Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What if?

Monday night we partnered with Heritage Park in a Christmas celebration fundraiser called Christmas in Alberta through the generosity of Dick and Lois Haskayne. I've been encouraged to share what I shared that evening by way of story/conversation. The event took place in Gasoline Alley, a beautiful facility with a glorious collection of restored antique cars, trucks, gas pumps and signage.

Let me mention

one or two things about Christmas.

Of course you've all heard

that the animals talk

at midnight: a particular elk, for instance,

kneeling at night to drink, leaning tall to pull leaves

with his soft lips, says, alleluia.

That the soil and freshwater lakes

also rejoice,

as do products

such as sweaters

(nor are plastics excluded from grace),

is less well known.

Further: the reason for some silly looking fishes,

for the bizarre mating

of certain adult insects,

or the sprouting, say

in a snow tire

of a Rocky Mountain grass,

is that the universal

loves the particular,

that freedom loves to live

and live fleshed full,


and in detail.

from Feast Days, by Annie Dillard

We’re standing in a building full of old wonders that have been restored to their new and shiny glory. Some of these old trucks and cars were just rusty heaps used to ferry crops, kids, husbands and wives through the day-to-day of their lives. There was probably a moment of wonder when Dad and Mom drove the new car or truck into the yard. Everyone went for a ride. And then gradually over the years, the extraordinary became ordinary, denting and scratching and wearing itself out in the everyday of a family’s life. There’s a row of tractors across the street from the Opera House in Rosebud. Every showtime intermission people gather round them, remembering hard times and good times - all contained in the machined and painted bodies of those old farm implements. It’s as if the past meets the present like presents from the past breaking through time, making them all young again. What if camels from 2000 years ago really did appear on the off-ramp to Chinook Mall? What if there really are angels on the hills surrounding Rosebud? What if all these restored cars and trucks that drove people to Christmas Eve church services and turkey dinners could speak the conversations that happened between people on those magical nights? What if there really was a child born of a Virgin? What if it could happen again? What if every child born is part of that same mystery, born to walk into some kind of wonderful divine destiny that nobody knows, except maybe the Creator of Life. What if every mother and father’s hopes and dreams are met in their children on the day of their birth, on Christmas day and all the other days that they wait at the bus stop for the return of their children from school, sitting at High School and College graduations, walking down the aisle on wedding days, picking up after brand new grandchildren, and more. What if it’s all some kind of mysterious life dance where the Creator of the Universe gives a cycle of days and nights, years and lives lived in houses and neighborhoods with pots and pans, cars and trucks, camels and mangers and shepherd staffs. What if all of it lives on in some kind of glorious aurora borealis of light that comes and goes at will - breathtaking reminders of mysteries we don’t understand, not even scientists who go home to their houses full of pots and pans and dishwashers full of after Christmas dinner celebration that work because someone figured out the magic of electricity and motors and those plastic arms that swish water around so that everything comes out clean. What if everything we see everyday is a miracle?

We Rosebud folk believe in such stuff. We’ve met people who have actually seen angels. We tell stories about people whose lives have been changed from the inside out. We make food in a kitchen filled with pots and pans and gadgets that hold mysterious combinations of spices and flavor that mingle with the bounty that comes from farmer’s fields where giant machines gobble up stalks of grain and spit out the seeds into big bins leaving the straw behind to rot into the food for next year’s crop. At night, in the fall, you can see mysterious slow moving lights all across the prairie. They move in concentric circles, two at a time, always in concert. And when you’re in the Rosebud valley looking up at the hills above, those lights move with purpose against a starlit sky. It makes it easy for a person to believe in Wise Men and camels and a heavenly light that moved over the earth - and maybe even angels appearing in the night sky, bearing the good news about a child who will change the world for the sake of love.

Annie Dillard’s Feast Days ends with ...

God empties himself

into the earth like a cloud.

God takes the substance, contours

of a man, and keeps them,

dying, rising, walking,

and still walking wherever there is motion.


Friday, 11 November 2011

Gifts and Glories and Remembrance

It’s been a week since The Gifts of the Magi opened on our stage. The word “glorious” comes to mind as I think of the company of performers and technicians and audience that have come together around this classic story by O. Henry. There’s a song that Jim sings in the show called “How Much To Buy My Dream”. It’s about living on the edge of it all, holding out for hope and love and life. In our staging, the song takes Jim home to Della - his wife and the love of his life. It’s the day before Christmas and to Jim, she’s the brightest light in the world right now. ... (You'll have to see the show to get the rest.)

Today is Remembrance Day, and something about that song, this day, and a John Steinbech quote all come together in the words “glory” and “glorious”. (And, just so we’re clear, when I read the word “man” in this explosion of thought from Steinbech’s East of Eden, I hear “person”, meaning women and men.)

