By Janie Woods-Morris, February 14, 2009
Four Seasons Musical Theatre Society was founded in 1975 by Janie Woods-Morris. Janie took her cue from Audrey Johnson, of the Times-Colonist newspaper, who, in her column, called for someone to mark the 100th anniversary of the collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan. Thus, under the umbrella of conductor Laszlo Gati’s Victoria Symphony Summer Festival, Four Seasons began by performing four Gilbert and Sullivan abridged operettas (two each night) in the Newcombe Auditorium at the BC Provincial Museum. The shows followed Gati’s open air concerts in the museum’s square.
Janie wrote the adaptations, John Heath choreographed and designed costumes and set, Peter Mannering directed, and Allan Magee was music director. Set construction was by Bernard Raffo. The shows were Patience and Trial by Jury, alternating with Iolanthe and The Mikado. The cast was John Heath, Nan Long, Richard Margison, Helen and Ray Middleton, and Janie Woods-Morris. Susan North was the understudy. The first season ran July 19-August 2, 1975.
In September 1975, Peter Mannering, after being on sabbatical, left Bastion Theatre. At this time, Peter became the artistic director for Four Seasons.
The next summer, 1976, Four Seasons played at the newly- established Belfry Theatre. That September, Bastion dissolved their children’s theatre, and Four Seasons took it over, inheriting the costumes and the municipal grant. The very first children’s production was Marge Adalberg-Dunn’s Pinocchio. Over the next few years, Four Seasons continued to provide good family entertainment, including children’s theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan, and music revues such as Noel Coward, Gershwin, Victorian Variety, Love and The Apple Tree. Shows were performed in venues in and around Victoria, providing access for audiences in all areas of the region. During the summers of 1980-1982, the Society mounted a very elaborate production, TheWonder of it All, a musical based on the life of Emily Carr, at the Newcombe Auditorium. The writers were Don Harron and Norman and Elaine Campbell, of Anne of Green Gables fame. Due to high production costs and lack of financial support a deficit was incurred, and Wonder had to cease after three years.
From 1983 to 1992, Janie Woods-Morris was the artistic director. Due to the financial restraints, all activities centred in her home, with some rehearsals at the Victoria Operatic Society hall and church venues. During this time, the seasons consisted of four to five productions, performed mostly at the McPherson Theatre and the UVic Centre auditorium, interspersed with fund-raising events. In 1989, with theWonder deficit paid off, Four Seasons rented a studio on North Park Avenue. At this time, Four Seasons branched out to include musicals based on literary works, such as Little Women and Pride and Prejudice.
In 1993 Bill Johnston became artistic director. That year, a fire in an adjacent building caused heavy smoke damage at the studio, forcing a move to a warehouse on Government Street. Under Bill’s direction, the children’s theatre continued, but the mounting of Broadway musicals such as Chicago and Pippin incurred a new deficit. Four Seasons quickly re-organized with the financial backing of Kevin and Gloria Stinson and artistic input from Sylvia Hosie, Margaret Dean, and Paul Croy. Since then Four Seasons has been solely devoted to children’s theatre.
In 1995 Four Seasons became a resident company at the Isabelle Reader Theatre in the Spencer School in Langford. Margaret Dean became artistic director for one season (1995-1996). She then became the administrator, from 1996-2007. The company now operates with an administrator and a board, and the position of artistic director has been eliminated. The current administrator (2009) is Crystal Harding.
Although Four Seasons periodically produces published plays, it has always relied on local talent to adapt traditional stories and fairy tales. A mainstay in the 1970’s was Marge Adalberg- Dunn’s musicals. In the 1980’s, Eckart Seeber created the music for many adaptations. Others who wrote were Roger Carr, Bill Johnston, Peter Becket, Phil Wagner, Katherine Morris and Ian MacIntyre. In 1998, Stan and Nancy Davis became the writing and composing team, which they continue to this day.
Many Four Seasons alumni have moved on to successful careers in performance arts:
Richard Margison – international opera tenor soloist
Shauna Baird – London, UK, stage and Calgary theatre companies
Sarah Topham – Stratford, Ontario festival
Sara-Jeanne Hosie – professional theatre, western Canada
Heidi Fox Lange – The Producers – Toronto production
Tara Britt – professional cruise ship entertainer
Jason Campbell – Disney Productions cruise ship entertainer