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Jack-of-all-trades Collingwood performer follows his dreams

People of Collingwood: Dean Hollin, radio host and actor
Dean Hollin is a radio host and performer who is based out of Collingwood.

This week, Dean Hollin will take the stage in Brilliantly Bacharach as part of a kaleidoscope of a career that includes music, radio and performance.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Hollin, 57, radio host and actor.

Q: Where were you born?

A: Hamilton.

I went to Grange Elementary School in Ancaster from Grade 1 to 4. Then, we moved out to the country and my parents moved me to St. Ann School. I did Grade 7/8 in another school.

I went to high school in Hamilton. I grew up in a smaller town. All of a sudden, my horizons were expanding because I was being bused down to Hamilton.

Q: When did you first know that performing was your passion?

A: I was a pretty shy guy, but I knew I wanted to be in radio. Radio was safe for me because it was kind of behind the scenes. I liked the idea of being broadcast to a big audience. It just captivated me when I was younger.

When I entered high school, I went to my appointment with guidance. They’re prepared for every Grade 9 (student) to come down and say they didn’t know what they wanted to do. She was startled. I told her I wanted to go into radio.

But then I got on stage in late Grade 9 or early Grade 10 and that sealed it. It changed my direction because I found this thing and I fell in love with it.

I was never the star student, and I wasn’t the star athlete. I was never the guy the girls were all after. When I got on stage, I found my place. It was like nothing I’d ever felt in my life.

Q: After high school, where did it take you?

A: I started doing community theatre. I wanted to keep accelerating. My high school didn’t have a huge drama program, but there was a gentleman in town who would do an all-star regional show where he would audition students from all 18 Hamilton high schools, pick the cream of the crop and put on a show at Hamilton Place. I went back for a Grade 13 year just so I could participate in that show.

I was also doing community theatre with adults. I kept doing work with that company, called Hamilton Theatre Inc. until I was 25.

I chose not to go to post-secondary because that theatre company would bring in Broadway Tony-nominated directors to do those shows so I was able to work with them. The training I was getting with them was great. I worked as a bank teller during the day to make money.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your career after that point?

A: I went pro when I was 25. My first job ever was in 1993 for a touring company as a non-equity job in the Muskoka Festival. I lived in Gravenhurst during that time, and we travelled around to resorts all summer. It was putting in your time. It kept growing from there.

I spent summers in Orillia at the Sunshine Festival, and in Kincardine at the Bluewater Festival. When they were starting the Sterling Festival...I got a call from my agent that Sterling wanted me as part of it. It was totally flattering. I didn’t even go in to audition. I stayed there for five years.

My wife and I had just started dating. I met Gayle at Theatre Aquarius. It was love at first sight.

I was doing a double show in there in 1997. On my first day of rehearsal I went upstairs for my wardrobe fitting. When I walked in the door, from about 20 feet away I saw this mass of red hair and freckles and I was just struck by this girl. I had to know who she was.

It took me about a month to get a date. Two months later, I started to design a ring. At the six-month mark, we got engaged and bought a house.

Next month will be our 25th wedding anniversary. We have four children.

Q: What brought you to Collingwood?

A: In 2003, I was doing my theatre thing, and I was involved in a show called Memories of the Rat Pack. I’ve always played the Frank Sinatra role in that. We were scheduled to do the show in Germany.

In the fall, I had a call from a friend of mine that there was a guy in Collingwood/Wasaga Beach who was courting me to bring a show to town.

I spoke to this guy, who had purchased my one-man Cole Porter show. He told me he knew a guy who was looking to buy the Historic Gayety Theatre, and he was looking for someone to run it as artistic director.

This was something I had always wanted to do.

When I came back from Germany, my wife and I talked about it. We had one child then, and number two on the way. This was in January of 2003.

I drove up to Collingwood and saw the theatre. Within two weeks, he asked me to come run the theatre. We were one month away from having our second child. My wife said she wasn’t going anywhere.

