Arts & Culture

Story telling part of Newham's roots and future

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:54 PDT, Fri August 16, 2019

Last Updated: 2:55 PDT, Tue September 10, 2019

David Newham remembers his Richmond childhood well.

Tryant Studios has just announced their September Line-up
Live Jazz Fridays, Sept. 6 through 27

Professional Stand-up Comedy Saturdays, Sept. 7 through 28

Tickets: Jazz $10 to $15 • Stand-up $18

Doors open at 9 p.m. • Music starts at 9:30 p.m.
Available at the door or online at tickets.tyrantstudios.com
Venue: 1019 Seymour St. Vancouver, above the historic Penthouse Nightclub.

David Newham remembers his Richmond childhood well.

Half of the creators and producers for Seven Tyrants Theatre company, Newham along with his producing partner, Dan Deorksen, use their education and culture to further live theatre, stand-up, and jazz in Metro Vancouver.

Newham credits his family’s culture, decisions and support for the life he has today.

“We came from Ireland. I immigrated as a child with my mom, my dad and my sister in the mid-80s. We stayed a very short while in Vancouver with distant relatives then moved to Richmond (settling on Steveston Highway),” he says. “I went to a daycare in Steveston. Then later, I went to Thomas Kidd (elementary). It was pink then.”

He says it was a great neighbourhood to grow up in.

“I have fond memories of going through the pumpkin patch at Halloween and walking along the dyke. My family really loved that really historic vibe of Richmond.”

That historic vibe continues in his theatre company’s choice of venue. Based in the historic Penthouse Nightclub, Seven Tyrants uses the private bar, lounge and theatre space on the top floor.

For years, it broke Vancouver’s unwritten colour barrier welcoming all people to mix and perform.

“One of the reasons for that was the generosity of the Filippone family and they had this great night club. At that time a lot of the hotels wouldn’t allow some performers (those of African ancestry) to stay at their hotels. This was a real holdover from colonial Canada, and the British Empire,” says Newham.

So, the Filippones welcomed many to their after-hours, top-floor private performance space.

Newham lists some of the greats who performed and relaxed in the private lounge: “People like Sammy Davis Jr, or Ella Fitzgerald or Duke Ellington.”

Part of our local history, these famous performers would come through Vancouver on their tour up the west coast of North America, often performing to sold-out crowds at the Orpheum.

Newham says that Frank Sinatra refused to stay at what was then the biggest and poshest hotel in Vancouver because they wouldn’t allow Sammy David Jr. to stay. The Filiponne house, next door to the Penthouse, still has a bachelor pad named “Sammy’s Room” where the famous entertainer stayed when in town. He became a friend of the family.

“In fact, the night that Danny Filiponne, who currently runs the Penthouse, was born Sammy Davis Jr. was there handing out cigars to celebrate his birth,” says Newham.

Reviving the tradition a year and a half ago, the space is once again home to theatre, jazz and stand-up comedy.

At this intimate locale, redolent with the smells of history and film noire atmosphere, Tyrant Studios once again offers The Summer Lounge Series.  Operated by Seven Tyrants Theatre, Vancouver's Jessie Award-winning independent theatre company, Tyrant Studios is located above the historic Penthouse Nightclub and features a studio theatre as well as a it’s own full-service bar and lounge stage.

This Jessie Award-winning independent theatre company welcomes all to what was once the purview of a select few, the Penthouse’s studio theatre, full-service bar and lounge stage.

“We’re so happy to see ordinary folks coming in to have a good time,” Newham says.

To see the stellar line up, go to tyrantstudios.com

Newham credits his past for the future he has carved out for himself, including the Irish tradition of story-telling.

“Something that I’ve always had was an ability to tell a story. My father was always good at telling stories. My grandmother very good at telling stories and, in Ireland, children would often have their party piece. Whatever the child was able to do be it magic, singing, or anything else, they were encouraged to do that at parties.”

Newham credits his parents’ foresight.

“One of the reasons we immigrated to Canada was for the opportunities. Ireland was still war-torn. It was a very poor country. I went back in the eighties and there were children begging in the streets.”

Coming from a family of creative people, even though his family came here for a richer life, they gave both Newham and his sister the freedom and support they needed as they grew into adulthood.

“My parents were happy to give me the opportunity to pursue something I really loved doing.”

After studying theatre at university, Newham and a fellow actor in his class, Doerksen, teamed up to create Seven Tyrants Theatre over 10 years ago.

As they prepare to launch their new season of theatre and entertainment at the Penthouse, Newham reflects on his Irish story-telling roots and the path he’s chosen to get to where he is today: “I really like the storytelling aspect of the theatre. I am very passionate about it, being able to tell stories. That’s why my business partner Dan Deorksen and I founded our own theatre company.”

If the variety of high quality entertainment and theatre Seven Tyrants has offered over the past 11 years is any indication, their future looks bright.

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