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Good Life: The show must go on

Long-time Cowichan stage pillars Frank Wilson and Ian Rothnie ham it up in preparation for My Fair Lady. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Long-time Cowichan stage pillars Frank Wilson and Ian Rothnie ham it up in preparation for My Fair Lady.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

Thinking and acting young are among the many joys of community theatre.

Ask Cowichan stage pillars Frank Wilson and Ian Rothnie.

The long-time South Island Musical Society members — and Cowichan Bay neighbours — were readying the venerable troupe’s April production of My Fair Lady when the Good Life caught up to them.

Both guys appeared in the troupe’s 1989 version: Wilson as the bartender; Rothnie as Alfie Doolittle — the role he’ll reprise next month in the Cowichan Theatre.

The stage has basically become their fountain of youth.

“When people say ‘Come down to the seniors’ centre’, I say ‘I don’t feel old enough,’” laughed Rothnie, 73.

“Community theatre’s about the characters, the interplay of meeting people, and having fun with them,” said Wilson, 92, SIMS’ treasurer.

He last hit SIMS’ boards several years back in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.The Lancashire native went to ledgers from lines to help the former Cowichan Musical Society, in which he’s appeared in some 20 shows.

“It’s a worthwhile cultural addition to the area. I just wanted to help a bit by being the treasurer. I got into our musical club through the back door because they really wanted (wife) Vera,” said the former teacher and Amway director.

“They were doing The Merry Widow (1956) and she said ‘I’ll be in it if you take Frank.’”

He and Rothnie said Cowichan is blessed with numerous companies; from SIMS, and the Shawnigan and Mercury Players, to the defunct January Players — plus new troupes surfacing.

“A lot of it comes from our high schools,” Wilson noted of local talent rising from the bottom.

He instructed school trustees to avoid budget cuts to the dramatic arts he viewed as vital to personal development.

“It’s important to turn out well-rounded people in cultural activities, not just in academic ones.”

To Rothnie, books and scripts lend actors a wider scope on society.

“You have to be a reader,” the Edinburgh native said, urging people interested in acting not to be shy — at any age. “Come right ahead. Have a look at the script, read from it, and have the attitude ‘If I get the part, fine; if I don’t, fine.’”

He’s enjoyed plenty of parts, including his looming reprise as Alfie Doolittle.

“It was fairly easy for me to come back to the part — I’ve kept all the original scripts and posters. I’m wearing the original costume that I wore in 1989,” the retired wharf worker and park-trail builder said.

The rambunctious Scot fumbled for words about rewards from community stages.

“You can’t put a value in it; it’s very important — it’s so much fun.”

His enjoyment spans portraying Muff Potter in Tom Sawyer, and Merlin in Camelot, to Santa Claus in solo work, to lavish musicals and dramas.

His hardest role? Ebenezer Scrooge with the January Players in the ‘80s.

“It was the first time I ever cried naturally on stage. I loved it. My favourite play was My Three Angels with Frank Nicol and Graham Morton; we were the three convicts.”

Wilson, a golfer, was game for another stage run, given the right role.

“Considering my age, I’m still in pretty good shape.”

To Rothnie, acting echoes the philosophy of his late friend, Dwight Robinson.

“He said, ‘If I can make someone smile everyday, it adds a day onto my life.’”

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