WHEN The Basin Theatre opens the curtains for its first show of the year next month, it will be theatre veteran James McRae's 93rd stage role — more than one for every year for his life.
The 83 year old has performed with nearly every amateur theatre group across the eastern suburbs in the past 42 years and even has his own fan base.
The Upper Ferntree Gully resident's first role with The Basin Theatre was in last year's production of Out of Order. He will star in Murdered to Death, which opens in two weeks.
Before joining The Basin Theatre, McRae regularly performed with the Knox-based 1812 Theatre group, as well as Lilydale's Athenaeum, Peridot Theatre and a troupe from Box Hill.
Several years ago, he wasn't sure if he would ever perform in front of an audience ever again.
His wife — who died in 2011 — was suffering from dementia and he was her sole carer. "But I had a stroke because I was so stressed out and I was in the Angliss Hospital for five weeks."
When he left hospital, his wife was moved to a nursing home for full-time care. It seemed to him that his acting days were over.
But when he attended a local theatre awards night McRae was handed a script by an old theatre friend. "I had a look, I loved it, got cast and that was me back into it again."
Mr McRae said it was undeniable that theatre — particularly community theatre — had a hold on him..
He gets frustrated when people dismiss amateur theatre groups because the actors and crew don't get paid. "It's in your blood. Monetary rewards aren't everything in life. When I leave the theatre after a show and people tell me how much they enjoyed it, that's the reward."
Comedy is McRae's greatest passion and this show allows him to shine as a butler — sometimes drunk. McRae draws on his own British background when he calls the show a good old-fashioned English comedy.
And while he is finding it harder to memorise the lines, he hopes this won't be his last time on stage. "When I go through all the shows I have been in in my mind, I have really enjoyed making people laugh."
Murdered to Death opens at The Basin Theatre on Friday, February 15, and runs until Saturday, March 9. Tickets are $25. Details: thebasintheatre.org.au or 1300 784 668.