Michael John Rawluk’s passion for the theatre has been recognized posthumously with the prestigious Eric Hamber Award from Theatre BC.
The award is the highest honour for community theatre in B.C. The Eric Hamber Award honours members’ lifetime contributions to community theatre, and is given to a person, group or institution, and is not necessarily awarded every year.
“Michael was brilliant,” recalled Mary-Jo Hilyer, who was a part of the Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society (WLSTS) with Rawluk for many years and worked with him both on the board and on the stage, as well as considering him a friend.
Hilyer met Rawluk when he re-joined the studio theatre in Williams Lake. She said she felt an instant connection to him and his desire to build an inclusive theatre society.
“Michael’s passion for the theatre was unlike anybody, I’d never met anybody like that,” she said, noting he was a dedicated administrator as well as both an actor and director.
“He could take a character and make that character come to life like no other person.”
Hilyer also remarked how as a director he could envision a play very precisely, which was not always easy to articulate, but Rawluk strove for as close to perfecting this vision as he could, another sign of his dedication.
“He wanted the studio theatre to put on plays that were as close to professional as possible,” explained Hilyer.
She said Rawluk and herself both believed in running the community theatre like a business in order to both make it financially sound for sustainability and also to ensure they were providing the best product for the community.
Rawluk’s love for the theatre began at a young age, after he was introduced to stagecraft by an English teacher as a way to help him with his extreme shyness.
Born in the Lower Mainland in 1952, and moved with his family to the Cariboo area as a child. Rawluk was described as “very introverted” but theatre helped him break out of this shell.
He joined Williams Lake Studio Theatre around 1970 and was able to use his creativity and playfulness to shine on stage.
“He just transformed before your very eyes,” said his wife, Kim Herdman.
She and Rawluk met through the theatre, he was with the Prince George Theatre Workshop when he lived in Prince George, both as a performer and director and as a board member, and she took on a role as theatre manager of the Prince George Playhouse.
While Herdman had watched Rawluk on stage and enjoyed plays he directed, it wasn’t until she became theatre manager she got to know him, though she had appreciated his work on stage.
Herdman described her late husband as “having a knack for choosing great plays and getting the most out of his actors.”
Another member of the WLSTS who was inspired through his experience working with Rawluk is Brad Lawryk, who is directing the upcoming WLSTS production of Buying the Moose.
Lawryk describes Rawluk as having been a very good friend and a mentor who he looked up to.
“He was a true professional in a community theatre,” said Lawryk. “Just watching him really shaped how I approach it now.”
After retiring, Rawluk wanted to move somewhere with a theatre, after the Prince George Theatre Workshop had dissolved and Williams Lake fit the bill. He returned to his hometown to both reconnect to the theatre group and be closer to family.
Over the course of his theatrical career, Rawluk acted in an estimated 65 productions and directed close to 30. For over 50 years he was involved with the theatre, both in Williams Lake and Prince George.
Prior to this, he won awards and performed at the provincial Mainstage events many times.
Rawluk was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis in 2018 and his treatments forced him to leave the theatre in mid-2019. Yet, he still portrayed Scrooge in a radio play production of A Christmas Carol in December of 2020.
Unfortunately, Rawluk passed away due to the disease in March of 2022.
The award was presented to Brad Lawryk at the Mainstage event in Vernon this year.
The Williams Lake Studio Theatre Society has also named their stage in Rawluk’s honour as the Michael Rawluk Stage.