The play’s always been her thing
Sharon Reynolds has been with Hamilton Theatre Inc. since the beginning
In the summer of 1956, June Morrison, Sharon Reynolds’ Hamilton dance teacher suggested she audition for what was then The Hamilton Theatre Company. Reynolds was 13.
She packed her shoes and dance kit and turned up at an old church at Charlton and Queen where director Robert Christie and choreographer Bea Salmon were holding tryouts. She didn’t expect to get in. She was, after all, very young.
As it turned out, a month or so after her audition, Reynolds found herself on the stage of Hamilton’s beautiful old Palace Theatre doing the sword dance in “Brigadoon” in front of hundreds of people.
“I guess you could say I grew up with the company. That opens up your world to all sorts of different people. You learn how to take responsibility, be more patient, be committed and learn about hard work. I call it the school of hard knocks.
“It gave me confidence and wonderful friends. No matter what your personal problems might be you could forget them when you’re rehearsing a show.”
Reynolds stuck with Hamilton Theatre Company for years. She worked on, or was in, every show at what is now known as HTI until 1978. That meant performing, sewing costumes, running spot lights, painting sets, teaching dance and even serving on the board of directors.
You can bet this 74 year old has “Memories.”
“Back then, HTI was more than a theatre company. We were a family” she says. “We had camp-outs, picnics, dances, Christmas parties and shared trips to New York City. We laughed and we cried together. It was a different time back then.”
In 1977 Reynolds changed her
path, choosing to work in dinner theatre in Hamilton and Toronto. All the while she held down a day job at what was then National Trust in Hamilton.
“Opportunities for going into professional theatre were not available when I started out,” she says. “But back in the 1950s, when you finished high school, you got a real job.
“I got married to my husband Bob. We met at HTI. And I had two children by the time I was 21. I ran my own dance school from 1966 for about 10 years. But the answer for me was community theatre and I never regretted a moment of it.”
Times change however and when Reynolds came back to HTI in 1985 she couldn’t believe the state the company was in. The city took away the home they had worked in since 1959 at the Old Fire Hall on Strathcona Street. There was talk of disbanding altogether, but a few people rallied and a new location on MacNab Street North was found and renovated.
Today, HTI performs in its own small space in their headquarters where they also hold rehearsals.
Reynolds tried to step back a little but found that wasn’t so easy.
“You feel a responsibility,” she says.
These days she’s directing “Memories,” a show to celebrate the company’s 60 years of entertaining Hamilton audiences. That means revisiting the glory days when directors from New York, such as Jack Timmers, Rudy Tronto and Peter Hamilton came to town. And when local stars like Pat Dawson, Tom Trouten, Marilyn Alex and Ray Harris sold out theatres in terrific productions from “Sugar Babies” to “Follies, “Chicago” to “South Pacific.”
“There are so many ghosts here,” Reynolds says. “Things from the past that haunt me. People I miss.”
HTI is smaller today. The shows are smaller. And the stable of performers is smaller, too.
“Time was we had 150 members, 75 of them active. Today there might be 30 (not counting Life Members). Maybe 12 of them are somewhat committed to things. Everybody wants to be on stage these days, but they don’t want to work to make that happen.”
For all this, Reynolds loves choreographing and directing shows. Her favourites of those she has directed are “Falsettos” and “Blood Brothers.”
“Today I have to really want to get involved with something because it takes a big chunk out of your life. As long as my brain is functioning and my body still moves though, I would like to keep going as long as possible, even though some of the younger generation think they know everything and don’t want to work with someone older.”
Reynolds is the only active HTI member who has been with the company pretty much from the beginning. She knows the terrain. She knows the shows. And she knows what will work in a revue like “Memories.”
She ought to of course. She has plenty of memories of her own.
Sharon Reynolds, here with Dustin Jodway, is directing HTI’s "Memories: A Celebration of 60 Years."
Front row: Tom Levely as Pseudolus, Ian McKechnie as Hysterium. Back row: Bob Reynolds as Senex and Sharon Reynolds as Domina in a 2006 production of "A Funny Thing Happened on The Way To The Forum."