Audrey and Meribeth having much needed coffeesToday we have a guest post from one of our wonderful Village Managers – Jennifer McDonald

It’s 8am on a Sunday and I’m sitting in Starbucks chatting with two of Bard’s longest serving volunteers, Audrey Zaharichuk and Meribeth Fleetham. The event seems so commonplace – we chat about our breakfast selections, plans for the day ahead and the play we saw last night. It could very well be just another day in the Bard Village during the summer, except that it was taking place in late October in Calgary

Why were we all in Calgary? The simple answer is for a play – The Great Gatsby. However, just like Gatsby himself, the underlying reasons are far more complex. 

Rumors had circulated early on last summer that Jonathon Young, our Hamlet, had been cast as Nick in Theatre Calgary’s The Great Gatsby. As the weeks went by excitement grew as we learned that Bard favorites Jennifer Lines, Haig Sutherland and Craig Erickson were also cast and award-winning Hamlet director Kim Collier was set to direct the extravagant production. To cap it all off, Bob Frazer would be playing the titular role! What an incredible opportunity to see so many of our talented Bard artists perform together again over 1,000 km away. 

Making the trip seemed an unattainable dream but as the summer nights cooled and the season reached its bittersweet close, the distance to Calgary didn’t seem so great and the decision to go was made by several staff and volunteers. 

 “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

It was on the endlessly long (one-hour) flight that I began to think about how this may be slightly impulsive. Were we nuts to travel so far for one evening of theatre? That’s when the memories came flooding in; of chasing dogs through the Village, attempting to capture confused cormorants in the theatre, sailor-theme days, crazy-hat days, volunteer pre-show aerobics with the occasional stray actor, company dinners, double show dips in the ocean and treasured moments chatting with friends under the beautiful Vancouver sky. Suddenly, the decision to travel didn’t seem crazy anymore – or at least no crazier than our jobs at Bard. 

Meribeth, Craig Erickson, Audrey and Bob Frazer

Before the show we enjoyed a dinner full of stories, memories and Bellinis.

Audrey told us about her twenty-three years at Bard; about her stint in the Bard box office long before “they even had proper tickets.” Meribeth shared that fifteen years ago she met one of our well-loved directors when he was a young actor at Bard when he’d stop over for a coffee and chat between scenes. She still remembers being struck at how that one chance interaction made Bard such a special and intimate place. 

During the trip I chatted with Bob Frazer and asked what he thought made Bard so different from other theatres he had worked at. He told me that Christopher Gaze had once said that he wanted Bard “to feel more like a family – a place where people looked out for each other and helped each other out.” We talked about how this unique relationship between company and volunteers existed at Bard. Bob thought it may be due to the fact that the Bard setting was so unique. He mentioned the special volunteer appreciation BBQ that takes place each year and how all the actors look forward to cooking for the volunteers. 

At Bard, staff, company members and volunteers work together every single day in the sweltering heat and midsummer downpours, we eat together and celebrate together creating a very unique relationship I’m not sure would exist if we were in a traditional theatre. 

The ladies enjoy a glass of wine at intermission

It felt a little weird not to know anybody in the audience of more than 700 people. I can’t remember ever seeing a play in Vancouver that didn’t have at least one of our volunteers either working or in the audience. I wondered if our Bard actors also felt a little different about performing so far away from home. When I asked Bob about this he said that each night he performed for his fellow cast and the audience but “sometimes it’s nice to have that extra little bit of energy, where you say, there are Bard volunteers out there tonight. That’ll be fun!” 

Bob explained that Bard is different from most theatres in that you can actually see the audience whereas in many traditional theatres actors can see only blackness beyond the stage. I enjoyed hearing a story he shared about the opening night of Gatsby;  “We were just finishing up, right near the end of the first act. Something happened and all of a sudden I heard Christopher’s laugh – so we finish the act and I went off stage and…I went to Johnny [Young], ‘I’m pretty sure I heard Christopher Gaze laugh’ and he went ‘Me too! I heard it too!’, and when we came out after the show, he was there!” 

The ladies dine with Gatsby cast members. From left to right: Mark Limacher, Julien Arnold, Amy Rutherford, Jennifer McDonald, Bob Frazer, Audrey Zaharichuk

It meant a lot to the actors that Christopher, Interim Managing Director John McCulloch and their wives had made the trip to share opening night with them all. I think that’s one of the great things about Bard is that the relationships we develop there continue long after the season is over. 

“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!” 

The three ladies having a laugh during their adventure

After the show we caught up with everyone. Jennifer Lines was overwhelmed that we had travelled just to seem them. I listened as Audrey eagerly asked Jennifer and Haig how their little one was doing with being in Calgary. It occurred to me as I saw them hug Audrey tightly that she wasn’t talking to them as actors in some show but as friends – dear friends.

Just as in Gatsby, our happy story was followed by some unfortunate and unforeseen events. After a late night we were surprised with a sewer emergency directly outside our hotel room at 7am, involving several large trucks and extremely loud noises. I drew back the curtains to a blizzard and remembered I had to brave the return flight home. 

As we drank some badly needed coffee at Starbucks we laughed about our impulsiveness. I asked Gatsby himself what he thought of us trekking out all that way to see them. He laughed and said, “Coming to see us? In Calgary? I think you’re crazy!!!” 

Perhaps, but I think I’ll go with Daisy Buchanan’s take, “I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world”.