The stage is always set for Chemainus’ first family of the performing arts to continue making its mark.
Matriarch Sandra Heydon, who turns 94 in September, has experienced and done it all in the community throughout the years while passing on her passion for singing, dancing, acting and variety shows to daughter Liz Heydon Bennett. The torch is now being carried by the next generation with Georgia Bennett, 27, Sandra’s granddaughter and Liz’s daughter, who’s currently performing in the blockbuster Classic Country Roads at the Chemainus Theatre until Aug. 21.
The common traits of the three go beyond the obvious family and artistic talents to an interesting numerical coincidence. Once the next birthdays for Sandra and Liz are celebrated in September, Georgia’s age (27) plus Liz’s (67) will equal Sandra’s (94).
Those who have lived in Chemainus since the heyday of the 1950s and ’60s know all about the three famous doctors in town and their families – the Heydons, Philippsons and Fentons. To put everything into context for those who don’t know the history, Sandra Heydon has always been the ultimate community-minded volunteer and the wife of prominent doctor Gordon Heydon, who died in 2010.
Sandra was a musical director extraordinaire of the Chemainus Hospital Auxiliary and Seniors Centre shows. Jam sessions at the Heydon household were a common occurrence as Sandra would rehearse numbers on her organ – and even her own set of drums.
“She was always very involved in music for our kids in the family,” said Liz. “It certainly was a very big part of all our lives.”
Venues were booked anywhere and everywhere for shows, including all the churches and there were even summer shows for a while at the Promise Garden Theatre located at the former Tahitian Restaurant that used to exist at the corner of Chemainus and Crofton Roads. A stage was built there in the large front garden area.
Sandra never met a location she didn’t like to put on a performance, with the Hospital Day shows being the most famous.
She held every conceivable position with the Chemainus Hospital Auxiliary. She produced and directed 17 full-length musicals, with proceeds being used to purchase equipment and furnishings for the hospital.
When Sandra was honoured with a Life Membership to the Auxiliary, historian Curl Twentyman wrote the following about her superstar show status: “I don’t know how she did it, but every one was different. No sooner would one show be over and she had a theme for the next show. For instance, she went to Germany and came back with the theme for the show Night of Knights.
“She not only brought out the local talents of singers, dancers and actors, but also the scenery, costumes, props, make-up artists, lighting technicians, sound effects and stage hands, and would you believe she also coordinated the food served during intermission.”
Today, Sandra is thrilled to be granddaughter Georgia’s No. 1 fan, along with Liz.
“When you hear her, you realize how talented she is,” noted Sandra. “She has such a lovely signing voice.
“I am totally happy and the fact she is doing it locally means I can go see her performances.”
Sandra and Gordon enthusiastically supported the theatre from the beginning. “The whole thing with this theatre, we’re lucky to have it,” she pointed out.
The current production of Classic Country Roads, Sandra added, “it was absolutely wonderful. Thoroughly enjoyed it. All the performers and musicians were excellent. Of course, I have a special place in my heart for Georgia. She is so talented.”
Grandma has also seen Georgia multiple times in previous productions of Holiday Jubilation, Kidz Play shows and more recently her foray into the Playbill Presents series in the dining room as a solo performer.
Liz has only seen Classic Country Roads five times so far but plans to attend again before the end. Unfortunately, the attendance hasn’t measured up to expectations for the theatre despite rave reviews, as struggles getting people back since COVID shutdowns continue.
“From opening night in the first few days till now, everything’s so much tighter,” said Liz. “To me, it keeps getting better and better.”
It’s a bit disappointing for Georgia and the other performers to see so many empty seats, but the show must go on.
“I will say it makes a huge difference when the theatre’s full,” said Georgia.
Surprisingly, it didn’t appear initially as if the performing bug was going to bite her as a youth.
“I started singing lessons when I was really young and didn’t like it,” Georgia chuckled.
That all changed when Glee came out and she attended a boot camp at the Chalkboard Theatre in Duncan at the age of 14.
“From then on, I didn’t look back,” Georgia conceded.
Family experiences also helped to foster that gravitation toward the arts.
“Just being surrounded by it, it made probably a bigger impact than I thought it would,” she said. “I think my grandparents taking me to the theatre all the time, I saw everything growing up.”
COVID obviously derailed the industry, but Georgia bounced back and had the Chemainus Theatre as the perfect opportunity to land roles.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I’m so thankful to work at the theatre as much as I have. It does make a difference to have it in my hometown. And my family can come and see it and friends from high school.”
“I’m thrilled for me,” said Liz. “I know how much she enjoys it. I enjoy watching her and being right behind her all the time. I do give her the encouragement and support. We’re all very proud as we are of all our children.”
Georgia has taken that support to develop into a stronger performer with each passing year.
“You learn so much from the people you’re surrounded with,” she conceded.
And the chance to try something different like Classic Country Roads is rewarding.
“I didn’t know anything about country before this show,” Georgia noted. “I think this has opened up a whole new world for me. It’s a lot of popular country songs, too.”
It’s safe to say the future of a long-standing community entertainment tradition is in good hands.