(This story has been updated to correct a few errors: a spelling error of a name; Beverley Holmes has a major in theatre, not a minor, from the University of Victoria; and the article incorrectly said she interviewed by film for a job in Quesnel. The Record regrets the errors.)
Beverley Holmes has devoted the better part of the last 35 years to giving students the confidence and poise needed to find their voices on stage, the past 16 of those right here in Mission.
The Heritage Park secondary teacher had been working in Maple Ridge for nine years when she heard Mission was building a brand new theatre. She contacted the principal for an interview and the rest, as they say, is history.
“What I find the most important thing in what I do is building community with the kids,” she said, adding that theatre pulls a diverse array of personalities together to create these new, temporary communities on stage.
Holmes retires next year from a career that began in 1978 after graduating with a teaching degree and a theatre major from the University of Victoria. Theatre may have been embedded in her DNA; her parents met as part of a repertoire group in England.
As a child, she said even when she used to play make believe with other children, she’d always be the “bossy” one directing the others.
After graduating university, she went to Nigeria for a year, and started a drama club at a secondary school. Then she returned to Canada and went to South America for another year.
“I thought I’d just do that forever, work here, travel here… and then the ‘80s hit.”
Holmes needed a job, so she interviewed for a job in Quesnel and they asked if she could do a musical. Although she’d never done one before, she agreed, and a drama teacher was born.
Holmes often has to do the work of many people that a professional theatre company would, including directing, producing, and sometimes making costumes. Her last production, Dark of the Moon, ran March 6-10 at the Clarke Theatre, the third time she’s tackled the project. The play marked the final production of her career, describing the experience as quite exhausting.
“I liken it to the gestation of a child,” she says, describing the process. It begins with an idea, followed by meeting with students to discuss how to approach the play, and then work begins on buildings storyboards and doing background research, all before the rehearsals and costume designs begin.
Dark of the Moon, a Broadway play from 1945, centres around the character of a witch boy who seeks to become human after falling in love with a human girl. The play ends in a tragedy fit for Shakespeare, but involves several dark contemporary issues which attracted Holmes.
“I like things that kind of take you on a journey, but give you something to think and talk about afterwards.”
Holmes says she tends to be more drawn to the darker side of art, which means she enjoys contemporary theatre more than the classics because they tend to push the envelope more.
Holmes said the best thing about having worked in Mission for the past decade and a half are the students, adding some students of hers have gone on to do great things, like Carly Rae Jepsen who appeared in several of her musicals.
“I think theatre is important because it does build a community, it does build discipline and focus and cooperation and teamwork.” She said employers and universities in the modern world are looking for creative thinkers and not just people who can memorize facts.
Holmes has been recognized for her achievements in the community, including winning a Cultural Diversity Award in 2005 for best innovative initiative in undertaking The Laramie Project, a play about the reaction to a 1998 murder of an American gay student.
Now that her children, two daughters aged 20 and 28, are grown up, Holmes plans to pick up where she left off in 1980 and start travelling again when she retires.
“I can hardly wait,” she says, smiling.