Island Lives is an occasional series celebrating the lives of Island people who have died recently. The series focuses not on the famous, but on our neighbours who have led interesting lives or made a difference in their communities. If you know of someone whose life should be celebrated, let us know by email at email@example.com or by mail at 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C., V8T 4M2.
It's the eve of the Victoria Fringe and the festival's command centre, located in a nondescript plaza on Fisgard near Quadra, is a flurry of activity. Travelweary performers trickle in to fill out their registration forms. Festival staff scamper between answering phone calls, sorting paperwork and triaging artists. And in a back room, an Israeli theatre troupe howls and claps while rehearsing for its upcoming shows.
Everything seems to be in its place, at least by Fringe standards.
Yet something - or rather someone - is missing.
Megan Newton, operations manager for Intrepid Theatre, isn't here to add her organizational savvy, zest for theatre and quick wit to the mix. A graduate of the University of Victoria's theatre program, Newton died of melanoma in June.
"She's missed going into Fringe," says Sammie Gough, Intrepid's publicity co-ordinator and Fringe site-office manager, a role she once shared with Newton. "But I think Meg would probably have wanted us to keep Fringing on.
"She's definitely still part of the Fringe and Intrepid," Gough adds, tears in her eyes. "You can see memories of her all around."
Born on May 9, 1982, in Vancouver, Shelah Megan Newton spent most of her childhood in Fort Langley.
When she was 12, Newton and her younger brother, Ben, transferred into the Langley Fine Arts School. The move spurred her love for theatre, which became the focus of her teenage life.
"Once she got there, it quite quickly became apparent what she was really interested in," says Danielle Baxter, Newton's mother.
In spite of her obvious passion, Newton's trajectory in the arts wasn't an uninterrupted straight line. Graduating from high school in the spring of 2000, she entered an economics program at Kwantlen University College the following fall.
"She did have a short time when she thought she should be doing something practical, that she could make a proper living at," Baxter says. "Her grandmother and I both said, 'What on Earth are you doing? Follow your heart!' "
So she did. Newton dropped out after one semester and applied for the theatre program at UVic, where she specialized in stage management and set design.
During her UVic years, Newton often expressed ambivalence about living on the Island.
"Most of the time she was there I heard a lot of, 'I can't wait until this is over. I'm getting out of this town and off this island!'
"But she never did."
By 2005, the year she completed her undergraduate degree, Newton's social life and creative ambitions were already deeply intertwined with Victoria's theatre community.
Friends from university recall her steadfast supportiveness, both as a confidante and as a creative collaborator.
"I always sent her my scripts. She would tell me what she thought and it would always make it better," says Meg Braem, a playwright and university instructor who met Newton during their time at UVic.
"She was my number-one champion."
Newton's commitment to place was no doubt strengthened by her position at Intrepid, which she landed in 2007.
"Megan was a really good complement to the group right away," says Ian Case, Intrepid's former general manager. "She was super-organized. She was able to juggle multiple things at the same time and it didn't seem to stress her out.
"She was deeply, deeply considerate about other people," he adds. "That's why she was so good in a service position."
Newton's job description included managing facility rentals and other day-to-day operations at the Metro Studio and Intrepid Theatre Club. But like many theatre types, she took on projects, both managerial and artistic, that went above and beyond her on-paper responsibilities.
Newton was instrumental in developing the YOU Show, a program that offers ticketing services, promotional support and performance space for emerging artists who might not otherwise have the resources to stage their own works.
She also created the Monobrow Solo Slam, a now-perennial soirÃ©e where performers compete to deliver the best threeminute monologue.
Additionally, she applied her resourcefulness and crafty touch - and perfectionism, as some have charged - to fashion sets, props and costumes for Intrepid productions and also friends' pet projects.
"She was really ambitious in her artistic endeavours," says Case. "When she did set design for Influence, a show that we put on at Intrepid, she wanted to recreate the floor patterns of the British Museum on the set. Getting the marbling just right and getting the mosaic just right was really important to her."
In spite of her talent and steely work ethic, Newton is variously described as someone who didn't fit the stereotype of the spotlightseeking, hyper-outgoing theatre personality.
Loved ones and colleagues from one area in her life weren't necessarily aware of her accomplishments in another.
Baxter recalls stories she heard at her daughter's most recent birthday party - her 30th - and later at a memorial held in Newton's honour.
"One of the things that was really quite remarkable about those gatherings was what I learned about her from her friends and her colleagues that I didn't know before," Baxter says.
"Because she never tooted her own horn."
Newton received her initial cancer diagnosis in December 2009. She had discovered a mole on her arm and went to the doctor to have it assessed. In March 2010, doctors removed a chunk of flesh as well as several lymph nodes, subsequently declaring her cancer-free.
But the following spring, she found a blue fleck near her groin. Though she had it looked at promptly, it wasn't until the fall that her fears were confirmed.
The cancer was back. And a follow-up PET scan revealed her body was riddled with tumours.
In January, she took leave from her job at Intrepid and returned to Fort Langley to focus on her health.
Newton died on June 16, a little over a month after her 30th birthday and about eight months after her father, Ben Newton, died, also from cancer. She is survived by her mother, brother Ben Jr., sister Anna, grandparents and partner Grant Winkler.
To honour Newton's memory, friends and family have partnered with the Victoria Foundation to create a fund to support students who wish to pursue a career in theatre.
"I feel like we - the community, Intrepid, the people she knew and loved - missed out on being able to experience her as a person and the work that she was going to do, both as an administrator and as an artist," Case says, who has been involved in the establishment of the fund.
"This gives, in some way, her a chance to continue having an impact and to have some sort of tangible legacy."
To learn more about the Megan Newton Memorial Fund, go to victoriafoundation.bc.ca or call 250-381-5532.
This story has been updated with corrected information
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