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Behind the Scenes at Markham Little Theatre

While the set and costume people do their work,
the cast of The Constant Wife put in an energetic rehearsal.

(Jan. 29. 07) recently spent a delightful evening at the rehearsal facility of Markham Little Theatre where preparations are in full swing for their upcoming production of Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. The curtain will go up on February 7, beginning a four night run at the Markham Theatre For Performing Arts.

     We were also looking forward to our first tour of the new rehearsal space which MLT moved into just a year ago, a wonderfully renovated building located at the north end of the Markham Museum property on Highway 48, just north of Markham Main Street.
    Co-directing The Constant Wife are two Markham Little Theatre stalwarts, Liz Wyatt and Michèle Browne. Liz has been an integral part of MLT for well over 25 years and has won a number of best director awards. Michèle is directing her second play with MLT but her acting roles span MLT’s productions since 1980 and have earned her two Theatre Ontario best acting awards, in “Les Belles Soeurs”, directed by Liz Wyatt, and in Blood Relations. Michèle’s husband, Terry Browne, has been with the MLT since 1982 and is currently serving as President of the club.

Co-Directors Michèle Browne and Liz Wyatt

     Written in 1926, The Constant Wife is still enjoyed as a period piece, and features the intriguing Constance Middleton. Constance deals with the infidelity of her husband John by finding a way within herself to accept it as normal--much to the consternation of her relations and friends--and by setting out to make herself financially and emotionally independent.

     Liz and Michèle have assembled a cast that I am sure would have made Somerset Maugham proud.

     Constance Middleton is played by Shari Thorne-Kowalski, a great casting choice as Shari’s last role was Martha in Oshawa Little Theatre’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, a performance which earned her a THEA award from ACTCO (Association of Community Theatres of Central Ontario).

     Perfect for the role of John Middleton is Ray Porrill. Ray is returning to Markham Little Theatre after several years away during which he had major roles in a number of community theatres, including Oshawa Little Theatre, and in such popular dinner theatres as Herongate.

     You’ll see Mary Delaney as Constance’s mother, Mrs. Culver. Mary has been with MLT for two years and we’ve heard that one of her specialties is accents. She has played roles that called for a cockney accent, a Russian Jewish accent, and-- the most challenging--one in which she had to both act drunk and speak in a Yorkshire accent at the same time! Needless to say, the British accent required of all the actors in The Constant Wife is right up Mary’s alley.

Shari Thorne-Kowalski (Constance)
 and Ray Porrill (John)

     Penney Donevan is on stage this year in the role of Constance’s sister Martha. Penney’s contribution to MLT, dating back eighteen years, has often been backstage as well and this year she has also taken on the duties of treasurer of the club.

     When Constance sets out to make herself independent financially, it is her friend Barbara Fawcett, played by Kathryn DeLory, who offers her a position in her decorating company. Over the years, Kathryn’s involvement in theatre has most often been from the director’s chair. By day, she works as a producer for the city of Brampton’s own theatre production company, something unique in North America. Among their events is the annual “Shakespeare in the Square”.

Kathryn DeLory (Barbara), Mary Delaney (Mrs.Culver)
 and Penney Donevan (Martha)

      Constance’s best friend Marie-Louise Durham, who happens also to be the not so secret lover of John Middleton, is played by Catherine Somers. Catherine is new with the company, having attended her first audition only last August. She must have done well because she won the role of Felicity in MLT’s November production of the Tom Stoppard play The Real Inspector Hound.

     Andrew Horbatuik appears in the role of Bernard Kersal, Constance's old beau who turns up after living in China for 15 years. Andrew has been with MLT for a year but has been involved in community theatre since 1990 in roles ranging from comedy to drama. He has appeared in the Shakespearean plays put on by the former Ontario Renaissance Festival and has also done television commercials.

 Ray Porrill (John) and
Catherine Somers (Marie-Louise)

     Marie-Louise’s husband, Mortimer, is played by Neil Marr. Neil has been with MLT since last summer and appeared in the role of Glin in their September production of “Time of My Life”. Neil told us that over the years he has been a writer more than an actor and has a novel to his credit, Magpies and Sunsets, published in 2003.

