Familiar face behind the scenes to take centre stage at Hall of Fame gala

Volunteer Bruce Rusheleau poses for a photo while constructing a set. Rusheleau has given more than 10,000 volunteer hours to Prince Albert theatre companies and the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. He will be inducted into the Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 28. -- Submitted photo.

Bruce Rusheleau is used to anonymity.

After nearly 20 years as a set builder, fly tower operator and all-round backstage hand for Prince Albert’s various theatre companies, Rusheleau welcomed his role as a reliable, but little seen, volunteer. That’s why he was so surprised when the Prince Albert Arts Hall of Fame came calling.

“It was totally out of left field,” says Rusheleau, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with The Watsonairs and The Prince Albert Community Players on Saturday. “I thought, ‘oh, okay.’ I was surprised. I’m obviously pleased and honoured that the arts board (chose me). Here’s the thing, I’ve been singled out to receive this honour, but when I really think about it, you’re always part of a team. It’s for everybody who volunteers, really, it’s just that I happened to be doing it for a little bit longer than most of them.”

Rusheleau never started with pretenses of being a lifelong volunteer. Originally, he just wanted to help his wife and daughter, both of which were involved with Broadway North Theatre Company in the late ‘90s. Technically, he was an assistant to his wife, who was in charge of finding and making props, while his daughter acted.

That all changed during a summer production of “Gypsy” in the year 2000. Broadway North’s head carpenter lost the end of his thumb in an accident, and the company needed someone to work on their half-finished sets at the old Powerhouse Theatre north of the city. Rusheleau said yes.

“The thing that I always remember working with Bruce was the care an attention,” says St. Mary High School drama teacher Jason Van Otterloo, who first met and worked with Rusheleau during those early Broadway North years. “He is a fabulous carpenter, but it comes from attention to every detail…. He’s got that buy-in. He’s not a rah-rah guy, but every time something is going on … there was always that care and attention to the humans who were doing the show too. There was a lot of attention to detail from person to person, and he was always so friendly about it.”

That show with Broadway North was the first of many. Since then, Rusheleau’s built props and set pieces for 25 other company performances, the most recent one being the summer performance of “Mamma Mia.” In later years, he also built sets for Spark Theatre and Odyssey Theatre productions.

His early efforts attracted the attention of Nick Beach, a Broadway North volunteer who later became the E.A. Rawlinson Centre production manager. Beach liked Rusheleau’s work, and started dropping hints that the Rawlinson Centre needed people who could operate their newly installed fly tower.

“(It was) spring, when the building was pretty well done,” Rusheleau remembers. “They were just putting the finishing touches inside and painting, installing the seats and everything. (Nick said,) ‘I want you to come in.’ I don’t know why he had me in mind, but he wanted me to fly the flight tower.”

“I remember going in with him, and the people from Toronto were still coming to install all the rigging and everything. But he was the one who got me into being the fly tower person, and that was great.”

Cast members from a 2002 Broadway North production of “Oklahoma” pose for a photo. The set was one of 25 that Bruce Rusheleau built for the company over a span of nearly two decades. — Submitted photo.

Rusheleau loved building sets, but he found there wasn’t much to do once the show started. At the old Powerhouse Theatre, he’d help park cars in the field with a flashlight once the production opened, but at the new Rawlinson those services weren’t needed. Working as a flyman gave him something to do once the curtain went up.

In 2003, “Guys and Dolls” became the first ever Broadway North Musical in the new E.A. Rawlinson Centre, and Rusheleau had props on every one of the fly tower’s 32 lines.

“It’s so neat,” he says. “Like I said to somebody once, ‘yeah, you’re there, but nobody knows your there.’ I like that anonymity a little bit.”

Rusheleau worked 17 Broadway North Shows as a fly tower operator, along with countless other rentals and community events. The experience became a family affair when his daughter, Amy, and youngest son, Andrew, started helping him.

He continued working as a flyman until just recently, when a rotator cuff injury hindered his ability to do the job. He’s extremely proud of his work, especially since in all those years, only three people were hit with props: two stage hands and an actor. None of the three were standing where they should have been.

“He’s been nothing but a Godsend for us, helping us out when needed, backstage and on the flyrail,” says current E.A. Rawlinson Centre head technician Craig Langlois, who first met Rusheleau more than 10 years ago when they both volunteered on Broadway North’s summer production of ‘Cabaret.’ “ He’s always there. We can call him up the morning of an event and he can be there by the time we need him, with very little lead-time. He’s always willing to help us out.”

As much as Rusheleau loved the technical side, it was the human element that kept him coming back year after year. He loved working with his wife and children, who were also involved in Broadway North productions, and as a shop teacher, he found ways to get his students involved in set design. He credits the public school system for giving him the backing and support to make that happen.

Over the years, he’s noticed a fewer and fewer people going into the back stage side of things, partially because technological improvements meant productions could run with fewer and fewer people. Still, he’s encouraged whenever he meets the odd performer who takes and interest in behind the scenes work. Some of them even leave the life of an actor for the life of a technician.

He’s broken his wall of anonymity on three occasions, all three of which involved acting. The most challenging came in December 2004, when he played the role of Belle’s eccentric father in a Broadway North production of Beauty and the Beast.

The rest has been spent behind or above the stage, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I liked making that contribution,” he says. “Nobody has to know about it. You know yourself. I was blessed with some talent … so it kind of comes natural. If you have that talent and ability, and you can use it, and it’s no big deal, why not? It’s a nice way to be able to contribute to the arts community.”

“You are meant to be invisible. When you think about it, why do people go to the (E.A. Rawlinson) Centre? To see what’s on stage. To see the actors. To hear the actors. That’s the enjoyment.”

The 2019 Arts Hall of Fame Induction Gala will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre. Cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m. and the program at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre Box Office, or by calling 1-306-765-1270.