Two days after number two was born, we started packing.

It’s been 21 years since we moved here, and my son was six weeks old.

We lived above the theatre. I was running the theatre. I learned how to work the film projector, I was directing, and I was on stage. I helped design the renovations.

We had no parking, no laundry on the premises and two babies under two.

It was a neat time, but a challenging time.

I did that for three years. When it was over, we decided we wanted to stay here.

We recognized early on that this was a great place to raise a family. We figured it out.

Q: What kinds of things do you do now for work?

A: I’m a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

When we decided to live here, I would do freelance work and travel away from time to time.

About eight years ago...I did the musical Chicago, and I played the lawyer Billy Flynn. That summer, I was away for 13 weeks.

My youngest was seven. I missed a lot. At that point, I decided I was going to do a lot less of that, and I’d have to do more table waiting. I had to find another way to do what I loved to do while still being a husband and a family man.

I had decided I wanted to make radio at the tail end of my life. When I was in my 20s, I fell desperately in love with the Great American Songbook. In the last decade, I wanted to take that into radio land so I could reach a broader audience.

Now, I do a blending of a whole bunch of things. I ran haunted walks in Collingwood based on stories around town. When Doors Open happened, I was asked to do some historic walks. I was a daytime host on RogersTV for two seasons. I’ve done radio along the way. I do some MC (master of ceremonies) work. I do live theatre.

And I don’t have to wait tables anymore.

Q: What’s it like to work in performance media in a small town, and what is the importance of it?

A: When COVID hit, I had no money coming in.

I ended up getting on a community radio station in the Haliburtons. It kept me doing something creative during the lockdowns.

Moses Znaimer saw me in a show happening outside in Collingwood and he wanted to chat with me. I told him I had a radio show, and he listened to it. He liked it, and said he wanted it on his network. He hired me for AM740. I continued that show, and I hosted a show called Big Band Sunday Nights, and I do features for the classical station. From that, they asked if I would do hosting on the classical station. The classical station has more of a local feel, although it’s also broadcast in Toronto and in the Cobourg area.

It’s important because it connects what people are doing in an artistic or community way. Radio is a very immediate connector.

Q: You’re performing in Brilliantly Bacharach starting next week. Can you tell me a bit about the show?

A: You probably know a lot more about [Burt Bacharach] than you may realize.

He’s the next wave after the Great American Songbook. Then, the style changed with Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach. It was a different style of songwriting. It didn’t follow the format.

I love telling stories. When I put out a show like this, I read so many articles and books and cross reference everything, and put together a picture. The trick for a show is you have to decide which nuggets are going to be interesting in an entertaining way and cram it into two hours.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Brilliantly Bacharach runs April 16-18 at the John Saunders Centre in Collingwood, presented by Theatre Collingwood)

Q: Are there any misconceptions that people may have about radio or performing that you’d like to correct?

A: I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that, when we’re there, I feel like I give out a piece of my soul every time. I’m sharing maybe an opinion, or something personal about myself. It’s not just a job. I think, for most of us, there’s a passion there.

Q: What are your hobbies when you’re not working?

A: I love to rifle through a box of vinyl. I go to flea markets or second-hand stores.

I’m a bit of a homebody. I think it’s a misconception about entertainers in general. In some ways, we can be more introverted than people think. When I’m on stage, I’m putting it all out there for the audience, and I love that, but when I’m not on the stage my favourite place to be is at home or in a very small gatherings.

My wife's and my favourite thing to do is to get up at 5:30 a.m. and go for a walk to watch the sunrise. I love sunrises.

My family is a big part of my life. I like cooking.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I have no plan to go anywhere, because we love being here.

There was some talk years ago about whether we should consider moving back to the city. My wife gave up her career in wardrobe to be up here and raise our four children.

But we love the lifestyle and the people we know up here. Our plan is to remain here, and I think I will keep this beautiful mix that I enjoy right now.

I will keep doing that for as long as I can.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we speak with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature runs on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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