As Saskatoon Summer Players approaches its fiftieth year of uninterrupted operation, it is enlightening (and entertaining!) to read Pat Heighes’ account of the interesting beginnings of the organization. Her piece, written on the occasion of SSP’s fortieth anniversary, is reproduced below.
Much has happened in the ten years since this was written. Important events that flesh out our more recent history are recorded following Pat’s story.
Look Back..... The Origins of Saskatoon Summer Players
by Pat Heighes
If we include the sponsorship of the non-musical play, Walsh, it will mean that next year will mark our 40th year and our 50th production! So how did it all begin? Until the end of the fifties, the University staged a major musical production at the Capitol Theatre; for various reasons this was discontinued and that was that for amateur musical theatre in Saskatoon. At that time, Knox United Church was sponsoring some adventurous projects including a Concert Series that attracted some famous performers. A core group of individuals promoted these activities: Darby and Ellen Gaunt, Walt and Darlene Cherry, Vi and Doug Morrow, Nancy and Bert McCreath and pianist Garth Becket together with the organist from St John's, Ted Reed. When Lawrence Ritchie, choir director of Knox United Church, floated the idea of doing a musical - Oklahoma! - this enterprising and capable production team was at hand. They were used to taking risks to put on concerts and knew all about needing money for ticket printing, advertising and sales and booking a performance venue. These ten people used their business connections to persuade a bank manager to let them co-sign a loan for $1000.00.
In addition, they decided that each one of them would approach 10 businesses and sell ads for $10.00. They met their goal and that gave them another $1000.00. Finally, Doug Morrow, as manager of Labatts Brewery, talked the company into a $600.00 donation! Add to this mix two new Knox members, Bev and Ian Sisetki, who were enthusiastic supporters: Bev had her eye on the part of Ado Annie and Ian was easily persuaded to produce the show.
The first ad for auditions for "Summer Players" came as a complete surprise to the avid theatre group operating in Saskatoon under various guises. Bill and Pat Heighes, Dennis Beerling and Jake Ens were among those who turned out eagerly hoping to be part of this production. Bud Stilling agreed to work on crew and the result was a core of experienced theatre types who could lend their expertise to the project. Ellen Gaunt was not fazed by the job of costuming the show and Bill Heighes was eager to design and build the set.
Unfortunately, Lawrence Ritchie proved to be a very unorthodox director and the musical came close to floundering with just a couple of weeks to opening. It was clear to him and to us that he was not going to be able to get it ready in time. But we had a resource that we knew could pull everything together - Bob Hinitt! A delegation approached Bob and he was only too ready to step in and help out. Gary Gullickson and Marge Jamieson were the able accompanists and the show received glowing reviews. Enough money was made to pay off the loans and think in terms of another show in the future. At the meeting to decide this future, Bill Heighes volunteered Pat Heighes as director for South Pacific and made the annual musical a sure thing. But something else contributed very strongly to the continuation of the tradition: Bob Hinitt designed, and persuaded the school board to build, Castle Theatre at Aden Bowman Collegiate. Summer Players had a permanent venue worthy of full-scale musicals and Bob set the standard with Oliver! as the first musical at Castle Theatre. Since then, we have never missed a year and in some years done two shows including a series of Christmas shows at the Centennial auditorium. If you have had the fun of performing in a Summer Players' musical, I hope you will be inspired by the efforts that went into starting the company and that are needed each year to stage the show to consider doing a stint on the production side.
Important milestones have been recorded since Pat Heighes wrote the above inspirational account of SSP’s beginnings.
(i) People: SSP continues to rely upon the inexhaustible time and myriad talents of its many volunteers. Pat Heighes, Dennis Beerling and Gary Gullickson, who played key roles in founding SSP, are still active. Dennis will direct the 2013 mainstage show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Unfortunately Bob Hinitt, who inspired (and exasperated) so many with his SSP productions, is now gone. However, his name lives on via SSP’s Bob Hinitt Scholarships for Musical Theatre, awarded to winners of the musical theatre categories at the Saskatoon Music Festival.
(ii) Places: SSP’s longstanding collaboration with Gateway Players to rent and operate the Studio in Saskatoon’s south industrial park ended with the formal disbanding of Gateway Players operations in 2010. SSP purchased new space in Dalmeny for costume, prop and set storage, with an attached shop for some construction. Large set construction for the summer show now takes place at the Nutana Curling Club, whereas rehearsal space remains a moveable feast! On the performance venue side, we are delighted that our mainstage productions are now being held at the new Remai Arts Centre. Castle Theatre remains a fond memory.
(iii) Performances: SSP has maintained its unbroken record of yearly musical theatre offerings, and in addition to its mainstage shows now produces a winter revue, the Broadway Bash, and a smaller scale fall show. SSP productions celebrated a first in 2011 when its fall show, A Grand Night for Singing, was staged outside the city limits – at the Station Arts Centre in Rosthern – following a successful Saskatoon run. The 2012 summer show, The Producers, represented a significant departure from the fully family-friendly traditions of SSP mainstage shows. It was a roaring artistic and performance success – hats off to Director Ron Knoll. Our complete list of shows is provided below.
(iv) Funding: SSP is proud to be able to continue to report that by far the largest fraction of its revenues comes from ticket sales. Without the continuing support of our patrons we would be out of business. We are also extremely grateful to our donors and corporate sponsors who make our financial lives so much easier. Our only public funding has been obtained from SaskCulture (Saskatchewan Lotteries) for a recent Capacity Building Grant and from the City of Saskatoon for a grant to establish workshops for offstage production volunteers. (If, after reading this, you are prompted to make a donation – please do. It’s tax deductible!)