The play’s al­ways been her thing

Sharon Reynolds has been with Hamil­ton Theatre Inc. since the be­gin­ning

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - GARY SMITH Gary Smith has writ­ten on theatre and dance for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor for more than 35 years.

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."

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

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."

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