joel Varty: Yes. Do let’s.
LC: You opened for the Bare Naked Ladies when you were 16. Pretty cool. How did that come about? JV: It was just a matter of good timing, really. I had made a tape of myself doing “O Canada” on electric guitar and someone played it over the PA system at school. My history teacher heard it and thought it might go over well to have a local boy play in front of this new band that had been hired to do a concert at the school. It was a good night. That was a few weeks before they released their first CD in 1992, I think.
LC: You’ve been performing with the VOS for 4 years and on our executive board for 3 years. What compelled you to audition for your first show and why have you stayed so involved? JV: The first show I auditioned for was Fiddler on the Roof. A friend of mine Jeff Pudwell mentioned it to me that I might look Jewish enough and to give Director Anne Burnham a call. She took a chance on a nervous twit who couldn’t sing in key to save his life and cast me as a 19 year old.
LC: You and I met when I came into Fiddler on the Roof to play polish. That was your first show with the VOS. I remember standing backstage trying to hold up at 10 foot Inn set piece and thinking it was going to fall right over on me and this giant hand came over my head to help out. I thought – hey there’s a team player, I hope he hangs around. So why have you hung around and continued to do so many shows with the VOS and worked so many hours on our board of directors? What is it about community theatre that fuels you? JV: The fuel is in us already. I just have to find new ways to tap into that.
LC: Motel in Fiddler on the Roof, Curly in Oklahoma!, Laurie in Vimy, Bob in White Christmas, Dickens in A Christmas Carol, Sir Robin in Spamalot… That’s impressive and has kept you busy, I bet. What was the best thing and the most challenging thing you discovered while tackling each role? JV: The Vimy role was by far the most engaging for me because it was so real – a real person who had lived and loved and died and deserved to be portrayed properly. I wonder if we sometimes take on a role in order to escape from the real world or to interact with it in a new way. The best thing is to wonder about it all.
LC: You currently play Jack, the director of the broadway show in On the Rooftop that goes into production in November at Victoria Hall. What’s unique about this show or the experience for you? JV: First of foremost, it is an opportunity to work with writer and director Jim Finan, as well as choreographer J.P. Baldwin. Also, a chance to share the stage again with Marlena Sculthorpe, whom I believe to be one of the most talented actors in the area.
LC: Have you ever considered stepping off the stage to tackle artistic direction? JV: That would be telling.
LC: You’ve had the chance to work with your daughter Gemma on two productions; A Christmas Carol and Oklahoma! and you’re going to get a chance to work with her again in April’s Shrek the Musical. Tell us about being a performing dad and sharing the stage with your daughter. JV: My daughter is one person to whom I can honestly discuss the actual work of acting without reservation. I am forever grateful to have and to have had that opportunity.
LC: Your son Harry hasn’t done a show with VOS Theatre yet. Do you think he’ll ever catch the theatre bug? If you could pick a role for him what would it be? JV: If only he would ever stop acting, I may get him to tell me. Perhaps that is the best truth, no?
LC: Scan forward 20 or 25 years. Is there a role you would want to tackle as a mature actor? JV: Yes. Absolutely.
LC: Do you have a favourite onstage moment ? Can you pick just one? JV: No, I can’t choose. Here are a few: standing with Sean Winchester and Edie Stuart listening to the overture for White Christmas; coming through the front of house doors to the opening bars of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning; standing backstage listening to the monologues from Vimy; falling off my chair at the read-through for Spamalot when Fabian first opened his mouth; listening to my kid read for Shrek at the callbacks a couple weeks ago.
LC: You’re always one of the first to arrive backstage pre-show. What’s your favourite pre-show ritual or time before curtain? JV: Walking the stage barefoot. Running light cues in my head. Warming up in the stairwell. Getting mic’d up and stretched out. Riding the pony.
LC: There’s always a number that every singer wants to perform onstage at some point. What’s your “must do” number? JV: It’s a long list. I’d like to do pretty much any of the White Christmas numbers again. Anthem from Chess; Being Alive, The Impossible Dream, Bring Him Home, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables… hang on, I have to go. I need run through those RIGHT NOW.
Mr. Varty has left the building, apparently. Here are a few shots of him…