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Collingwood director brings Mary of Shanty Bay to local stage

Play tells the true, romantic story of Mary Sophia Gapper, who married and settled in Oro Township in the early 1800s; it will be on Simcoe Street Theatre stage Oct. 5-8
Leah Holder as Mary Sophia Gapper and Daniel Reale as Edward O'Brien

A local woman will be directing an ‘epic historical romance’ as it plays out on stages in Collingwood and Barrie starting later this week. 

Rochelle Reynolds, a Collingwood resident and founder of Quarter Century Theatre, is directing Theatre By the Bay and Theatre Collingwood’s presentations of Mary of Shanty Bay.

The play, written by Leah Holder is a love story taken from the 1828 diaries of Mary Sophia Gapper who married and settled in Oro Township. 

“I was captivated by how effortlessly Leah has been able to harness the rugged majesty of the wild frontier, marry it with the tender, genuine romance between Mary and Edward, and still frame it all such that we walk away with a new feather in our proverbial Canadian history caps,” said Reynolds. "She's done an exceptional job of creating what is, in my opinion, an epic historical romance.” 

This will be Reynold’s directorial debut on the main stage for Theatre by the Bay. She accepted the job on the spot without even reading the script, though she remembered its success during the first production in 2018. 

“For me, this is a story that revolves around the power of place, and the quest to find purpose,” said Reynolds. “Were it not for the immeasurable beauty and spellbinding charm of Shanty Bay itself, Mary’s story would not exist. If that doesn’t bestow power onto place then I don’t know what does.” 

Through rehearsals, Reynolds said she knew the true story warranted care and integrity and she wanted to make sure the audience could feel that the story told on stage was truly the way it happened. 

She also saw the hallmark themes seen in many mediums of Canadian art: a collective desire to be of use, and characters from different attitudes and opinions being united by a will to find a higher calling. 

"These two concepts are both staple themes in Canadian art, from paintings to plays to environmental installations, and it helps root this piece firmly in what I call 'Canadiana culture',” said Reynolds. 

In keeping with the theme of live theatre culture, the play also came with what Reynolds called a wild ride. 

A cast member was unable to open the show in Barrie, so for half of tech week and two performances Reynolds was both directing and acting in the production. 

“I would quite literally start the show as the director, taking notes and corresponding with production, and then promptly leap onto the stage to perform a scene or help with a transition before jumping down again to resume directing,” said Reynolds. 

The show must go on, as they say. 

The cast was whole again by the third show, and Reynolds said she has a bittersweet feeling to relinquish the role, but relief the show is running as intended again. 

“Mary of Shanty Bay is a beautiful show. It's heartfelt, moving, and ultimately very sweet,” said Reynolds. “Most importantly, it tells a remarkable story of one of Canada's unsung heroes, and by the end you have no choice but to contemplate what life in the early days of Upper Canada was really like, and how we would never understand were it not for gifted storytellers like Mary Sophia Gapper.” 

The play ran Sept. 21 to Oct. 1 at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Shanty Bay, and will be on the Simcoe Street Theatre stage in Collingwood Oct. 5 to 8. Tickets are available on the website.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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