Growing up behind the curtains of the Capitol Theatre has inspired many young actors and directors but for one young girl, the local performing arts led her to where she is today.
Eleanor Stacey — daughter of former Capitol Theatre manager and city councillor Marg Stacey — spent a lot of time involved in all things theatre.
“I do recollect doing things like folding programs or colouring in posters. I remember a couple of those birthday parties where there was a show coming up and we would end up colouring posters at my little kid birthday parties,” said Eleanor who was enjoying her one day off before launching into her new job.
At the end of October it was announced that Eleanor would become the new executive director of the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance.
Stacey and her siblings spent a lot of time at the theatre with their mother and Eleanor naturally gravitated to the behind the scenes work.
“My mom was the manager of the Capitol for nearly two decades. I spent quite a bit of time waiting for a ride home quite honestly, and then in addition to that there was an awful lot going on at the theatre for kids. I really enjoyed the Halloween season with the costume department. It was quite active at the time, costuming a lot of people in the community for rentals,” she said.
Acting was never really her interest and even though she often performed with local choirs, when she graduated from high school she decided to pursue languages at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
Despite not actively pursuing theatre and the arts in university, she became interested in drama again after a first year English course.
“We did a little bit of drama and in my second year I took an English course within the English department which was a second year drama course, and it really attracted me,” she said. “It felt very natural and like a very interesting area for me.”
At the end of her time at Mount Allison, Stacey graduated with a double major in drama and German.
“It wasn’t really useful,” she said about her degree.
But while at university, Eleanor made many trips back to Nelson and became involved with the Capitol’s summer youth program.
“It was just a question of opportunities and over the years it was something that just continued to evolve,” she said.
“I got the opportunity to direct a kids show for 5 to 12 year olds called A Dozen Dancing Princesses and that was interesting too, but at the same time I just seemed to be falling into these things as opposed to really directing myself. I stayed in Nelson and went to the music school for a semester. Then out of the blue I got a phone call from this non-governmental organization in Winnipeg that had a volunteer opportunity to go to the Caribbean and put on a play with a bunch of kids.”
That play that brought her to Caribbean was something she thought was uniquely Canadian.
“I ended up doing Anne of Green Gables and oddly enough it was a very good match for the island,” she said.
The culture of Prince Edward Island resonated with the people in the Caribbean along with their Irish heritage which meant they connected with Anne’s red hair and even the red ground talked about in the play could be compared to the red soil there.
In addition to valuable work experience, Stacey also learned a lot about the cultural differences when it comes to theatre between Canada and the Caribbean.
The community where she was working didn’t have a movie theatre so the concept of arriving at a show on time was foreign to Caribbean audiences.
“They also didn’t think to not talk during the shows or not to get up and leave whenever they felt like it so the sense of how you watch a show was very different because of cultural experiences, I suppose,” she said.
“It was a different take on how you perform partially because the kinds of performances that people go to in the Caribbean are concerts or things associated with carnival so Queen, reggae and calypso shows. It’s much more of a variety show which has a lot of pausing unlike something that you go to at the beginning and leave at the end and you don’t get up during unless there is a intermission.”
As Stacey continued to travel, gaining more work experience, she continued to see more differences between the various ways productions are created and experienced by the audience.
After her time in the Caribbean, she did her masters at Brooklyn College in arts administration.
“My experience in New York was amazing. I chose to go to New York because I thought if I was going to go somewhere far away and do an arts management degree then why don’t I do it somewhere like New York where you know it’s got an incredible tradition for live theatre and of course Broadway is there,” she said.
Stacey returned to Canada almost by accident.
She was in Vancouver visiting her sister who was attending UBC when she decided to leave New York and return to BC.
“On the day I was planning on going back to New York I was walking across the Burrard Street bridge with her and I turned around and took a look at the city from the Kitsilano side and thought ‘why on earth am I still living in New York? I could live here.’ It was just a really beautiful moment and a really beautiful summer day,” she said.
Stacey was back in Vancouver for good six weeks later and gave her notice at her job at Classic Stage Company.
“I packed up all of the things that I wanted to bring home. I had no plans for a job and I moved in with my sister who was finishing at UBC. I just sort of decided to start from scratch,” she said. “It felt like a very bold move but it felt exactly like the right thing to do. The day after I got to Vancouver it started raining and it rained for about a month and I thought ‘Oh boy, I wonder if this was the right idea.’ But I am really glad I stuck to my guns.”
After hitting the pavement and shaking a lot of hands, Eleanor landed a job with the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, or The Cultch, where she worked until late last month.
“I’m really excited,” she said about her new job. “What I’m excited about is really interacting with the theatre community in Vancouver to help better understand what their needs are and how the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance can play a role in helping them to grow and to realize their own dreams and aspirations as theatre makers in our area.
“I really find it exciting to help people to make their art than to actually make it myself. I do enjoy making it myself but the idea of being able to help other artists have the opportunities to make their art better is very appealing to me.”