By: Cathie Hamm
Memory is a fragile thing, and all too easily lost. The collective memory of the Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society is a perfect example of this. With a group which has had transient homes for most of its existence, as ours has, records of the past tend to get scattered with those who have the room to keep them, and who may even forget that they have them.
Add to this the fact that theatre, by its nature, is a fleeting thing: plays are performed and then
they are done. The script, the actual words said by the actors, is a written constant, but each troupe that does any given play reinvents the actions and emotions. What was done by the previous group becomes just a memory. The real constant in our theatre has been the people who devote themselves to making new plays happen, making new memories. WLST has been fortunate to have had many devoted and talented members over the years. Gwen Pharis Ringwood is credited with founding our group in 1955, shortly after she and
her family moved to Williams Lake (her husband Barney established a medical practice here).
“Bert played a policeman in Night Must Fall, took one step on stage and froze, the worst case of stage fright I’ve ever seen.”
She was already an award winning playwright and ‘community theatre activist’ (Oxford Reference), and she was the driving force in bringing to the stage the Williams Lake Players Club’s (as it was then known) first production, Dark Brown / Orange Blossoms. The next production we could find any record of is Our Town in 1958. The current society has a few surviving pictures of this play, with the names of most of the actors. A few are familiar as longtime residents of town, notably Lil Deschene, Anne Irwin, Dodie Smith, and Dru Hodgson. These people again show up in our collective and individual memories, invariably with a smile, as being involved all through the 50’s and 60’s. All the people in these pictures have stories that need to be captured before they are lost forever. The WL Players Club rehearsed and performed where they could. Current member and local author Ann Walsh remembers performing at the historic Onward Ranch house.
“Me as a new bride [Spring 1964], playing the heroine in a meller-drama performed at the Onward Ranch. I wore Dru Hodgson’s wedding gown, and was chased around the place, including exiting through a fire escape on the roof, by an ‘evil’ Clive Stangoe. “The audience sat in the main living area or anywhere they could;
some of the action took place on the stairwell landing and someone got locked in a cupboard on the main floor. I think it was one of the earliest of ‘the audience follows [physically] the action’ type of shows.” Clive Stangoe is more often remembered as a respected town citizen and publisher of the Williams
Lake Tribune, but apparently he also made a splendid villain. He and his wife, Irene, were involved in many theatre productions, as were Warren and Ruby Hayes, and Bert and Anne Hornby. Again, all are remembered fondly. Walsh recalls, “Bert played a policeman in Night Must Fall, took one step on stage and froze, the worst case of stage fright I’ve ever seen.” Nonetheless, he carried on, and even came back for more. The theatre group is like that, once you are hooked, you keep coming back for more. As well as being a founder of the theatre, and a stalwart for years, Dru Hodgson left us with one important legacy that
lives on. She coerced her young grandson, Micheal, to play the Turkey Boy in A Christmas Carol in 1994. He was hooked, and is still, twenty years later, a strong contributor, both on stage and off. He is currently making new memories Stage Managing The Big Five- Oh, directed by Brad Lawryk, on stage November 6 to 9 and November 13 to 16.