Gary Smith and Willard Boudreau are an artistic and life partnership that has been a mainstay of Hamilton theatre for just about the last half century. The production of Assassins currently running at the Player’s Guild is also a fantastic occasion to celebrate their lifetime’s achievement.
Odds are that if you can name a challenging show at the Guild, in recent years or as far back at the 1960’s, Smith and Boudreau are liable to be involved somehow: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Boys in the Band, (a portrayal of the gay community when it was decades away from prime time TV), The Lion In Winter, Friel’s Miracle Worker and Dancing at Lughnasa, Albee’s Delicate Balance – to name barely a few.
The Guild claims to be North America’s oldest continuously running community theatre, with roots in our community back to 19th century, and keeping a solid roof over their heads with a beautiful historic property is no small feat.
A renovation to the roof of their home on 80 Queen Street is setting them back almost a hundred thousand dollars, which puts a price tag on the explosion of cultural expression we’re experiencing in Hamilton, and the historic buildings so many of us love. A leak, after all, isn’t just inconvenient and uncomfortable, but corrosive to a building’s structural integrity over time, as we were so painfully reminded at the Algo Mall in Elliot Lake only a year and a half ago.
Boudreau found a niche as a well loved drama teacher for generations of local high school and middle school students, back when middle school curriculum included drama. His portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus for Theatre Burlington is still spoken of in hushed tones, and the production is cited as one that proved community theatre can achieve any technical challenge it sets itself.
Though not the side of the coupleship to take the acting spotlight, Smith’s success could be considered higher profile than his husband’s; with a background in Dance performance, he later gravitated to journalism and has been reviewing theatre at the Spectator for as long as many of us can remember, rubbing some iconic elbows along the way: Karen Kain, Veronica Tennant, Tennessee Williams, and Brian Bedford spring to mind immediately, out of dozens of famous names he has reviewed and interviewed.
This all says nothing of the work done with their private company, Piccadilly Circus: shows like Mambo Italiano, The Laramie Project, Tremblay’s Hosanna and even in a way their production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, have been important local contributions to the understanding of the still suppressed and ridiculed male passion, or even simple compassion, for other men.
Homosexuality is still labelled a mental illness by some, and the current production of Assassins definitely gives voices to marginalized people, by portraying their seemingly inconceivable motivations with sensitivity, impact, realism and humour.
The Mad Pride movement, which is made up of psychiatric survivors and their supporters, is following in the footsteps of social movements like Gay Pride, Feminism, and Black emancipation – struggles which took many generations to achieve the advances they did in this century.
Smith and Boudreau have been teaching artistic and sexual integrity by example for decades. Their lives are a testament that the work of creation well done can be reward in itself, that love and excellence are best measured from within, and that local heroes really are just as valuable to the fabric of living culture as national or international superstars.
There truly is an infinite learning curve in both art and life, and the continuity, resources and expertise provided by the Players Guild are a gift to the Hamilton community that serious new artists young and old can learn a lot from and access more easily than they realize.
The Guild support artistic growth with loans of equipment, properties, and costumes, and most importantly they offer training workshops. With seasoned veteran members like Boudreau and Smith, Lynne Jamieson, Ariel Rogers, Margaret Houghton, and many more, that’s a fantastic educational opportunity. V
Dec. 5, 6, 7
@ Hamilton Players Guild.
80 Queen St. S.