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City Living: Kitsilano Showboat believes in fun

Barry Leinbach likes to use the word “believe” a lot when he’s talking about the Kitsilano Showboat.

Barry Leinbach likes to use the word “believe” a lot when he’s talking about the Kitsilano Showboat. He believes in the talent that performs four times a week on the outdoor stage, believes in giving opportunity to young performers, believes in multiculturalism, and when he hands you a big round blue and white Showboat button he’ll say: “Now you are a believer, too.”

Kitsilano Showboat has been a part of Leinbach’s entire life. He joked that he was born with the passion as his mother Bea Leinbach didn’t let pregnancy stop her from running the show, something she had been doing since the mid 1940s. For “Captain Bea,” as she is better known to anybody who’s ever visited Kitsilano Showboat, having children meant three more volunteers and performers to add to the long list.

Before he became vice-president and producer, Leinbach spent umpteen hours in every possible role at Showboat from selling programs to operating sound when the booth used to be in the wheelhouse room on top of the stage (“We’d all hang out the window for the entire show — it was very distracting for people!”).

Showboat runs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. in the summer — weather permitting. Leinbach said one of the worst things about his job is obsessively checking the weather on unpredictable days, and making the call to cancel and leaving an apologetic message to the public on Showboat’s answering machine. A woman did give him a tip, though — if he can see the

North Shore mountains across the Inlet then the show can go on; if they’re shrouded in mist, best to cancel.

Clouds only produced a dusting of rain half-an-hour after Friday’s show ended so people were treated to an hour-long performance by the Precision Dance Academy and another hour from the Spirit of the South Seas Polynesian dance troupe.

When Leinbach was on stage to introduce the Spirit of the South Seas, he talked about the group’s 30-year history of performing at Showboat but then interrupted himself to call out to Miles, one of the summer students, to get a wet rag to clean a small spill on the stage.

“Showboat is very real, we don’t put on any airs,” Leinbach said. “Showboat can be a little bit cheesy, fun, entertaining and a little bit magical. Put it all together and you have just a wonderful evening.”

Part of the magic was apparent when Leinbach mentioned how many people have happy memories of spending their childhood at Kitsilano Showboat. As if on cue, Maria Sttefanidis, mother of one of the young dancers from Precision, overheard.

“I came here as a kid, we would walk down here from Eighth and Vine. I said to my kid last year, this is my dream!” she said. “You’re living my dream, dancing at the Showboat! And I’m 45 years old now!”
Leinbach beamed as he listened to Sttefanidis and when she left, he leaned over to say, “See what I mean?”

It’s the 79th year of the Kitsilano Showboat. It was founded by the late Bert Emery who envisioned an outdoor theatre that would sit on the edge of the then four-year-old Kitsilano Pool where, at the time, people could practically swim by the stage. When Showboat was built in 1935, it was a temporary structure that had to be built up and torn down every summer season until 1963 when it was replaced by a permanent stage.

The temporary backdrop, given a fresh coat of cheery baby blue and white paint every year, was found in the backyard of the Leinbach’s Kitsilano home during the off-season, much to the delight of all the children on the block.

“I was the most popular kid in the neighbourhood because I had Showboat in the backyard,” Leinbach remembered. “All 4x8 sheets of plywood from the backdrop would be on the roof of the car because that’s how you transported everything in those days. You didn’t have a truck, you would have a roof rack and my dad would bring it home on the 1961 Mercury.”

While the way people transport sets has mostly changed these days, the spirit of the Kitsilano Showboat has not. Built during the Great Depression, Showboat provided a venue for entertainers who were out of work because local theatres didn’t have money to pay them, and it provided a place for an entertainment-thirsty but broke audience to go.

It’s still 100 per cent volunteer-run, including the entertainment. There is no admission but Showboat does accept donations, collected by passing around a jam tin from the old Woodward’s store.
Leinbach’s message to Vancouver: “Come down and see what’s happening. If it’s your thing, enjoy the show. If it’s not, enjoy the view of the mountains, the city, the swimmers in the pool and everything else. We believe in what Showboat’s doing.”

rvblissett@gmail.com