If all the world is stage, then Lyle McNish is merely the player and the heart of Prince Rupert’s drama scene.
One rainless evening, near the entrance of the Tom Rooney Playhouse, he spoke about being one of the city’s prominent thespians.
He probably wouldn’t use the word ‘prominent’ for himself. McNish is far too humble to acknowledge that his love for theatre has benefited the community through his enthusiasm and dedication to the craft.
Earlier in April, when “Rock of Ages” hit the Lester Centre of the Arts, McNish sat in the stands, with a slight smile, watching the musical he directed unfold as audiences vibrated from laughter and epic live music onstage.
The theatre-lover has been involved in Rupert plays since 1990. After his return from five-and-a-half years in Kitimat, he was asked by long-time friend, Crystal Lorette, if he would direct the rock musical.
Once the Lester Centre of the Arts received the rights for the play he was all in. He even took a trip to Vegas with a couple of the band members from Triple Bypass to watch the play in the flesh.
“These professional shows set the bar and we’d seen the bar and thought ‘how do we achieve that’? I think the people in the production team all aspired to do that,” McNish said.
Rehearsals started in January and intensified by the end of March. In between those months, McNish also performed shows with the Harbour Theatre’s improv group, Hook, Line and Snicker. All his extra hours of work propping up the arts community is just a “labour of love” he said.
“When you’re directing the show you’re meeting with the production team and you’re doing other things to draw the right kind of ingredients to pull things off and if things aren’t coming together then you try to figure out how to get them to come together.”
Other than taking a few workshops through Theatre BC, McNish has no formal theatre training. His day job is as an accountant at CityWest.
Born in Kamloops and raised in Prince Rupert, McNish is one of six boys. In elementary school he played basketball at Annunciation, and in his words, he was “living the Rupert dream”. He was also involved in men’s fastball until his thirties when the league ended.
His parents weren’t involved in theatre, they were too busy raising a house full of boys. But three of the six sons became thespians. One brother is a theatre instructor at the University of South Wales, in Cardiff, and the brother, Rod, had a theatre degree from Simon Fraser University and was involved in many plays when he returned to Prince Rupert.
It was through Rod that he thought he’d put himself out there and audition. He didn’t think he’d get cast in “Night of January 16th” when he saw how many people auditioned but he got a part, and caught the bug.
“The adrenaline of it was really quite something. It was a rush,” he said.
Back in the ‘90s, the drama troupe in the city were vagabonds until the Tom Rooney Playhouse opened in 2001, and the troupe had a home; albeit, it resembles an abandoned warehouse that could have been a venue for “Fight Club”. But beyond the metal door, inside the building is a quaint homey theatre complete with the necessary bar.
Every Thursday night, McNish joins his improv gang at the theatre and they play games and exercise their extemporaneous muscle for game night when they extract “wows” and guffaws from the audience.
McNish is also involved with the board of directors of the Harbour Theatre and is planning the 18th Udderfest, a week-long small-scale version of the Edmonton Fringe Festival.
Reluctant to speak about himself and his contribution to the arts community, a fellow improv friend spoke up before he entered the Harbour Theatre for their Thursday night practice.
“I’d say he has vision, energy, relentless encouragement to a host of actors and wannabe actors who represent all generations. Lyle is not only a role model, but also a great supporter of young performers,” Michael Gurney said.
As the sun faded behind the Harbour Theatre, just before the conversation ended, and McNish joined the improv group, he shared what he loves most about being on stage.
It’s the moment when the actor connects with the audience. When the audience waits in anticipation for the next gesture or word, and then it becomes a shared experience with the performer.
Watch for McNish as he continues to seek and deliver that connection in this city.