The Gate House Theatre has been the heart and soul of Port McNeill’s arts scene since 2011 when it first opened.
The theatre is run by Terry Ruth Eissfeldt, who moved to Port McNeill in 1992 after her husband took a job with Canadian Helicopters (six months later he and a few other employees would go on to start their own successful business called West Coast Helicopters).
Eissfeldt was busy raising four children and teaching horseback riding in Port McNeill, but she said that ever since she can remember, she has “always wanted to be in theatre.”
Seeing Mary Poppins as a kid was her first big theatrical influence, and later on when she was in high school, “we had a theatre program and the first actual production I was in was the Music Man.”
Eissfeldt also performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, numerous musical reviews, and in her senior year, she had a role in Man of La Mancha.
“I have a lot of passions in life,” she laughed. “Horses, music, theatre, writing — I wanted to do it all.”
In 2008, Eissfeldt decided to take a look at the property at #11-1705 Campbell Way, which was operating at the time as a movie theatre.
Eissfeldt debated turning it into a real theatre as a business venture, but it became obvious to her it would never be able to make it as an official business.
“It had to be a society, a charitable organization that ran this,” she said. “Showing movies once a week is not going to make enough money to keep you afloat, but it will help you make some money to help support your society.”
The Gate House Community Association was then formed, with its purposes being:
To educate and increase the public’s understanding and appreciation of performing and visual arts by providing performances of an artistic nature and by providing seminars on topics related to such performances;
To provide instructional seminars on topics related to the performing and visual arts; and
To educate the public in music, drama, film, dance, visual and written arts performance and composition through workshops and recitals.
Eissfeldt said the theatre fills a “huge need in the community”, adding, “we’re the only place offering a theatre arts program here. It’s not being offered in the schools, and we have 16 kids in our after school drama program — That to me is the greatest thing. It’s super rewarding when you see first time theatre people onstage and getting hooked on it.”
Above all else, “My husband and I view this as our legacy — I believe a town without arts is black and white. The arts bring colour, dimension, and texture to a community. The dramatic arts for me is a way of play, a way of exploration, and a way of bringing out the best in our community.”
Check out the Gate House Theatre online at gatehouseca.org and on Facebook.