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Community Acts
March 2016 | Profile by Jane Ledwell

For community theatre stalwart Barbara Rhodenizer, an early stage experience came in Grade Three when her family was living in Ontario, dancing ballet in a perfect tutu and beribboned shoes—“with my ribbons trailing along behind me,” she laughs. She still remembers that she carried on through the performance, ribbons notwithstanding, and was buoyed by praise she received for of continuing through mishap and adversity.

On stage, in theatre, she says, “You never know what’s going to happen, even if you know what’s supposed to happen,” and while she claims not to love improv or freefall, she adores the collective problem-solving and ingenuity of making community theatre. “A production in community theatre begins with a passion to see something done,” she says. “People have no idea of the effort and the will—a play is a testament of will to see these little dreams realized.”

Every role, on the stage or in the wings, is important to realizing the dream. “I’ve had a chance to be involved in most areas of theatre, from front of house to making costumes, to rounding up props, to stage managing—though I don’t have the temperament for that,” she smiles. “As an actor, that experience gives you a better-defined appreciation of what’s going on to make you look the best you can be.”

Barbara says, “For me, theatre is a complement to another life.” She recalls, “Of course, I had stars in my eyes at one time… In my early twenties, I headed to Toronto to see if I could carve a niche for myself in the theatre world. I learned a lot about myself, but I wasn’t prepared properly… I didn’t have a thick enough skin. And I realized I needed a little more stability in my life, a more regular income. So I came home to make a career, marry, have a family…” Even with other commitments, she has become a familiar name on the program of many plays. “Given the size of the Island, it’s amazing how much is done. It’s culturally so vibrant.”

Having participated in both professional and community theatre, and hybrids such as Christmas pantomimes at Confederation Centre, she notes the differences. In a professional theatre, she says, “Things are timed out beautifully, beautifully planned and executed.” There are more specialized tasks, rather than “everyone doing a little of everything.”

“In community theatre,” she says, “everyone has to pitch in. If a scene needs a kitchen table and chairs, you might bring in your kitchen table and chairs.” In a professional production, tasks and timing are so specialized that stakes are higher. “If you are a dresser and twenty people have forty-five seconds for a costume change, you’d better have your act together or someone is going out without pants!”

The mistakes and miscues, though, are part of the fun and challenge. “All kinds of things happen that you hope the audience never clues in to know how unexpected that was…” she says. “If you stay with the character, it will always resolve itself, if you know who you are, if you know what you’re doing, and you know where you’re going.”

And, as an actor, “It’s different every time you step on the stage, a different energy among yourself and the other actors, a different energy from the audience.” But, Barbara says, “The interchange of energy—that’s what makes you do what you do.”

Another theatre role that Barbara loves: “I love that being in the audience, I love that I’m part of it. They’ve reached out and touched me. Sometimes in happy and silly places. Sometimes not so much.”

Barbara doesn’t regret choosing community theatre over professional theatre. “There’s part of me that’s a responsible person who had to manage a household and hold down a job. I needed that to balance out my life,” she says thoughtfully. “But it has brought a lot of joy and satisfaction to my life to be part of theatre, and I hope there will be parts to play in the future.”

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