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then - the glory - so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men. ...

At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. ...

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. ... If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”

There was an article in the Edmonton Journal this morning about children laying poppies on each and every military gravestone in a cemetery in Edmonton. There was yet another story about a soldier and his newly minted bride, marrying while he was on leave in 1945. A statement in that article brought me full circle and back to The Gifts of the Magi and the marriage at the centre of the story.

“Love was then as it is now - an act of involuntary hope, a gesture from the heart that we promise to carry into the future.”

- Robert S. Jahrig -

There is something like an explosion of heart that happens when we wake up to the glory in each other. Marriages happen. Children happen. Families happen. Deep and lasting friendships happen.

Some 60 or so years ago, my wife Jo’s uncle died hours before troops landed on Normandy beach. He was a paratrooper and Mother’s son from Saskatchewan, the result of “an act of involuntary hope” between a working class husband and wife. His Dad was a traveling salesman, an ordinary Joe, not unlike Jim Dillingham in The Gifts of the Magi. Who knows what Morris Ellefson’s dream was, but he wrote to his Mother words about God keeping them all hours before he climbed aboard the fateful plane that took him to a much too early eternal glory. He and other ordinary Joe's like he and his Mom and Dad carry a shine that on this Remembrance Day seems particularly glorious.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Twirling and Gliding in Time - The Gifts of the Magi opens Friday!!!

The Gifts of the Magi is rehearsing on stage now, and we open in just a few days. This is juggling time. The addition of a set that twirls and glides as an extension of the story takes time. In our note session at the end of Saturday, Deanne Bertsch, our choreographer, flew me a paper airplane with requests for more time. Bill Hamm has musical nuances he needs to rehearse Monday. And I have a list of scenes, moments, transitions and more to work that can’t possibly fit into Monday. So, we’ll set out to do the impossible.

A show is a giant orchestration that involves so many details - all of which are important. And that’s what makes this time coming up to opening so exhilarating. Everything we do is exponential. It all adds up to more than the sum of the parts. The movement of a set piece becomes story - a physical manifestation of something going on in the heart of a character in the play. A staging problem must be solved, and it leads to a deeper understanding of the story. It’s like Michael Angelo’s sculpting of stone. He stated that the sculpture was inside, waiting to be released. Well, our stone consists of lights, sound, musical instruments, set pieces, and above all - emotional people in motion. And we’re in the process of pulling the story out of all of those elements.

In the end, it’s about the people who make the technical elements, the people who speak and sing the words, and the people who come to participate by receiving the story - the audience. The theatre is ultimately an orchestration where an audience interacts with performers who are staged in a living story-telling environment. Every audience becomes as much a part of the story as the performers themselves. It’s all wonderfully mystical and communal.

But we’ll have to wait for preview and opening to add them to our orchestration. Right now we have to alter the dance step that happens when the New York brownstone apartment scoots our street carolers up and around the stage during a traffic jam. Bill may have to rearrange the piano part that Sarah plays so that it times out for Soapy the beggar to arrive across the street, avoiding the cars that are whizzing by him, in time to catch the penny one of the carolers tosses him from the middle of the street where he is trapped with a woman he does not know, who has just slapped him after he saved her life from an oncoming cab. That moment could take a while. And we only have 34 hours of rehearsal time left before opening!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Moment of Glory

Queen Milli of Galt closed last night. And as with most closings, there was a nagging wish in everyone to hold on to the magic just a little longer. Performers left the stage after playing a scene, noting they would never play that scene again. The Stage Manager called the intricate lighting and sound cues for the very last time. Costumes were hung up, props carried off the stage and the set went back to the shop where it was so carefully created. Actors, Stage Managers and friends gathered at our house to ease out the rest of the evening - a bit like a wake where family and friends gather to hold on the story of a life for a little while longer. And like a good Irish wake, the house was filled with conversation and laughter and the thankfulness that comes from having lived out something glorious together.

It seems the moments that matter never last forever.

There are so many moments in Queen Milli of Galt that still hold me captive: Heather Pattengale as Milli in the moment that I dubbed “The Fish Ballet” swimming towards Prince Edward’s astonished face; Karl Sine as Prince Edward saluting a little boy in the classroom; Heather Pattengale as Milli and Alysa Van Haastert as Mona laughing themselves silly as only best friends do; Steve Waldschmidt as Godfrey trying to calm Edward down in most every scene; Emma Cobb as the journalist taking a bold step into Milli’s garden; and of course, Marie Russell as Mrs. Milroy in the moment where she realizes she will be the Queen Mother!

