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'Live from Port Perry Town Hall, 1949' Premiere staged by the Borelians

Interview with Carolyn Goff (Producer) and Bill Baker (Director)

Joe Szekeres

Joe Szekeres

(Revised January 21)

Carolyn Goff and Bill Baker have been busy individuals these last few weeks. As the producer and director respectively, they have poured their very heart and soul into the next Borelians of Port Perry production: “Live from Port Perry Town Hall, 1949”.

What’s unique about this upcoming production? It’s an original piece written by Baker incorporating three 1949 radio shows including ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’, ‘The Great Gildersleeve’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’.

A period nostalgic theatre piece revolving around the Golden Age of Radio. So much fun but so much work is involved in creating a verisimilitude look and feel of the era with appropriate costumes and props.

Baker calls the production light entertainment as there is a mixture of comic and dramatic moments throughout. With all the bad stuff we’ve heard over the last two-plus Covid years, we need a chance to laugh, to be silly and to hear corny jokes. Bill says these corny jokes are funny now. Goff drew a parallel to the time frame. In 1949, the world was emerging from the Second World War when things seemed untenable and insurmountable, and people then needed to feel a sense of community just as we continue the need to feel a sense of community amid the prevalent Covid variants.

Carolyn also added: “Why not poke fun at the fact a community theatre production is trying to scramble and pull something together for an audience when in reality that is what is happening with most community theatres now?” Limited budget, very little costuming, will audiences show up given the fact it’s February and the weather can be unpredictable.

Such heights to scale but Goff and Baker are up for the challenge. For the two of them, the definition of community has changed. This show is a reminder not too long ago really when neighbours and communities got together to help each other out during some rather tough times. We need to get back out there together – why not start by coming to the Port Perry Town Hall and watching a play in community spirit? Goff further added people are making that conscientious choice to come back out to support the community moving forward.

Recently I held an interview with them over coffee to find out how rehearsals are going in preparation for the opening night in the first week of February. Both concurred everything is starting to come together nicely during the rehearsal period. Two weeks to go and Carolyn and Bill reported the cast is getting excited to bring this story to an audience.

And the cast – some of Durham Region’s finest community theatre actors are set to take us back to 1949: Chris Cole, Phil Cook, Matthew Imray, Neill Kernohan, Paul Kit, Lee Laycoe, Howard Linscott, Deborah Lobban, Shari Pereira, Graeme Powell, Gerri Sefi, Ari Todd, Vannetta Tustian and Mike Wood.

Why should Durham/Scugog and GTA residents get to see this particularly unique play?

It was to have been presented last year and be developed around Covid. There would have been social distancing during rehearsals; if any cast members were sick, they could be replaced. Bill wanted to write more material than just have the cast members sit and read the radio plays. In this original production, the community in 1949 comes together as the actors want to raise the spirits of the Port Perry residents who have been cooped up in their homes and do not have any entertainment at all.

A very appropriate play indeed given what we’ve all experienced these last two-plus years.

How are Carolyn and Bill feeling about the influence of Covid’s embrace in a world that is trying to get back to some sense of normal life? Just recently two Scarborough community theatre groups have had to contend with that reality and had to make some decisions.

Goff laughed and said Bill is hoping that might happen as he is itching to go on one night because the material is a riot. She made a choice not to be an actor in the show because she may very well have to entertain the option of going on as an alternate in case one of the actors does become ill. Even though Bill had a good laugh with Carolyn’s comment, he is prepared to do just that in case someone does become ill.

But Baker added something else that intrigued me:

“There are also a couple of actors who couldn’t be in the production but expressed an interest if someone was needed during the run as a fill-in for whatever reason, I’d be more than glad to do that because they don’t need to memorize the dialogue. They just read it. They’re competent actors that I could give them a few notes beforehand and away they go.”

For those actors involved in the ‘play within a play’ within the show, if someone had to go on in this cast, everyone is highly competent so there could be improvisation that will work.

This production has certainly been a passion project for over a year now. Bill has done a lot of writing over the years. One was for Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas in 1997 and his script was accepted. Most of his writing, however, has just been for him. But ‘Live from Port Perry Town Hall, 1949’ has been a joy. He had been writing, re-writing, and adding to it.

While it has been a labour of love, Baker considers the script an homage to his father who is 95 and taught him to appreciate all about the golden age of radio and all those beautiful comedies and dramas that were aired. That generation used to gather around the radio to listen rather than gather and sit around looking at the television screen.

Bill wanted to name the characters in the script so he turned to the cast and asked them for the names of those in their families who would have listened to the radio. The cast loved that idea and was very willing to share. So, when you see the actor listed by a particular name, that actor is doing an homage to his or her ancestor. Hopefully, audience members will remember their relatives who may have also listened to the radio.

What an incredible honour to involve the cast in this manner.

Carolyn met Bill when they were part of a terrific cast of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ the Borelians had produced a couple of years ago. She reiterated how they just clicked with each other. Since then, they have developed tremendous respect for each other as artists. When Bill approached Carolyn with this idea and said he would like to do it, Carolyn said it made complete sense to her to become involved in the project together because they are very much like-minded actors. She says the two of them approach and create art in a similar manner – from the heart – and they like spending time together in doing so.

Goff says it’s a joy to be able to ensure Bill’s passion for this play is brought to life in the way he intended it to be.

“Yes, there have been growing pains and things we don’t expect during this process,” Bill continues, “but you just bear down and go with it and bounce ideas and thoughts off each other.”

The number two connects Goff and Baker. This is the second play she has produced (the first was the Borelians’ first show of this season ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’). This is Bill’s second play he has directed. He clearly states he’s learning through this process, and he wants to do more. He wants to direct more. He wants to write more.

What do the two of them hope audiences will come away with after seeing ‘Live from Port Perry Town Hall, 1949’?

Bill hopes the audience will come away from the show smiling. As Judy Garland once sang, "Forget your troubles, come on get happy", Baker hopes the audience will do the same for a couple of hours since the Golden Age of Radio entertained people and made them feel positive about themselves.

Carolyn agrees while also adding she hopes audiences will feel connected to each other and say: “Wow, was that ever different” or “That reminds me of…”:

“It has been a rough two-plus years for all of us. Let’s start to reconnect with each other again.”

‘Live from Port Perry Town Hall, 1949’ opens February 3 at 8 pm at Port Perry’s Town Hall. Show dates:

Saturday, Feb 4, 2023 at 2:00pm

Saturday, Feb 4, 2023 at 8:00pm

Sunday, Feb 5, 2023 at 2:00pm

Friday, Feb 10, 2023 at 8:00pm

Saturday, Feb 11, 2023 at 2:00pm

Saturday, Feb 11, 2023 at 8:00pm

Address: 302 Queen Street, Port Perry, Ontario. For further information, visit borelians.ca. To purchase online tickets visit the website, call (905) 985-8181 or at the box office before showtime.

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