Alex Gallacher was “completely flabbergasted and honoured” to receive the City of Duncan’s Perpetual Arts Award during an online presentation earlier this month.
The long-time actor, director and teacher in the Cowichan Valley accepted the prize, which goes to one individual each year “who has demonstrated excellence in the performing, literary or visual arts.”
For his many accomplishments on the stage, the Duncan-born-and-raised Gallacher came into theatre comparatively late, starting with the Shawnigan Players in 1986, although it had always intrigued him. Once he got the acting bug, he found a true home in theatre circles.
“I always enjoyed theatre as an art form — plays with really good scripts,” he related. “Community theatre has been a great way to meet people and work together on worthwhile projects, something one cares deeply about.”
Despite having never acted before, Gallacher was asked to take on the lead male role in his first play: Tennesee Williams’s The Night of the Iguana.
Although he has worked with several groups during his theatre career, the Shawnigan Players have always been his home group.
“What was really great about doing it with that group of players is that it was very much about the work,” he explained. “You check your ego at the door.”
Eventually, Gallacher went from acting to directing. He hadn’t considered directing, but was encouraged to try. The first play he directed was one written by his brother, Pete Marlowe about three guys living in a rooming house in Victoria. That debut was a success as Big Plans, which Gallacher describes as an “edgy play,” won a Theatre BC award.
He tackled some big names with his ensuing directorial projects, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and William Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“I don’t think Shakespeare had been tried in the Valley before that,” Gallacher pondered.
The Bard found a foothold in the Valley after that, however, and the Cowichan Shakespeare Festival is now preparing for its 10th year. The festival was adapted for COVID restrictions in 2020, and featured excerpts from The Winter’s Tale. If things go as planned, they will stage the entire play in 2021.
That’s not the only production Gallacher is associated with that’s been hit by COVID restrictions this year. The annual pantomime presented by the Shawnigan Players, the Cowichan Musical Society and the Mercury Players was supposed to run Dec. 27-31 and has now been delayed to late January (fingers crossed). When it does happen, Gallacher is set to play the role of the Evil Queen in Snow White and the 5 Dwarfs.
Away from the stage, Gallacher is the principal at Evergreen Independent School in Cobble Hill, and he has drawn much inspiration in his life from schoolteachers. He still recalls seeing a play directed by John Getgood at Mount Prevost Elementary School when he was four, sparking his lifelong love of the theatre. Jim Moore at Quamichan Middle School gave Gallacher his first exposure to Shakespeare and an opportunity to do some backstage work. At Cowichan Secondary, Alexander Wilson and Geoff Hargreaves, who taught a television course and English lit, respectively, left strong impressions on him.
One of the things Gallacher loves most about the theatre is that it is a collaborative art, and he is proud to have worked with actors of every age, from kids to folks in their 90s. He’s not the only one who didn’t get an early start, either.
“Often, there are people who thought they would never get involved in theatre and end up having a wonderful time,” he said.
Gallacher loves the idea that anyone can do theatre, and is grateful for the first chance he got, 34 years ago.
“Without that opportunity, I surely never would have been involved in theatre,” he said.