The Varty Family: 3 Generations Onstage Together for White Christmas

Charles, Gemma and Joel Varty.
Charles, Gemma and Joel Varty. Photo by Ken Hurford

Hello, Varty Family!

So all three of you are working on White Christmas. We know that Joel and Gemma have worked together before. What a fun dynamic it must be to have three generations on the stage in the show. Tell us about that. Do you notice a bit of yourselves in the others? I bet it’s fun to sit back and watch your family work when you’re not onstage.

Joel Varty: It’s quite the feeling to be able to look at my kid and think how similarly she approaches performing onstage.  I think we really share the passion of delivering a message through song, certainly.  In my dad, it’s like looking in a strange mirror that goes through time.  I see old photos of him and I know that could have been me.  He’s also the very best role model a man could hope for from a father.

Gemma Varty: It’s been awesome. Dad and I always have the same things to talk about. We’ve always relied on each other for help, and this project definitely highlights that. I definitely do see myself in my family. Some things no, but a lot of things I do. Like my farm girl aspects and an obvious one, theatre. I do enjoy watching my family – while I’m backstage, laughing, we make these inside joke about different scenes, I better not repeat them, they’re a little embarrassing.

Charles Varty: Working with Joel is more than a pleasure. I have admired him in many ways throughout his life. He has gained respect everywhere his talents take him. To be on stage with Joel puts me right there where the action is between two actors. Rewarding, satisfying, rejuvenating.  Gemma has the same drive to grow and develop as her father. Her dance, song and stage presence puts her in league beyond most girls her age.

VOS: So, what’s the day job folks? When you’re not acting and singing at night what do you do?

JV: I am Director of Research & Development at a software company in Toronto called Agility Inc.  It’s really great to be able to escape into my work as much as I escape into theatre.

GV: Well mostly when I’m not at rehearsal I’m sleeping or at school in Grade 8 at Dr Hawkins in Port Hope. But other than that I love to hang out with my friends, horseback ride or help out the crew. They do so much work, so I like to help out.

CV: I am a farmer, from United Empire Loyalist stock seven generations ago. Also, I am a retired teacher, from both the Toronto and Peterborough School boards.

VOS: Charlie, have you ever done a show before? What in your life so far has brought you to VOS THEATRE’s White Christmas?

CV: I’ve never been involved in anything like this before, well that’s not entirely true. I did had a small part in Mrs. Dion’s grade four class play at the Christmas concert sixty years ago. It was called ‘The Christmas Cake’. I was the one who put the raisins in.

I was slightly apprehensive, when asked the audition for ‘the general’. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to Joel if I failed.  What I found was, not only was I able to do the part, but to be part of a group that bubbled over with talent.

The backstage people can take the longest applause from me. To see the whole thing take shape is something that everyone should experience.

VOS: Joel – greatest challenge this time around. You played Bob in 2010 and this is a whole new ball game.

JV: I thought long and hard about taking this on a second time.  I remember an interview last year where I said I’d love a chance to sing any of these songs again, and the chance to do it with Marlena again as Betty is real gift.  Everything just kind of snowballed from there, with Gem and Dad coming on-board, too.

VOS: So Gemma, the last time the VOS did this show you were too young to be in the cast. Do you remember seeing it at age 9; your dad up there singing and dancing?

GV: Yes I do remember him singing, especially the Sisters reprise with him dressed up – I laughed so hard! But I also remember being so jealous of the girl who played Susan, I wanted to be her not sitting in the audience watching her!

VOS: Joel – you’ve worked with Steve twice as a fellow cast member, both in Spamalot and in Shrek. How does the dynamic change now that he is your director?

JV: I feel really lucky to be working with Steve again.  He’s a relentlessly hard worker, and he’s smart, and he has a real handle on details.  But that’s the easy stuff – I already knew that from seeing him prepare for a role.  What really impresses me about Steve is that’s he’s sensitive as a director, he understands what each person is going through at any given time and he allows us all to work through that with the show.  He’s the kind of director that community theatre needs more of, I think.

VOS: Gemma – any embarrassing moments in shows with your dad you would like to share. This is your chance?

GV: Haha! I’ve had so many embarrassing moments!  Being one of the younger ones in the cast, I always want to impress the other cast members. One was my first show and I was so excited for opening night so before the show I felt it totally necessary to do my own make-up.  So before the show I was doing my “touch-ups” and I hear my song come on from the stage and I know I’m late so I bolt down the stairs and run on stage acting like nothing happened but my face was beat red, but then again, that could have been the make-up!

I think the most embarrassing would have to be in my last show Shrek it just before a rehearsal and I was walking off stage down some metal steps and slipped and fell head first down the steps! Luckily not breaking anything just a huge bruise down my left shin!

VOS: Question for all three of you – White Christmas the movie – do you have a memory you would like to share?

JV: It’s a show that has genuine magic in its bones, and it brings out a different kind of magic in you every time you experience it.  I remember one time as a kid getting stuck on the 115 highway in December with my brother and having to hike for several miles in a blinding snowstorm.  When we finally made it home, my mom had White Christmas playing on TV.  I will never forget how warm it made me feel seeing those barn doors open up and seeing that wonderful snow outside.  I feel that every time I see the movie, and that’s what I feel when I’m performing in it.  It’s truly heartwarming.

GV: I do remember watching it!  I was with my dad at his friend’s house and we sat at the fireplace and watched it.  A classic White Christmas memory.

CV: The first time I saw White Christmas was at the Victoria Theatre in Tweed Ont. 1958. Irony? Maybe.


Don’t miss your chance to see all 3 Varty’s onstage in the VOS Production of White Christmas. Opening night is Thursday November 6th and the show closes November 15th!