By Martin Crilly
It starts, most often, in the summer doldrums. In the kitchen. Up on the bluffs, among the tall trees, perched over the strait. A Creative Mind, alone, casts about for a message about humanity and its condition. A message that fits the times.
The Creative Mind finds inspiration. It concerns memories, music, dreams, happiness, freedom, fear, hate, injustice, suffering, courage, faith, hope, joy or love.
In a few months, the message will reach several hundred people. They will convene to receive it, in groups, over several days. Their identities are yet unknown even to themselves.
The medium is performance art. It is to be presented by an amateur cast of actors and musicians, directed by the Creative Mind.
The Mind now gears into producer mode, to corral willing amateurs, to propel and to train them to deliver the message. The cast toils to make art. As they do so, the meaning of the message penetrates.
The process of assembling the production teeters between chaos and order. It tests the patience, self-discipline, and stamina, nerves, energy, memory, self-confidence and faith of all who chose to immerse themselves in it.
After a crescendo of drilling the dialogue and lyric, gesture and melody, lighting and props, all find unison. Thanks to lively acoustics given by a lofty proscenium ceiling, amplification is unneeded. The production is ripe for opening night.
In performance, live theatre casts its spell. The magic of the moment happens. Attention is rapt. The message drives home.
After the finale, the audience claps not just to praise the entertainment, but to acknowledge the human message lying within it.
The cast salutes the audience with a curtain call. As the echoes die and the last patron exits, a work of art evaporates. Only memories remain.
The Creative Mind can relax. Perhaps until next summer.
The Mind belongs to a Comox Valley citizen, a retired educator named Beryl Regier, the former Miss Grant.
The cast is the Co-Val Choristers; the venue, the Old Church Theatre, on Harmston Avenue in Courtenay.
In 1950, aged 19, chaperoned by her father, naive and wide eyed, Miss Grant arrived in the Valley to teach at Tsolum Consolidated School. Her first production there, with a cast of grades 3 and 4, was titled “The Wedding of Jack and Jill”.
Marrying music and theatre, that show marked the start of Beryl Regier’s tour-de-force which is now, astoundingly, well into its seventh decade.
Her career extends beyond creating live performance, transient by nature, to building organizations and infrastructure—funded by ticket revenues, volunteer time and charitable fundraising campaigns—as a lasting contribution to culture and the arts in the Comox Valley.
In 1958, she taught a new a choral group as a night school programme at Courtenay West Elementary School. Next year, at the City Clerk’s suggestion, the group was named Co-Val Choristers as being representative of the Comox Valley.
That is why “Co-Val”, after an unbroken chain of more than 100 productions under Beryl Regier’s direction, is celebrating its sixtieth Anniversary (see box).
Beryl Regier is a founding member of the Arts Society in the Valley, serving on the board for 13 years from 1965. Through it, in 1967 she assisted Robert Creech, who was a horn player and later Principal of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music and Simon Streatfield, a violist and acclaimed conductor, to establish a summer camp for the Vancouver Junior Symphony. This was the forerunner of the Courtenay Youth Music Centre (CYMC) which thrives today.
In the 1970s, Beryl Regier sat on committees to renovate the old Bickle movie theatre, to become the civic asset that is now the Sid Williams Theatre.
In 1990-92, Beryl Regier and her late husband Gene were leaders in founding a charity to save and convert the Canadian Martyrs Roman Catholic Church, to become The Old Church Theatre. Now a venue for community events and the home of Co-Val Choristers, this heritage building is fully wired for sound and light. With its ivy-covered steeple, it is a recognized Courtenay landmark and a Regier legacy.
As she continues to wield the baton today, one can but admire Beryl Regier for her creative genius, wonder at her endurance, and thank her for constancy of commitment to arts in the Comox Valley.
Curtain Call: The Message and the Music celebrates 60 years of the Co-Val choristers. Produced and directed by Beryl Regier, performances are on October 6, 2018 at 7:30 PM and October 7 at 2:00 PM at the Old Church Theatre, 755 Harmston Avenue, Courtenay. Tickets from Blue Heron books and Cardero’s Café, or at the Old Church Theatre box office every Tuesday & Thursday from 10 AM to 2 PM. T: 250-334-2992. E:firstname.lastname@example.org