Lamplighters Music Theatre Mourns the Death of Beloved
Co-founder Orva Hoskinson
It is our very sad duty to inform you that our beloved co-founder, Orva Hoskinson, the guiding spirit and artistic soul of the Lamplighters Company since its beginning in 1952, passed away on Thursday, January 26, 2017. He was 92.
Orva co-founded the Lamplighters with Ann Pool Mac Nab in the summer of 1952. From the beginning, his intention was to bring the Gilbert & Sullivan canon to audiences in productions of the very highest possible artistic professional caliber within the limitations imposed on what was at the time a small group of semi-professional and amateur performers drawn from the San Francisco Bay Area community.
As Orva himself recounted in the first volume of the Lamplighters’ history (“The Lamplighters: 25 Years of Gilbert and Sullivan in San Francisco”): “We wanted to do G&S because we thought there was more to the operettas than had been gotten out of them in the shows we’d been in. Ann [Pool] and I felt that they could be done in an artistic, elegant, polished way. We thought of it as doing them OUR way. We thoroughly respected the G&S material. It’s really sophisticated, and so literate. Certainly Offenbach doesn’t offer a text that is so knowledgeable, so verbal, so articulate. We thought the operettas were quite a gold mine for us.”
From the time of the Lamplighters’ founding, Orva was not only the Company’s first stage director, but also one of its most important leading performers. Through the years, he remained our most important and influential director, training generations of Lamplighter performers both directly and by example not only in the history and style of G&S, but in singing, acting, and all the arts of stage performance. For many of us, he was our first and most important theatrical guide, mentor and inspiration.
It is sadly fitting that Orva should pass as the Lamplighters prepare their new production of the single Gilbert & Sullivan show with which Orva is most intimately associated. Due substantially to its long association with Orva, Patience has been a perennial favorite throughout Lamplighters history since the Company’s original production in March and April, 1958. And no operetta in the entire G&S canon is more closely connected to him—both as actor and as stage director—than this one.
As noted in the Lamplighters’ history, the Company’s initial production of Patience was “patently designed around Hoskinson as Reginald Bunthorne and [contralto June] Wilkins as Lady Jane,” with “Hoskinson’s most famous characterization spr[inging] into being almost full-grown” in that first production. In the summer of 1963, after the Lamplighters had presented their third production of Patience earlier that same year, the venerable D’Oyly Carte Opera Company visited San Francisco with their own very traditional, quintessentially British production of Patience. San Francisco theater critic Arthur Bloomfield was not impressed. In his words: “San Francisco’s lowly Lamplighters, out there [at the old Harding Theater] on Divisadero Street, have a comic insight into this particular slice of fruitcake which . . . surpasses the well-advertised product from abroad . . . . One could only yearn for the more aggressively mock misery of their counterparts in the Western Addition. . . . It looks as if San Francisco’s Orva Hoskinson remains in firm possession of the largest heap of Bunthornian laurels.”
For many years thereafter, Orva’s interpretation and performance of the role of Reginald Bunthorne was considered definitive. As Robert Commanday once put it in a Chronicle review: “Well, there was Gielgud’s Hamlet, and there is Hoskinson’s Bunthorne.” It is not surprising in the least that a photograph of Orva as Bunthorne—along with the great June Wilkins as Lady Jane—was chosen to adorn the first volume of the official Lamplighters history. In his honor, we are dedicating our new production of Patience, directed by Artistic Director Emeritus Barbara Heroux, to the memory of Orva Hoskinson.
Orva taught each of us just about everything we know on the subjects of acting, character, musicality, good taste, and honest good humor onstage. Not only that, he accomplished this by both precept and example, with the most beneficent guidance, gentle coaching, patient instruction, love of the art, and sheer affection for the Company and its members. Almost every day there is something that reminds us both how incredibly lucky we were to be guided to find the Lamplighters, and to be mentored by this incomparable man.
We all owe him so much. Through founding the Lamplighters, his progeny now extend worldwide.
Read the obituary. A memorial service and celebration of Orva's life will be held at the Presentation Theater in San Francisco on June 18th at 3pm. Details to come later!
We are also deeply saddened by the passing of one of our dearest long-time members, John Vlahos. John was a wonderful principal performer, who also served as President on our Board of Trustees for many years, and, after retiring from that position, continued to serve as a Trustee on the Board. The Lamplighters honored John at our 2016 Gala for his years of service, friendship, and dedication to the Company. A celebration of his life will be held at Mira Vista Golf and Country Club in El Cerrito on March 12th. You can read John's full obituary here: http://www.legacy.com/john