“As Judy Whittaker used to say, ‘we’re a work in progress.’ I don’t think it will ever be completely finished … it’s endless.”
This is what Bruce Mason says of the late Judy Whittaker and the Ladysmith Little Theatre.
Mason, a past president of the Ladysmith Players Society, has a long history with the Ladysmith Little Theatre, and he and current president David Brown recently took part in a milestone moment for the theatre when they signed the mortgage and transfer papers to purchase the Ladysmith Little Theatre building.
Mason, who had been a member of Yellow Point Drama group for several years “felt that Ladysmith really needed its own theatre.” It wasn’t until couple Judy and Terry Whittaker moved to Ladysmith from Alberta that the dream of having a Ladysmith Theatre would become reality.
It was 10 years ago when the old Diamond School House began its transformation. Located at 4985 Christie Rd., the school was built in 1912, and it had been vacant since 1985. Though the building consisted of two rooms (when only one was necessary) and needed a lot of work, it was exactly what the couple were looking for.
“They saw it and immediately signed a contract,” says Mason.
In December 2003, the Whittakers signed a five-year renewable lease with School District 68. After six weeks, a lot of hard work from Whittaker, Mason and other volunteers, Ladysmith had its first live theatre.
They opened the doors for the first time with the play I Want to be in Pictures, starring Tabby Jasper and Brian March. Though the effort and the heart were there, an audience was nowhere in sight.
“I think the biggest audience we had for that run was 11 people — there actually was a performance with three people in the crowd,” recalled Mason. “Less than 50 people saw the show.”
Despite a lackluster opening, the Whittakers were willing to put in the work to establish a theatre in Ladysmith.
“I think we wouldn’t have a theatre if it wasn’t for Terry and Judy Whittaker,” says Mason. “They really were the driving force behind the beginning of it.”
The Whittakers ran the theater for five years.
“They worked like slaves” the whole time, says Mason.
However, it was not just the couple who put time and effort into the project — a large group of volunteers made everything possible and continues to do so today.
Once the Whittakers decided to step away from the theatre, a board was formed to take their place, and the community created has continued to grow ever since. The theatre has seen a drastic increase in audience numbers since their first production 10 years ago.
“Last year when we did a musical, just over 1,000 people saw the play during its 15-show run,” says Mason.
It’s not just an increase in audience size that shows the growth and progress the theatre has made. The board of directors recently purchased the Little Theatre from School District 68.
“Fortunately, it was a very kind arrangement with the school board,” says Mason. “We don’t have to pay interest and we didn’t have to put any money down, but we still have to pay $150,000.”
The board has five years to pay the mortgage before a new agreement will take effect.
Currently, the theatre group is trying to get its charitable status. Once this is achieved, they will be seeking help from the public to pay off their mortgage.
Just like in the past, the theatre relies heavily upon its membership, which has now reached more than 200 people. If you wish to become a member of the Ladysmith Little Theatre, you can sign up online. It costs $15 and gives you the privilege to take part in any or all aspects of the theatre and lets you attend shows for free if you’ve helped out.
This summer, the theatre is holding two youth theatre workshops, July 2-6 for youth aged seven to 10, and July 8-12 for youth aged 11 to 14. Registration for the week-long camps can be done online.