Gore Bay Theatre in Northern drama festival takes gold for show, director, visual presentation

by Robin Burridge

ELLIOT LAKE—The Gore Bay Theatre (GBT) production of ‘The Attic, the Pearls and Three Fine Girls,’ received three distinguished awards from the Quonta theatre festival held last week in Elliot Lake, including outstanding director, outstanding production and outstanding visual presentation.

“We were very excited,” the production’s director, Walter Maskell, told The Expositor. “We went in to the festival feeling that our production was strong and we hoped to be in the running, so to receive the awards and move on to represent Northern Ontario at the Theatre Ontario festival is just wonderful.”

Despite ‘The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls’ amazing Island reviews, Mr. Maskell said the play was small compared to the other productions entered into Quonta such as ‘Our Town’ by Saint Mary’s College in the Soo, The Gateway Theatre Guild in North Bay’s production of ‘Doubt,’ Elliot Lake’s Theatre’s production of ‘Whales of August,’ and ‘Sugar Bean Sister’ preformed by The Sault Theatre Workshop.

Other winners at the festival included Kristen Sheppard, who won outstanding actress in a leading role for her performance in ‘Doubt,’ Kelly Boegel also from ‘Doubt,’ who took home the award for outstanding actress in a supporting role, outstanding actor in a leading role went to Vernon Bailey from ‘Our Town,’ Murray Finn from ‘The Whales of August’ was awarded outstanding actor in a supporting role and ‘Our Town’ took home the outstanding technical achievement award.

“One of the productions had a team of 40, plus a backstage crew,” explained Mr. Maskell. “There were tremendous productions and sets, but I think we stood out because we had the entire package.”

Mr. Maskell was modest about his win as outstanding director, but said he felt “very honoured.” As for the production’s win, he said the whole team was the driving force including the actresses, costume designer, set designer and technician.

“I think simple is most often the most evocative,” said Mr. Maskell, accounting for the production’s success at Quonta. “It demonstrates that all you need is imagination and creativity.”

The award for outstanding visual presentation goes to the Quonta production that demonstrations the best overall visual presentation from costumes to set and lighting.

“Kim Kelly, who designed and sewed all the costumes for the production, and Tim Lalonde, who constructed the set, and sound technician Bill Viertelhausen all did an incredible job,” enthused the award-winning director.

The impressive wins should do anything but surprise other Northern theatre companies as the GBT has won Quonta three out of the past four years, coming in second one other year.

The three actresses in the production, the entire cast of Shannon McMullan, Anita Lalonde and Tara Bernatchez, were all also nominated for outstanding actress in a leading role, which The Expositor predicted in its last article on the play.

“The adjudicator, Terry Tweed, said that they were a package deal,” joked Mr. Maskell. “She also commented that she knew the play’s writers very well and that they would have enjoyed the GBT’s production very much.”

Written collectively by Jennifer Brewin, Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alisa Palmer and Martha Ross, the Canadian production of ‘The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls,’ first ran at Theatre Columbus in Toronto in 1995, performed by Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Martha Ross, with Ms. Ross winning the Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding performance by a female for her performance.

The production is a comedy that follows three estranged sisters who reunite at their family home upon the death of their father.

Through planning their father a party as a wake and flashbacks to their childhood, the sisters reconnect and redefine their relationship to not only each other, but themselves.

Jojo Fine, a dowdy professor who sees herself as the wisest eldest sister, was played by seasoned Island actress Shannon McMullan of Perivale.

The role of Jayne Fine, the middle child and a closeted lesbian, was performed by Anita Lalonde of Mindemoya, who is returning to the GBT after several years, bringing with her a great deal of experience.

Finally, Jelly Fine, the youngest sister, an artist, was played by Tara Bernatchez of Mindemoya, another well-known Island actress.

“They are such talented actresses,” said Mr. Maskell of his three leading ladies. “The audience at the festival laughed the whole way through and we were thrilled by a spontaneous standing ovation.”

Mr. Maskell modestly admitted that the Gore Bay Theatre’s production won the only standing ovation during the week-long festival.

The Expositor spoke with Ms. McMullan on Monday morning as she was winding down from the busy festival.

“It was wonderful,” Ms. McMullan said in an interview Monday. “It is such a nice feeling to be surrounded by colleagues who are all striving for the same level of artistic excellence as we are.”

She attributed the production’s success at Quonta to the collective effort of everyone involved in the production, including spouses.

“We were just a big family, committed to the production and supported by our spouses,” added Ms. McMullan.

The actress said that that her favourite part of the production process has been building a relationship with the other actresses.

“In the process of playing the three Fine sisters, portraying such a wide array of extreme emotions from volcanic rage to all-binding love, we have become sisters,” explained Ms. McMullan. “I’ve never had a sister before, but we really formed a close bond.”

The GBT will be performing ‘The Attic, The Pearl and Three Fine Girls’ at the 2012 Theatre Ontario Festival, which will be hosted in Sault Ste. Marie this year from May 16 to 20. Also during the festival, Mr. Maskell will be receiving the distinguished Michael Spence Award—an award honouring an individual’s contributions to community theatre in the province.

“I was elated when I was told I would be receiving a Michael Spencer Award,” Mr. Maskell had previously told The Expositor. “It feels so special because recipients of the award are nominated by their peers. I am honoured.”