The first time Dolores Drake performed on a Prince George stage, it was all by herself in Shirley Valentine, during the inaugural season of Theatre Northwest. That was 25 years ago.
She has been back many times since then and tonight is the start of her latest professional acting project.
Drake is part of the cast of Halfway There, Miracle Theatre's latest charity performance, which starts tonight and runs until March 24.
"It's great to be back," said Drake during a break in rehearsals under director Ted Price, the director who first brought her here when he was the founding artistic director with TNW back in 1994.
"I really like working with Ted and when he retired from Theatre Northwest I just knew he wouldn't retire from directing theatre altogether. I wondered what he'd do and now I get to take part."
She is excited to know that in addition to performing and plying her performing arts trade, the play also raises money for charity, as all Miracle Theatre productions do.
This year, the recipient of the proceeds is the Prince George Community Foundation, earmarked for their the Children of Prince George fund.
Drake knows audiences will enjoy this script. It is one of the first times in history that this play has been performed, but Prince George is as familiar as the rest of Canada with the work of playwright Norm Foster.
His is the pen behind The Melville Boys, The Foursome, Ethan Claymore, Here On The Flight Path and others seen in this city over the years. Halfway There is less than three years old, so P.G. is one of the first audiences to get an impression.
"Who doesn't laugh at Norm Foster?" said Drake. "He is one of our best known playwrights in Canada, and yet also I think one of our most underrated because of how smart his scripts are, not just pulling jokes to make people laugh."
Price is a director who pays attention to those layers and is among the best Drake has ever worked for paying attention to theatrical details. Plus, she said, he casts well.
She can't wait to introduce audiences to Rita, the woman she portrays in this small-town diner based in rural Atlantic Canada.
"She's your typical smartass, so it's a big stretch for me professionally," she said, then doubles over with laughter. "Then you find out Rita has her own pain she doesn't go into with her friends, but it shows you where that smartass attitude comes from."
Everyone in this little town's little diner has their baggage, quirks and personality kinks, she said, so you can't ever be sure where the play is going until it gets there.
She's just happy to travel this play's path with people she appreciates. There is a level of familiarity, having performed once before with Sherry Smith (who comes from a small Nova Scotia town, so the play's setting is already in her DNA) in Prince George, no less, when they were cast together in Ivor Johnson's Neighbours in 2010. Also, though, Drake has performed with Linda Carson more than 30 years ago in a Carousel Theatre production of Midsummer Night's Dream and by coincidence, Carson is originally from Prince George.
It isn't a foregone conclusion that Drake can come to Prince George to take part in the weeks of rehearsal and performance that being in live theatre entails. She has a busy screen arts career in the Lower Mainland.
She is a regular performer in the Hallmark film collection that films in B.C. She has also been in other projects like Bates Motel, Hiccups, Joe Finds Grace, she did a voice on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and she was in the Johnny Depp film The Professor, plus many other credits in recent years.
In addition to the busy schedule on the sets of Hollywood North, Drake is also a busy teacher of drama to youth and adults alike (she loves meeting up with her past students on shoots she's also involved in).
"Even if you don't go on into the profession, the skills are transferrable to anything you do in life, and it might just make you a better audience member, which is also a reward," she said.
Drake is also a dedicated writer of plays.
Her latest title is The Distance Between Newfoundland and Toronto, based somewhat on her own experiences moving from Canada's most easterly isle.
The miles aren't the only thing in between those locations, as she depicts in this one-actor production. It's a thematic companion to another fringe play she wrote entitled From Away that also talks through her Newfoundland roots.
She's all the way back on the east coast, at least in character form, as of tonight's opening performance of Halfway There at Art Space.
Tickets to this Miracle Theatre production are already scarce.
The price for those remaining is $33 available at the Books & Company front counter or call 250-563-6637 to charge by phone.