He’s the elder statesman of Nelson pantomime and Bruce Ormond has seen it all: bizarre fairies, boozy judges, radiant princesses and plenty of paupers.
Starting Thursday night, the local stage veteran will once again be part of the Capitol Theatre’s traditional romp through song and dance as the curtain opens on the Christmas pantomime’s presentation of The Elves and the Shoemaker.
“The day before opening night I wonder what I have gotten myself into again,” says Ormond, who estimates he has been on stage for at least 15 of the productions since the mid-1980s. “But once it comes, I realize why.”
In this year’s show, Ormond plays Tom Cobbler. It’s one of the production’s main roles and being cast as Cobbleham’s most famous shoemaker is an opportunity for locals to see one of the community’s theatre pillars in action once again.
“He’s a fella that really likes to think that he works hard and he really does try, but he just can’t seem to get that final product right,” Ormond told the Star during a break at Wednesday night rehearsal. “There is a disconnect somewhere. He gets to the point where there is a last little missing part of the boot that doesn’t quite get finished. But he loves his family and has a heart of gold.”
Acting has been in Ormond’s blood since his own shoes were much smaller. The first speaking role he ever had was in Grade 5 in an elementary school performance while his family lived in Golden.
“I don’t remember the play, but ever since then I had the bug,” the 51-year-old Ormond says.
Ormond’s parents actually met doing community theatre in Nakusp. His father Doug was a city administrator who eventually found his way to Nelson, becoming a huge figure in local government in this community. His mother Margaret was very fond of the arts, eventually becoming an important member of the Capitol Theatre revitalization effort in the early 1980s.
“I remember as a kid growing up in Golden, my parents being involved in community theatre and I just hung around in the background,” says Ormond.
The family moved to Nelson in 1975 from Fort St. John when Bruce was 15. He attended L.V. Rogers, where he felt his way around his new surroundings by getting into the drama scene at the high school. It was there he met one of his early influences, legendary LVR drama/history teacher Gus Bos.
“He was a great guy. He was a big influence on a lot of people,” says Ormond. “He had a real passion for theatre and teaching… he was one of those teachers that had a real impact on a lot of people’s lives.”
Nelson was more of a blue collar town in the 1970s and high school theatre was not exactly the rage for young people. Still, Ormond remembers putting on one big production — The Crucible — at the school’s main stage in the old gym during his time at the Fairview campus.
After spending a year in Langley after graduation, Ormond returned to Nelson where he was part of the first ever theatre diploma program at David Thompson University Centre. That first class had only six young thespians.
“It was pretty intense because we were doing everything,” remembers Ormond. “We would build the sets, we would be in class during the day and rehearsing at night.”
In his two years at DTUC the program put on 12 shows, splitting venues between the old Studio 80 and the Civic Theatre (the Capitol was still in a state of disrepair and hadn’t been brought back to life yet). It was during this time Ormond discovered the depth of talent in the community.
“Because there was only six of us in the actual theatre program we drew a lot from the community for participation and the talent was so good,” he says. “Man, this town just blows me away… it’s been that way for a long time.”
After graduating from DTUC, Ormond’s stint as a paid actor was short. He was part of a troupe that worked at the Fort Steele historical village in the East Kootenay where they created a living history program. Ormond and the crew would put on skits around the town and though it was short-lived, “it was the only time I was paid to do what I love.”
Back in Nelson, Ormond became a big part of Nelson Little Theatre that resurfaced in the early 1980s and put on performances for many years.
He also starred in the first Christmas pantomime, which has now become an annual fundraiser for the Capitol Theatre. Directed by Ormond’s mom, he played the prince in Cinderladen. Since the Capitol was still in the throes of making its way to back to prominence in the community, that year the pantomime was held in the Civic Theatre.
Ormond was in his early 20s when he made his pantomime debut and since that time has volunteered his time to bring the musical comedy to life on many occasions. Though he admits he can’t pull off the prince role anymore, Ormond is happy to play the villain, the dame, the father or whatever role the director sees him fit.
Once again directed by the incomparable Laurie Jarvis, this year’s show is based on the well-known Grimm’s fairytale that’s been adapted in all sorts of ways in popular culture. The music in this version is contemporary and will be having the audience easily humming along with the chorus.
Ormond’s veteran acting chops will be surrounded by all kinds of children, teenagers and adult newbies who are stepping into the spotlight for the first time. And though the plotline of the pantomime rarely strays from what audiences expect, for Ormond it’s always something different.
“The excitement in the newcomers is what attracts me to projects like this,” he says. “And the fact it’s being carried forward to the next generation. You look at all these high school kids that are involved, it’s just incredible. Over the last few years I have been regularly involved and watched these young kids grow up. Their passion for it and to see them come off stage after the performance… it’s a lot of fun.”
An admittedly shy fella, during rehearsals — which have been taking place since late September — Ormond slinks into the background, hardly noticed. But when he steps forward to deliver his lines, the years of community theatre experience are put on display. Though his pantomime roles over the years have changed, one that’s always appreciated by cast and crew is elder statesman.
“I never thought I would see that, but I am fine with it if that’s what people see me doing,” Ormond says with his patented gruff laughter. “I’m just happy to be involved in theatre in this community.”
The Elves and the Shoemaker opens Thursday with five shows that run through Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre box office, by phone at 250-352-6363 or online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca.