Sharolyn Lee can hardly contain her excitement about the upcoming season at the Imperial Theatre.
The newly-named executive director kicked off the theatre’s 19th season with one of her favourite acts, Arlo Guthrie as Arlo celebrated what would be his father’s 100th birthday with a tour that included a stop in Saint John on September 30, 2012.
Lee just took on the job of Executive Director on July 1 and that show has just topped off what has been an exciting beginning in her new role.
“It’s absolutely the icing on the cake,” she said.
The theatre will be a busy place right through the fall, winter and spring with a full slate of local, national and international acts.
Some highlights of the Imperial Theatre’s 19th season since it’s rebirth as a live theatre venue include performances by Bif Naked (October 20), Joel Plaskett Emergency (November 30), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Februrary 6), Sarah Slean (March 8), BBOYIZM (April 18) and the musical Hair (April 21-22).
As the 19th season rolls out over the fall and winter of 2012-2013, Lee’s already on the job planning what will surely be a huge 20th season and 100th year for the storied theatre on Kings Square South in 2013-2014.
Her mind is already swirling with ideas on how to celebrate the building’s centennial anniversary, most notably with a return to the venue’s roots in vaudeville.
“Vaudeville was entertainment for the masses and when I look toward our 100th anniversary season, I’m really excited to be able to go, okay, let’s look at what’s happening in vaudeville today because there’s a whole movement of new vaudevillians out there in the world,” she said.
Theatre-goers can watch for some acts that celebrate the classics of vaudeville, as well as newer takes on this type of theatre.
“I’m looking forward to bringing lots of both traditional, classical if you will, styled variety acts but also the best and the brightest of the modern stuff that’s out there,” she said.
Variety is the spice of life, however, and it’s long been part of the mandate of the Imperial Theatre. Top musical acts, acclaimed dance shows and a full range of plays and musicals will continue to be featured as the theatre plans it’s next season.
“One of the things that are core to our mandate is to do a full variety of programming. So we do music and theatre and dance, so it’s not all one or the other.”
She’s passionate about bringing a range of high quality live theatre to Saint John, to as many people she can reach.
Saint John residents, she says, have a right to have the same breadth of artistic experience as people who live in Toronto or Vancouver, for examples.
Originally from Ontario and having spent time in Vancouver, Lee has experience both producing theatre and in running an acting school. She’s been at the Imperial Theatre for three years, previously as the operations manager before becoming executive director, and still marvels that Saint John has a live theatre venue of the caliber of the Imperial.
“Coming from away, you have a real sense of how unusual this place is in a community of this size. To have this resource I think is an amazing thing for the city of Saint John.”
Part of the programming she’s working on now involves a lot of outreach programs that are intended simply to bring more people into the theatre that might not otherwise be inclined to go there. The theatre is both geographically and figuratively at the heart of the community and Lee intends to reinforce that fact.
“I think people will always need a place like this. It has that wonderful blend of community pride and the performers that come in here are just blown away by it.”
The Imperial Theatre held its first grand opening on September 19, 1913. In 1929 it became a movie theatre as movies, or ‘talkies’ as they were known, became popular. In 1957 the movie theatre closed and the building became a place of worship for The Full Gospel Assembly, which would use the space for the next 25 years. But in 1982, a local community group set out to purchase and restore the building to its original glory and purpose as a live theatre venue. Eleven years later in 1994, the project was complete and the Imperial Theatre we know today was reopened.
See the theatre’s website at www.imperialtheatre.nb.ca.