Probus members learn more about the value of live theatre

Each month, the Saugeen Shores Men’s PROBUS club meets at the Port Elgin Legion where they have the opportunity to socialize and listen to a guest speaker.

On Tuesday (June 7), the PROBUS club learned more about live theatre when Natalie Robitaille was guest speaker at the club’s first in-person meeting held after two years of a hiatus due to COVID-19.

Robitaille, a professional actor for more than 25 years, director and voice-over artist is now living in Southampton.

Since graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City however, her 25 year career as a performer in theatre, film, television and voice-over animation has taken her across Canada, the United States and even as far as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Italy and the Caribbean islands.

Her most recent projects include performing in the French television series Zik, directing the play Salt Baby by Falen Johnson in Thunder Bay for Magnus Theatre and voicing the character White Wraith for the animated web series Legends of Akedo.

Today, she is the mother of two girls and, in 2015, after moving to Southampton, Robitaille founded the Bruce County Playhouse.

“I thought with the influx of summer residents and visitors to the area, live theatre was needed and could flourish and, although there is live theatre in Kincardine, I feel that the more live theatre the merrier.”

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Under her direction, the Bruce County Playhouse has transformed the Southampton Town Hall into a functional theatre through much fundraising, to where it now has professional lighting, stage drapery, light blocking window coverings, a dressing room and other stage improvements.

“We have had so much support from the community, the businesses, the Town and our partnership with Bruce Power,” said Robitaille.

“Arts and cultural activities are at the heart of communities.  They make communities more attractive places to live, bring a community to life, define a community’s unique     characteristics, attract tourists and help communities compete economically around the world.” … Canada Council for Fine Arts

“There are a lot of benefits of live theatre,” said Robitaille, as she went on to tell of her own upbringing on a rural Ontario farm and going on to improvisation in school, until auditioning and being accepted into the New York Academy.

According to Robitaille, unlike film or television, theatre actors on stage can feel the energy of the audience.  “People are invested and are a part of the story and that’s what theatre is about. Acting in live theatre teaches oral communication, creative problem solving, motivation and commitment, collaboration, ability to work independently, time management skills, adaptability and flexibility, respect for your colleagues and authority, ability to work under pressure, leadership skills, self-confidence and builds self-esteem.”

“Community theatre is also very important for kids,” says Robitaille.  “There are a lot of programs that get cut from the schools and we are now looking at starting programs for youth in the area and that will go through the winter.”

She pointed out that studies have been done with students who have theatre in their education. They have proven that those students have improved imagination and creativity that leads to originality, higher standardized test scores, improved reading comprehension, better attendance, greater concentration and increased motivation to learn, patience, self-confidence and self-esteem and acceptance of others and that it helps with mental health, anxiety and promotes empathy.

After two years of shut-downs due to COVID, the Playhouse is returning for its 7th summer season at the Southampton Town Hall with two shows – Murder for Two, a musical and Real Estate (Aug. 15) by Allana Harkin. In addition, Duffelbag Theatre returns with its ‘unusual’ renditions of classic fairy tales featuring interaction by the audience.

“We are trying to build Bruce County Playhouse as part of the community,” said Robitaille.

At the end of the meeting, Robitaille put the Probarians through their paces in a fun game of ‘Talks and Tales’ about superstitions through the ages in the theatre.

                                                There was lots of head patting during the game …

… at the end Bill Streeter, last man standing, won the prize, two tickets to opening night at the Bruce County Playhouse

By the end of the meeting, Probarians had learned more about live theatre from an insider’s viewpoint.