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Dark comedy earns top North Island theatre honours for Port Alberni troupe

Portal Players take home Best Production for ‘The Pillowman’ at North Island Zone Drama Festival

Port Alberni’s Portal Players Dramatic Society made history by winning Best Production at the North Island Zone Drama Festival last week.

It’s the first time the Portal Players have ever won Best Production, which means they will be representing the North Island at Theatre BC’s Mainstage Festival in Chilliwack in July.

They won the award for their production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Pillowman, which festival adjudicator Robinson Wilson said “tackled great themes with vicious humour.” The Portal Players took McDonagh’s text and “elevated it to something that left indelible images, for better or for worse, throughout the evening,” Wilson said during the awards luncheon at the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel in Port Alberni on Saturday, May 25.

The awards luncheon marked the end of the week-long festival, which saw five different theatre groups from Port Alberni, Campbell River, Courtenay, Qualicum and Nanaimo perform on stage at Port Alberni’s Capitol Theatre. It’s the first time since 2015 that Port Alberni has hosted the festival.

The Portal Players picked up a few other awards throughout the festival. Diena Tyne won Best Lighting Design, while director Nicole Foster won the award for Best Set Design and Best Director (which she shared with Nanaimo Theatre Group’s Nikita Towe).

Port Alberni’s Cydney Pedersen won the award for Best Actor in a Male Role for her portrayal of Katurian, a fiction writer being interrogated by two detectives. Wilson said that Pedersen “brought a great sense of aggression and courage” to the character, but also demonstrated “an ability to yield” to forces around her and “a willingness to be changed.”

Pedersen said she was drawn to the role because it represented a challenge for her.

“It was a very challenging, demanding role,” she said. “There’s a lot of tricky language and a lot of memorization involved, but there are a lot of changes and shifts that the character goes through. It’s very demanding, and I was ready to take it on.”

Pedersen’s husband, Darien Edgeler, actually picked up the same award at last year’s zone festival. But Pedersen says there is no competition between the actors.

“We support each other and we’re happy for each other when we’re recognized for the work that’s been put into the roles,” said Pedersen.

Portal Players newcomer Scott Lemkay won Best Supporting Actor in a Male Role for his role as Michal, the intellectually disabled brother of Katurian. Wilson described the role as one with “immense” vocal and physical demands, but Lemkay said “it felt very natural” to take on the role of Michal.

“It’s difficult,” he admitted. “But when I read the script, I was just taken with the character. I felt the character’s dialogue just jumped out at me on the page. I was immediately able to see that character and it resonated deep within me. Being in front of a lot of people, to scream and yell and hold myself, all made it feel very easy to do in some respects.”

He also called sharing the stage with Pedersen “a lifetime highlight” when it comes to his theatre career.

Lemkay is fairly new to theatre in general. His first production was in 2023 with the Portal Players, and he said he felt welcomed immediately by the group.

“They have been my family ever since,” said Lemkay.

Foster says she feels “very honoured” that she could direct the Portal Players to their first-ever Best Production win. The Portal Players are hoping to run The Pillowman again at the Capitol Theatre on June 29 and 30 before they take it to Mainstage.

“We’re going to take all the words that Robinson [Wilson] gave us and do a little bit of re-working,” Foster said. “Then it’s rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.”

The Mainstage festival will run from July 1-7 in Chilliwack, and the Portal Players need to raise approximately $15,000 to take the cast, crew and set to the mainland.

“While we are still celebrating the win, we have quickly switched to fundraising mode,” said producer Liane Fitzpatrick.

Donations can be sent by e-transfer to, while in-person cash, cheque or debit donations can be made at the Capitol Theatre ticket booth Monday and Thursday between 4-6 p.m. Other arrangements for donations can be made by contacting Fitzpatrick at or texting 250-203-1203.

Tickets for the June 29 and 30 performances of The Pillowman will soon be available online at

Full list of awards:

Ensemble Acting: Nanaimo Theatre Group

Sound Design: David Attley (ECHO Players)

Lighting Design: Diena Tyne (Portal Players)

Set Design: Nicole Foster (Portal Players)

Costume Design: Sheila Fremont-Male (Nanaimo Theatre Group)

Best Supporting Actor in a Female Role: Lana Harach (ECHO Players)

Best Supporting Actor in a Male Role: Scott Lemkay (Portal Players)

Best Actor in a Female Role: Sophia Maher (Nanaimo Theatre Group)

Best Actor in a Male Role: Cydney Pedersen (Portal Players)

Best Performance by a Youth or Newcomer: Lana Harach (ECHO Players)

Best Director: Nikita Towe (Nanaimo Theatre Group) and Nicole Foster (Portal Players)

Best Production: The Pillowman (Portal Players)

Runner Up: All in the Timing (Nanaimo Theatre Group)

Donna Lamb Award: Shari Jakubiec (Courtenay Little Theatre)

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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