For the past few years I’ve been an enthusiastic audience member of the South Simcoe Theatre, which is mounting very ambitious musical productions in a tiny theatre on Hamilton St in Cookstown.

It’s always reminded me of the theatre on the second floor of the town hall in Orangeville, BEFORE its big restoration. Wooden flip seats, steel posts, a stage that echoes, a tiny box office, and cushions in a basket if you want them to soften your seat.

While SST, as it’s called, has been around for 36 years, its board of directors made a brilliant move two years ago when it contracted Scott Hurst to serve as its artistic director/general manager. And under Scott’s enthusiasm, this little community theatre is churning out very professional performances. Three weekends, Thursday-Friday-Saturday, nine performances for each production and usually sold out!

This year, when Gypsy opens the 37th season on November 14, there will be a much revered Canadian performer/director behind the scenes. Dinah Christie is “lending” her expertise to take this classic American musical to the stage.

And while she does, the resident Director, Scott Hurst, will be involved in his own classic American musical story, playing the role of Bert Barry in a newly refurbished theatre in Moscow, Russia. Scott has signed a contract which, while it affects South Simcoe Theatre, will be life changing for him. From takeoff for Moscow on September 13 (yes, it’s a Friday!) until next June, Scott will be on stage for one of the most demanding dance musicals of its time. Performing in a 2000 seat theatre in a foreign country with a menâge of Canadian and American performers and technical crew, living in accommodations prepared for the 60 troupe visitors... it’s an opportunity that came up so quickly Scott’s head has been spinning.

For 20 years Scott has been perfecting his craft... actor, director, writer, manager of community theatre first and then Limelight Dinner Theatre, Stratford, Theatre Plus, Citadel, Charlottetown Festival, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Sunshine Festival, Waterloo Festival, and on and on... When he came to SST, it was with the understanding that he’d continue with roles in other theatres while directing and promoting this growing effort in this little hall in Cookstown. If you think this is small potatoes, try it yourself, mounting a full scale musical on a postage stamp stage with no flys, no orchestra pit, no full time staff, no parking, etc. etc. Thank goodness for Greg Gibson and his fabulous musicians.

And that’s what Scott took to Toronto six weeks ago when his agent/manager Ron Barry called to say there were auditions for a Russian production of 42nd Street. Scott auditioned in Toronto, was asked to keep his time free for a dance call in New York and when he wasn’t called back, assumed they weren’t interested and continued his already-full-plate with SST’s very ambitious upcoming season.

And then Troika Entertainment offered him the role of Bert Barry and the race was on. (Interesting, Scott directed 42nd Street for SST two years ago!)

Imagine trying to completely fill in your daily activities for almost a year! An email to 15 or 20 of his theatre friends found directors to take over the SST?shows. He’s listening to Russian tapes to be able to read and speak; he’s getting medical requirements and passport in order; he’s dealing with bank accounts; he’s getting the family garden ready for winter. He’s trying to work out how he’ll access his per diem cheque so he can buy groceries when he gets there. And he’s spoken to Valerie Samson about the basic components for his room in Russia, so feng shui will bring him peace and prosperity for his year in Moscow.

He’s got a laptop to take with him so he can continue writing the one-man show he’s been working on. He’s hoping to find a digital camera so he can stay in touch with his partner and friends, and the entire SST team while he’s away.

And he’s revising his views on Russia as an oppressed, bleak country. As he strolls through websites, he’s not only connecting with people, he’s finding out lots about a beautiful country. While all of this is frightening and exhilarating at the same time, Scott figures it’s really pushing him out of his comfort zone. He’ll be certainly bringing back new ideas which will no doubt find their way onto the stage at SST.

And he’ll surely have recorded the response to an American production about capitalism andfinding opportunity in adversity. Scott expects the production will be well polished as a big draw during the Russian high tourist season.

Wow! Talk about an opportunity! We’ll be listening for your feedback, Scott.

And, thanks! Thanks for being brave enough to put your current life on hold, to step into the unknown and share your incredible gifts with another world. And then to bring it back!

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