Sara Staysa 1942 – 2018
Born in Bradford, Pennsylvania to Harold and Helena Staysa, Sara grew up in Brantford, Ontario, attending local schools. She went on to study at the Ontario College of Art, Dundas Valley School of Fine Art and Hamilton Teachers College. She taught in Waterloo and Brantford. It was in Brantford that she joined the Brantford Drama League because she was interested in all things that were theatre.
Pat McQuinn, who was also a member, mentioned that Sara played many roles and also directed many of the productions. Sara and her Mother Helena often worked with the costumes and props. Of all of the places that the league performed, Sara’s favourite location was the Old Coach House on the former grounds of the old St. John’s College on Dufferin Avenue. This was on the former property of Lieutenant Harry Cockshutt on Dufferin Avenue. She enjoyed its atmosphere even though it was said to be haunted.
The Lighthouse Festival Theatre
In the History of the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, an excellent review is given of the founding of the theatre. It states that, in the 1970’s, Sara Staysa, Artistic Director of the Carpet Bag Theatre Company of Brantford had been looking for a facility out of which to operate the company. Because Sara was a frequent visitor to Port Dover, she knew about the 76 year old Town hall building and began making inquiries regarding the suitability for professional summer stock theatre.
The community rallied around Sara’s idea and, in 1979, many local people, including Carlos Venton, Harry Barrett, Don Simpson, Bill Gunn, and George McCloy began bringing the building up to code.
It was now time to seek both the professional theatre productions and money to fund them. Sara applied to foundations and corporations for funding for the productions, the Vaudevillians, Gypsy, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Private Lives Even though there was a deficit of $27,000, 1980 was its first successful year. By1981, the theatre was renamed The Lighthouse Festival Theatre and is now in its 38th year of operation.
Mary Gottschalk, Knight – Ridder Newspapers, April 25, 1990, picks up Sara’s life in California. For three years Sara managed the Sundance Lodge in Carmel and eventually turned to the theatre once more where she was a costume designer and director for the San Jose Civic Light Opera.
In Sara’s words, she describes the theatre as ‘playtime’.
“In theatre, the art always comes to life. I’m fond of fabric, color and movement and how it all goes together. The costumes are a persona that you create. When someone comes in, they’re a person who is an actor putting on layers for a character. As you dress them, you watch their posture change, and the costume becomes part of their body and soul. It’s wonderful to watch it happen.”
Return to Canada
On her return to Canada, she founded the Paris Performers Theatre in Paris, which is still active today.
In later years, she enjoyed her bridge and book club groups and I must mention that she was a great cook.
Sara’s legacy is her devotion and contributions to all facets of theatre life.