What started as costume, chauffeur, and concession duties eight years ago has evolved into Sara Lohnes current role as stage manager for Surrey Little Theatre’s upcoming production of Homechild.
The 45-year-old Willoughby mother apparently has no desire to act, but fell into multiple roles backstage in community theatre in 2009, when she took responsibility for costuming 75 children in a two-hour musical for Xtreme Theatre in Maple Ridge.
Costume work consumed her life from October through May of that year, then she followed that up during the run of the show with a stint backstage – wrangling kids, props, and sets.
“My role as stage manager at SLT isn’t much different,” she joked. “The kids are just bigger.”
Asked if she’s been drawn into acting after being immersed in theatre for so long, Lohnes retorted: ‘Oh, heck no. I don’t act. The only time you’ll see me on stage is for set changes, in the dark, or doing a pre-show lighting check.
“I’m purely support staff,” Lohnes said. And she likes it that way.
Homechild, the show that opens tonight (Thursday, April 20) at the Clayton Heights community theatre, is actually Lohnes sixth production with Surrey Little Theatre (SLT).
She started with SLT, again with costumes, during the fall 2015 production of Calendar Girls.
Since then, she’s been involved with most of the shows, either helping with wardrobe, props, set changes, or stage managing.
In fact, she said, this is the third show she’ll have stage managed, a role she jumped at when director June Ainsworth asked her last spring to be part of the show.
“I was excited to work with her, and knew I could learn a ton from her, so I said ‘yes’,” Lohnes recalled.
Happiest behind the scenes
Asked to explain to an outsider what her role of stage manager– on this and other shows – entails, Lohnes said it’s her job to know and record where all the actors are on stage, and when, and to ensure they’re getting their lines right.
“Once the show starts, the director hands the show over to the stage manager, who is now the one responsible for making sure the entire play runs smoothly, calling all the lighting and sound cues to the technicians in the booth, and making sure actors are where they are supposed to be and when and with the right props,” she elaborated.
Ironically, when Lohnes steps away from her stage manager duties in community theatre, she still doesn’t tend to walk to far from the stage.
Her paying gig is that of operations manager for the Circus Lab, a circus school in Port Kells, as well as Blink Acro, a professional performing company.
“I’m lucky in that I have a flexible schedule that allows me to both work and do theatre,” she said, noting she’s already committed to being stage manager for another production next season.
So, what’s the appeal?
She stepped into this world because of the involvement of both of her kids, who are also involved with theatre. But she stays because of the people and the sense of accomplishment.
“The most rewarding part is seeing how it all comes together and how the story builds,” Lohnes said.
“Often when the actors first start with the script, the characters are pretty rough and the play doesn’t flow and you feel like it will never come together. By the last rehearsals, I was totally buying into the characters and bawling at the end of the play.”
This play, for her, was no exception.
Homechild is a drama that examines the life of one of the hundreds of little children who were sent to Canada from Great Britain as part of a massive child migration scheme that began in the mid-1800s and continued until the mid-1900s.
The play was written by Joan MacLeod, a Canadian Governor General’s a ward-winning playwright, and is directed by the mother-and-daughter team of Langley’s June and Jacq Ainsworth.
“This play deals with two generations’ ongoing struggles to connect with each other,” Jacq said.
“The lingering yearning, the inconsolable loss, the anxiety-ridden denial; these all sound like subjects too heavy for an enjoyable night of theatre, but something in Joan Macleod’s ability to capture the sweet, the amusing, and the genuine in her characters, transforms a heavy, sad truth into a beautiful, gentle and healing exploration of old wounds,” Jacq said.
Lohnes said this play spoke to her.
“One of my favourite books as a child was All the Children Are Sent Away, a novel by Sheila Garrigue about British children being sent to Canada during the war to keep them safe. Although the Home Children were a different situation and were sent to Canada to stay, the story resonated in the same way with me,” she explained.
“There are characters that everyone can relate to as members of your family. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it will become a part of you! “ Lohnes concluded.
Entering in competition
Homechild is SLT’s entry into the regional theatre competition in White Rock in May. The play that wins that competition then advances to the provincial level at Theatre BC’s Mainstage in Vernon in July.
Surrey Little Theatre’s entry last year, The Last Lifeboat, won the regional and provincial competition.
Homechild can be seen at Surrey Little Theatre, located at 7027 184th St., from April 20 to May 20 – Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., with three Sunday matinees: April 30, May 7, and May 14 at 2 p.m.