Montreal

Borderline Players come together to create theatre on the U.S.-Canadian border

The Borderline Players is a relatively young theatre company made up of a group of volunteer actors from both sides of the border who come together to put on plays at the Opera House.

The new theatre-in-residence at Haskell Opera House breathes life into local arts scene

The young theatre company is putting on its most ambitious production yet, the musical Little Shop of Horrors. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

The Haskell Opera House quite literally straddles the U.S.-Canadian border — it has an address in Stanstead, Que., and one in Derby Line, Vermont.

The Borderline Players is a relatively young theatre company made up of a group of volunteer actors from both sides of the border who come together to put on plays at the Opera House.

Founded earlier this year, the company is registered as a non-profit in both Quebec and Vermont.

But for the people who make up the cast and crew, the international dividing line doesn't really matter inside the theatre.

"Here, the border just disappears. We don't see it," said Sonia Patenaude, an actor with the Borderline players.


As the new theatre-in-residence at the Haskell Opera House, the fledgling company has taken on its most ambitious production yet, the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors.

Patenaude lives in Sherbrooke, Que., and is singing the role of the carnivorous plant, Audrey II.

She said that she jumped at the chance to volunteer with the company as it strives to keep the theatre scene alive in the small community.

"It's a really wonderful opportunity for the region, that Borderline Players kind of came out of the ashes of QNEK, who were the company-in-residence here before."

Sonia Patenaude, a Sherbrooke resident, is playing the role of Audrey II, the carnivorous plant featured in Little Shop of Horrors. (CBC)

QNEK Productions was a mainstay of the local arts scene for 25 years.

When it folded last year because its founder and director retired, citizens took matters into their own hands.

"There was a group of actors and people behind the scenes [who] decided that there was enough momentum and interest in the community and the actors themselves to keep something going," said Ross Murray, co-founding director of the Borderline Players.

Some people in Quebec's Eastern Townships have expressed concern about the current state of English-language theatre in the area, as some venues are no longer showing plays — focusing instead on more lucrative concerts.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the U.S./Canada border in Stanstead, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

But Murray said it's not about turning a profit, but rather providing an opportunity for local people to participate in the arts.

"There's a great group of actors on both sides of the border who are just looking for an outlet to perform," he said.

The cast includes some veterans from past QNEK productions, as well as some fresh talent the company is hoping to develop.

"We have a number of young people who are in the cast. They are in high school in Vermont. And they are showing interest, and that's great for the future of the theatre," said Murray.

The Borderline Players production of Little Shop of Horrors opens Friday Aug. 10.

About the Author

Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.

With files from CBC's Claude Rivest