Profile by Jane Ledwell
Twenty years ago this past June, a fresh-faced comedic actor named Wade Lynch first stepped on the Island—“stepped off the ferry, no less,” he says—and stayed. Grinning broadly, throwing his arms wide, he says, “I’ve been embraced by the Island—and I’ve hugged it back.”
In twenty years, not only has Wade had juicy acting roles at the Charlottetown Festival—from radio personality Little Big Man to Queen Elizabeth II—he has also developed as a director. He sounds amazed as he reflects, “I’ve gone from being a job-to-job, hand-to-mouth actor to being Associate Artistic Director of the Charlottetown Festival.”
Wade recalls, “Every young Canadian actor aspired to the Charlottetown Festival.” He auditioned—unsuccessfully—several times. Then, he says, he “backed in.” He was working at an Australian-themed dinner theatre in Vancouver when the music director recommended he audition for a show by Dean Regan called A Closer Walk with Roy Orbison.
“My song tanked, so I made it into a comedy,” Wade laughs. After the audition, Regan said, “You are exactly wrong for this part.” But he offered something better—a role in A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline—at the Charlottetown Festival.
“Wooh! I felt like the Derby winner,” Wade effuses. Soon, he was on that fateful ferry.
“When I was a starry-eyed kid in Richmond, BC, listening to [the cast recording of] Anne of Green Gables,” Wade says, “I didn’t know it wasn’t on Broadway. I didn’t know that it was Canadian, or that it was an East-coast story.” He just knew he loved it.
“I was surprised as an evolving adult to learn the attitude we had around these things,” bracketing off productions with Canadian or small-town origins.
He continues to be baffled by attitudes that limit people’s ability to recognize high-quality work close to home. “If there are any doubters, look at the calibre of productions at the Charlottetown Festival,” he insists. “We have proven we have the ability and experience to produce world-class theatre. We just need the audience to believe it.”
He continues, “Here [at Confederation Centre], we have the facilities, the talent, the abilities—we just have to train audiences to see it.” How? A bigtime producer once summed it up for Wade: “It’s simple: Just make it excellent.”
But how do you “train” audiences to trust that excellence? Wade reflects earnestly, “You do it by putting the excellent and the non-excellent side by side. But the worst thing to offer is the lowest common denominator. If you have to, use the lowest common denominator as a hook—then give them something they don’t expect.”
He credits friend and artisan Peter Janson for teaching him, “Never underestimate taste of the audience. Just make it beautiful.”
As we chat about acting and directing, Wade bursts in to say, “It is the first time in 22 years that I’m not on stage in the summertime—and it is killing me! My body is not attuned to not being on stage in summertime!
“I will never not be an actor. I will die on stage.” Coyly, he adds, “I haven’t played Matthew yet…”
Life as an actor on PEI is not easy. Gesturing around the Confederation Centre, he says, “Look at the people who have come through this building and decided to stay here. They stay because excellent artists have made decisions to surrender!” Surrender what? “Mobility and income!” he replies cheekily.
But what keeps him here is “being in an environment where everyone is an artist, where the girl who serves you espresso is a fiddle player… The level of artistic ambition—and ability—is amazing.” He’s thrilled to be part of Holland College’s School of Performing Arts helping groom that ability.
“We can not lose any possibilities of bums in seats if we want to make sure the living arts stay alive,” Wade says. He ends on an earnest note, realizing gratefully, “how rare a career in the arts is, and the awesome responsibility to ensure it continues to be possible.” Wade Lynch may be known for comedy, but this is a role and responsibility the funny man takes very seriously.