     And, of course, what would an English high society period piece be without a butler? Fulfilling the role of Bentley to perfection is Harry Hall, an MLT veteran of over twenty years. Harry loves to tell how his last two performances were of dead people! The first was as a ghost, and the second as a dead body that required him to remain motionless on stage for an entire act. But, things got quite lively in another role that featured Harry as a found-in in a brothel! That was in the French farce A Flea In Her Ear. Harry’s wife, Elaine Hall, although not playing in this production, is the other half of a great theatre couple.


Andrew Horbatuik (Bernard) and
 Shari Thorne-Kowalski (Constance)

The rehearsal hall is spacious indeed, the actors being able to move in a provisional set that is already marked to the dimensions of the stage at Markham Theatre for Performing Arts. This still leaves lots of corners to store extra furniture and set items from previous shows and for actors waiting for a cue to sit comfortably and watch the cast who are on. Facing the stage space is the directors’ table where Liz Wyatt and Michèle Browne watch closely, having already established in previous rehearsals the movements of the actors. Now is the time to fine tune. Beside Liz and Michèle sit Stage Manager Vicki Tompkins, who will be up in the booth controlling sound and lighting during show week, and Assistant Stage Manager Peggy Wyatt bent over the script ready to prompt the actors during rehearsal.

Neil Marr (Mortimer)

Harry Hall (Bentley)

     Even before things got under way in the rehearsal hall, there was already plenty of activity going on in two other magnificent spaces of the MLT facility.
Vicki Tompkins
Peggy Wyatt

Priscilla Marr, Sheila McHugh,
 and Ann Davison,

     In addition to large rehearsal hall and workshop, office, archives room and kitchen, the facility has a huge high ceilinged costume room where costumes from previous plays can be stored and where there is lots of work space for the designing and sewing of costumes for the actors in The Constant Wife. Ann Davison has been a designer for MLT shows for 26 years. Working with her on the evening of my visit were Priscilla Marr, wife of actor Neil Marr who we met as Mortimer Durham, and Sheila McHugh. Sheila is also active in the marketing committee which is focusing on ticket sales.

     In the workshop, construction of the set is already well under way under the supervision of producer Ron Brownsberger. It is an impressive work room that, even with its large work tables, leaves lots of floor space open for painting and many other tasks. Eventually the huge room became a beehive of activity, with nine volunteers working away at different tasks.
Ron Brownsberger and Murray Covent Lester Davis and Grant Williams Will Davison and Martin Smith
Ross Liversage Claudio Magarelli Elaine Kernohan

     As Ron Brownsberger explained, the Markham Little Theatre moved into the new facility a year ago. This was the realisation of a long held dream. The theatre had always been obliged to use one location for rehearsal and other venues for work on the set and costumes. But the club had the foresight to use some very successful years in the 1990’s to accumulate a building fund, this in the hope of having one day their own rehearsal, costume and workshop space under one roof. About three years ago, the Markham Museum offered them the use of what at the time was a largely unused implement building. With the help of donations from many individuals and companies, with the assistance of the town of Markham which provided an interest-free loan repayable over 18 years, with contributions of $50,000 each from Steelcase Canada and Emerson Electric, and a grant from the Ontario Trillium Fund, the Markham Little Theatre was able to renovate the building and its 7,100 square feet of space into the home they now happily occupy.

Ron Brownsberger, Producer

     Established in 1967, Markham Little Theatre is a non-profit organization that relies exclusively on the energies and talents of volunteers. In its forty years of existence, it has performed some 115 plays. Although the last of the original founders have now passed on, the theatre club has continually renewed and rejuvenated itself and yet has retained the warm and supportive family atmosphere that allows the talents of its members, new and old, to grow and develop. They have been producing four shows a year since the mid-1980’s, an ambitious and demanding commitment that has produced many award winning programs.

     If you love theatre, don’t miss The Constant Wife. I got a glimpse of the show in rehearsal and it promises to be a very entertaining evening. Once again, performances are at Markham Theatre for Performing Arts, February 7-10.

     For more information about Markham Little Theatre, visit their website at


Grant Weaver


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