BCHF News Theatre Under the Stars’ pop up museum

Theatre Under the Stars’ pop up museum

—Submitted by Jennifer Suratos

The curtain has just fallen on the stage of Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, where Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) has closed their 72nd season. But the history of the musicals, and the company which produces them, continues to live on. This is in large part due to the efforts of long-time TUTS volunteers Roger and Cecilia Smith. If Stanley Park is the jewel in Vancouver’s crown, the Smiths are likewise the very heart of TUTS. It is the involvement and continued efforts of these two octogenarians that keep its vivid history alive.

TUTS is a semi-professional, not for profit theatre company in Vancouver that has been performing on the outdoor stage of Malkin Bowl for decades. The company has a colorful past: TUTS began producing operettas and musicals in 1940, went into bankruptcy in 1963, was re-branded as “Theatre in the Park” in 1969, returned to its current moniker in 1980, and survived a fire in 1982. In 2006, the stage was quiet for a summer, while TUTS took a season off to regroup. They returned the following year, renewed and stronger than ever. They put their efforts into on-site enhancements including a permanent gateway structure, a guest services area, and an improved concession and bar. In 2012, after much consultation, the TUTS Board of Directors launched the pop up museum.

The museum began as a way to display the impressive collection of archival material amassed and collected by Cecilia. The Smiths, a married couple, have been involved in the performing arts for their entire lives. Cecilia’s love of the theatre started at an early age, when she began mimicking voices on the BBC radio. She has a long and colorful onstage career as an actress and singer. Roger’s love of theatre started with his love of Cecilia. The two formally met while training to be X-ray technologists, but he reminisces about how she would turn him down for dates because she had rehearsal – so he joined rehearsals too. Now a retired Radiation Technologist and BCIT Instructor, Roger worked in the technical side of theatre: lighting, stage management, and building anything that needed to be built. My interview with the Smiths was a 2-hour long tale interspersed with stories, songs, and impressions by Cecilia. They correct each other affably on details of their shared past, as they move from England to Ontario, across Canada, to settle in Vancouver. Yet through it all interweaves the common thread of always being involved in theatre.

Because of their long history with TUTS, it made sense for the Smiths to assemble their collection and display the company’s vivid history at their on-site museum. Their archival material includes programs and handbills, old photographs, costumes, newspaper clippings, set maquettes, and more. Once called “MUTS – TUTS’ Museum Under the Stars,” it is now situated within their Emporium, sharing space alongside retail items like totes bags and water bottles. But in amongst the new are the old: a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth, who visited the theatre in 1959; an archival image of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing to a crowd of thousands. As the company’s volunteer archivists, Roger and Cecilia designed and built frames full of program covers from each of the shows, as well as an album full of past programs dating back several decades. Audience members from near and far can find out historical information, view old props, and sign the guest book.

The Smiths continue to keep the history of this theatre group alive. The couple was integral to the rehearsal process during the company’s 2012 production of Titanic. They consulted on the historical facts of the show and offered elocution lessons, so that the actors could brush up on their accents. Cecilia performed the role of The Bird Woman last year in TUTS’ production of Mary Poppins. The Smiths also acknowledge the hard work of the many volunteers, both onstage and off, that work to mount two massive shows in Stanley Park each summer. Each year, TUTS chooses one person to receive “The Roger and Cecilia Smith Volunteer Award,” which honors the work of one hardworking volunteer. They are truly living history, respected by staff, cast, crew, volunteers, and the theatre community.

Roger and Cecelia Smith

At the end of the summer, once the crowds have dispersed and the tourists have returned home, the onstage doors of Malkin Bowl are sealed shut for the winter. The sounds of Stanley Park return to the bald eagles in the tall Douglas firs, rather than the music emanating from the orchestra pit. This history of TUTS, however, remains alive, thanks in part to the efforts of Roger and Cecilia Smith. These archivists continue to ensure that TUTS is a Vancouver tradition that audience members from across the globe may continue to enjoy.

Jennifer Suratos is a Vancouver-based performer, director, and writer. Her work has been published in The Sondheim Review and Dance International (forthcoming). Jennifer also teaches Musical Theatre history at Capilano University, and works as an Administrator in the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia. She considers herself fortunate to have spent many hours volunteering with TUTS, and is grateful for the continued efforts of Roger and Cecilia Smith.