Northern Ontario Theatre icon Sharon Sproule turns 90

Sharon Sproule, seated right, celebrated her 90th birthday in Sunsite Estates last week. photo by Michael Erskine

SUNSITE ESTATES – During any normal time, the occasion of Sharon Sproule’s 90th birthday celebration on July 10 would have attracted a large crowd of well-wishers, friends and family, but instead the milestone in Northern Ontario’s Grand Dame of theatre was a more sedate affair held with a handful of invited guests at Ms. Sproule’s daughter’s home in Sunsite Estates.

Ms. Sproule’s list of accomplishments fills several pages, as a teacher, community builder, in local community and children’s theatre, onto the international and regional theatre stage as well as movie and television screens—through her nine decades she has been a force to be reckoned with.

Ms. Sproule moved to Espanola with her husband the late Bob Sproule in the early ‘50s, and she still lives atop the home they purchased to this day. Together the couple built a family, raising Lynne Dee (at whose home the birthday celebration was held), Joe and Jim, but they also set about imprinting their indelible mark upon their chosen community, a mark that extended beyond the borders of Espanola onto Manitoulin Island, across the North Shore and beyond.

Ms. Sproule is a co-founder of the Espanola Little Theatre company (1958) and that company’s first production hit the stage the following year. ‘High Ground’ set the bar high for the company, which has graced the awards podium for outstanding theatre most years since.

Ms. Sproule established a theatre arts program at Espanola High School, where she also taught.

Her personal curriculum vitae in the theatre includes being the lead or supporting actor in over 40 productions, directing 15 plays and filling (or backfilling) just about every backstage gig going.

In personal awards, she has received five regional awards as best actress, best supporting actress three times, three provincial best actress awards and one best supporting actress accolade.

Under her tenure, the Espanola Little Theatre company travelled to the international stage, picking up two of three jury awards in Estonia, including best actress for Ms. Sproule as well as the ensemble award.

With an eye to the future of theatre in the North, Ms. Sproule established the Espanola Little Theatre’s Young Company, enlisting youth from Grades 5 to 8 and eventually developing into Espanola Youtheatre, expanding to include students up to Grade 12.

Ms. Sproule is immortalized on Espanola’s wall of fame for her contributions to that community’s culture, recognized as citizen of the year and been awarded a lifetime volunteer award.

She received the Ministry of Citizenship’s Volunteer Service Award and the Governor General’s Canada 125 medal.

Theatre Ontario’s Michael Spence Award sits upon her mantle and she was recognized by Chatelaine Magazine as one of Canada’s 100 remarkable women.

In the early days of the Gore Bay Summer Theatre, Ms. Sproule oversaw one season as artistic director.

But her most cherished awards are the many youths, and adults, in whose hearts she has instilled a passion for live theatre. Throughout her career she has focussed on one very important facet as a cornerstone of everything she has done. “Truth,” she said, maintaining that authenticity shines through everything and its absence would be a fundamental betrayal of an audience.

It is that underlying virtue that helped Ms. Sproule pry hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for her theatre programs and projects down through the years. Few could resist her impassioned pitches, whether in the corporate boardroom or over the phone to countless individual patrons of the arts.

But don’t count this incredible storyteller down or out just yet. In her 90th year Ms. Sproule remains just as feisty and indomitable as ever—still exhibiting that drive and determination that sets her apart in a field known for its remarkable characters.

Happy birthday from The Expositor, Sharon, we still remember those annual calls seeking media exposure for your latest production and are grateful for the opportunity to play a small part in their successes.