Local colour

By Angela Hawn
Photo courtesy Tweed & Co. Theatre

Tweed & Co. productions are apt to pop up in theatres anywhere, but why not catch a performance by this home-grown group right in their own backyard? Head straight to the marble church in Actinolite, just north of Tweed and take a moment to contemplate this lovely building's history before taking your seat.

Home base for Tweed & Co. is the Marble Arts Centre in Actinolite, just north of town, which despite its tight quarters provides an ideal space according to artistic director Tim Porter.

Home base for Tweed & Co. is the Marble Arts Centre in Actinolite, just north of town, which despite its tight quarters provides an ideal space according to artistic director Tim Porter.

Constructed from gleaming white marble quarried mere metres up the road, this site's cornerstone dates back to 1864. Since then, the place has seen a lot, including more than a few troubles. From a devastating fire in 1889 to dwindling congregations a hundred years later, things have sometimes been rough. By the time the new millennium swung around, the church's future truly looked bleak. Fortunately, that's when The Tweed and Area Arts Council stepped in and the marble church entered its latest incarnation as the Marble Arts Centre.

"It's a great space," declares Tweed and Company's artistic director Tim Porter, though he notes the lack of wings and formal dressing rooms means the players need to keep an open mind when preparing for a performance. "We encourage the actors to walk around in the lobby or outside or anywhere they need to before a show."

This is the kind of theatre where you're apt to encounter a performer in full costume while waiting in line for the loo or checking out items from an interesting Tweed & Co. fundraiser, a “curated yard sale" full of locally donated antiques. And somehow, this fits perfectly. Though Tweed & Co. certainly isn't community theatre, this professional group's roots reach deep into the community.

Look around and you're sure to see a few familiar faces. The man handing out programs at the door just happens to be Tim Porter's brother, Dan. Like Tim, he grew up a few kilometres away on the family beef farm.

Serving up drinks behind the backstage bar is the perpetually jovial Will Austin, taking time from his "day job" as co-proprietor of Newton House Bed and Breakfast to lend a hand. And seated just a few rows up, isn't that international model turned Tweed vintner Sandor Johnson? Apparently some of his latest wines are on offer at the bar.

Mingle with the crowd at intermission and you just might find yourself drawn into conversation with Stirling beekeeper Peter Mewett and wife Judy (who also serves on Tweed and Company's advisory panel). Parents to the theatre group's general manager, Emily, the pair saw ‘I'll Fly Away’ earlier in the week, but opted to attend the closing performance as well. Make sure you allow a little time for some parental bragging rights and let them explain Emily's absence. Although their busy daughter happily helped out with earlier performances of Tweed and Company's latest show, prior commitments with her job at world-renowned SoulPepper Theatre meant an early return to Toronto. You'll find their enthusiasm contagious and they'll even let you ramble on about your own kids!

If the crowds aren't too thick, congratulate Tim on a job well done before he excuses himself to help out at the bar, or chat with scene-stealing funny man Joel MacMeekin as he pauses for breath between acts. Compliment local actress Nicole Flynn on her violin solo and ask how many international medals she's won competing with The Canadian Down Syndrome Swimming Association.

Take time to look around, soak up the atmosphere and simply enjoy yourself. But when the lights dim, hurry back to your seat in this fabulous heritage space. Act two is about to start and you won't want to miss a minute.