Joanne Husband and Roger Desprez stand outside of the Nanaimo Theatre Group’s Bailey Studio

Joanne Husband and Roger Desprez stand outside of the Nanaimo Theatre Group’s Bailey Studio

Theatre of dreams

NANAIMO – Bailey Studio becomes more than just a performance space.

The Bailey Studio is a place where people have come together for years to put on a performance.

Home of the Nanaimo Theatre Group, the Rosstown Road venue has served as a space for general meetings, rehearsals and performances for more than four decades.

The studio has also become a place where people have fallen in love, as is the case with Ian and Meg Matthews.

It was September 1978 and Ian was in his early 30s when he met a young woman in her late 20s during one of those general meetings.

“We were introduced at the meeting,” Ian said. “The next week we ended up rehearsing a play together.”

It was during the theatre group’s production of Riders to the Sea that the two fell in love.

By July 1979, the couple had married.

“It was a speedy romance,” Meg said.

The Bailey Studio, a 172-seat theatre, has come a long way since it was first acquired by the theatre group in 1971.

“It has been step by step, bit by bit,” said long-time theatre group member Joanne Husband.

Nanaimo Theatre Group traces its roots back to June 1961, when Roger Desprez and his wife re-established a drama club within the city.

According to records, the group was called Nanaimo Drama Group and the Nanaimo Drama Club by various newspaper outlets. It was only until November of that year that the group was identified as the Nanaimo Theatre Group by local media.

During the 1960s, the Nanaimo Theatre Group operated without a permanent home.

“We would perform every place we could,” Desprez said. “We tried the basement of the old library. We tried the Malaspina Hotel. Eventually we tried to do musicals in Beban Park, but they only lasted for so long because the acoustics were so bad and the hard chairs were beginning to bother people.”

In 1970, the theatre group began looking for a place of its own and considered numerous sites.

“We tried looking at the old Orange Crush building and the Capitol Theatre that were here, but both were going to cost so much to renovate,” Desprez said.

Eventually the group heard about a small building located on Rosstown Road. The building needed significant repairs as it didn’t have a toilet or an appropriate form of heating and was filled with junk.

“It was a miners shack,” Desprez  said. “Then it was turned into an independent preparatory school.”

Although some members had voiced concerns about the site, Desprez says the building had some advantages.

“For one thing, it had an area for parking lots,” he said. “That was very important.”

In 1971, the group secured a bank loan and officially took possession of the building, which required extensive cleaning and repairs.

“It took us a week to get rid of the garbage,” Desprez said.

For the next couple of years, the group began using the space a rehearsal centre and also held a few performances.

“We made a little theatre out of it in the lounge,” Desprez said.

A few years later the group, with the help of an $8,000 grant, began upgrading the building to include an improved stage, small seating area and lighting.

The Nanaimo Theatre Group recently made upgrades to the roof of the building.

“All we wanted was a place where we could rehearse and keep our stuff,” said producer and past president Sheila Coultish.In 1980 they held their first production, A Doll’s House, in the newly renovated space, which is named after long-time supporter Ivy Bailey.

Today, the Bailey Studio features everything one would expect from a theatre.

For the Matthews, the Bailey Studio has become something of a second home.

“We certainly spend more time there than anywhere else,” Meg said.

Together, the Matthews have two daughters, one of whom met her husband while on stage at the Bailey Studio. Their other daughter, Shannon Reimer, is currently the secretary for the theatre.

The Matthews say that the theatre has been an inclusive environment for their children and grandchildren, one of whom has appeared in a production.

“It was place where they could go and be with kids, they could be with adults and everybody was treated the same,” Meg said. “There was no ‘oh darn those kids.’ The people over there are actors too and everybody was treated the same and I think my kids really got a good hold on life with all the different people at the theatre.”

It is those kinds of experiences that kept the Nanaimo Theatre Group not just alive, but successful over the years.

“You have this common bond. It is like being on a team,” Coultish said. “You couldn’t put us and teenagers on a team to play a sport, but you can in theatre and it is a great leveller and we find that we all do well.”

Nanaimo Theatre Group will kick off its 2015-16 season with the production of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers beginning on Oct. 18. Please visit

arts@nanaimobulletin.comTwitter: @npescod


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