These moments live in memory now, aided by photographs, just like most of real life does. A play performed live is the most complete, elegant and authentic expression of life. It is impulsive, communal, funny, sad and inspiring. And it comes to an end, just like all the most significant moments in a life. And I love the theatre for that, hard as it is to see something beautiful like Queen Milli of Galt come to an end.

And, of course, as in real life, there is always a new story waiting in the wings. The Gifts of the Magi is about to be born in just under two weeks. And it too has the promise of glory!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Queen Milli of Galt shimmering on stage

Queen Milli of Galt opened on the weekend, and the response to the show is wonderful. There is no greater joy than sitting in the back row on opening night, watching actor and audience respond to the story and to one another. A brand new creation shimmers on stage, and what is so wonderful about the theatre is that that new creation is never the same. Each night it bends to the response of the audience, the moments between actors, the discovery of a nuance in a line, or a new timing that sparks laughter or tears. The theatre is the most glorious of art forms. It combines the skills of so many people - craftspersons, technicians, writers, designers, performers, musicians and composers. It is precise in it’s creation, yet filled with spontaneity. And the audience is the final participant to be added to that magical mix. I would even go so far as to say that in the grand scheme of things, people participate in a kind of creative destiny together where what is offered is received and altered by each participant. It is all so gratifying.
There’s a Paul Simon song I’ve been listening to of late called Dazzling Blue.

Maybe love’s an accident, or destiny is true
But you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue

The mystic in me really believes in the notion that the experience we share in the theatre when the lights go down and the faces of the front few rows of audience are caught in the glow bouncing off the stage is a reflection of something called love. It’s that place where we’re welcomed to be whatever we feel.

There’s a brand new story on our stage, and it was invented for each one of everyone who comes to participate.

- Morris

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Queen Milli of Galt - What a script!

Heather Pattengale as Milli and Karl Sine as Prince Edward

We’re on stage and a week away from opening Gary Kirkham’s Queen Milli of Galt. What a script! The playwright deftly moves from scenes that are so funny that they’re cracking the actors up in rehearsal to scenes where tears are streaming down their faces. The writing is so deft that the story lifts off the page with an ease that is reminiscent of the best dramatists and humorists of the theatre. I love this play!

The cast gathered together around this show is superlative. They're generous and funny and almost always on time! Rehearsals are pure joy. The set shimmers in Becky Halterman’s lights. Scenes transform seamlessly from one emotional moment to the next, supported by Luke Ertman’s evocative soundscape. Somehow we’ve climbed inside the world of the play with a courageousness that looks a lot like faith in something bigger.

And the story really is about something very big, yet small and intimate. It’s about holding out for love, that “something” that passes between people, inviting them into the possibility of moments of joy. And I think our production might just be an incarnation of joy released through the love of creating something ridiculously funny, yet powerfully poignant in the same breath. And that certainly is something worth pouring the energy of cast, stage management, designers and this director’s waking moments into.

Finding a moment ... or is it finding Heather's light ... or both

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

"gives me hope"

This note was just posted to Rosebud Theatre this morning. This response is why we do what we do.
"I've just discovered the Rosebud Theatre, wow what an amazing place and the story!!!! wow gives me hope that we are on the right track and just need to keep forging ahead...thank you" - Barbara Tanner -

I'm not sure which show Barbara was referencing, though I think it's likely it was Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons. Both Jake and the Kid: Prairies Seasons and The Diaries of Adam and Eve could fit this description. In fact, I'd like to think that most of our shows fit this description. It's what we're after - something called hope. Thanks for the note, Barbara.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Right Apple

Nathan Schmidt waxed on about the importance of the right apple in rehearsals for The Diary of Adam and Eve the other day. So, I asked him to write it down for the blog. Some decisions are very important.

Alright. Let me tell you about apples. You got apple pies, apple turnovers, apple sauce, apple dumplings, apple fritters, candied apples, apple butter even apple computers... more apples than you can shake a stick at. Then you got MacIntosh, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Red Delicious and Spartan, to name but a few. So when Brad Graham asked me what kind of apples I thought we should have for our production of The Diary of Adam and Eve I had some choices to make. In my time doing this acting gig I have come to have some strong feelings about what is the best type of apple to use in a show. If I have to eat a whole apple in a scene then I don't want any big apples cause I won't get it finished. If you have to cut it with a knife then you don't want a really chalky apple flesh that is gonna crumble apart, nor do you want it too juicy so it gets you all sticky and the costume gets apple juice on it. You want the apple a bit tart so that it doesn't get your mouth all sugary and sticky but keeps the saliva moving so the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips move along trippingly. I also thought, "this is the most notorious apple ever eaten." This is the apple that prompted the term "Adam's apple" for the bump in a man's throat after the notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit sticking in Adam's throat. The fall of man. The loss of innocence.
Not a light decision. But in all honesty, when it comes to picking an apple to eat on stage, nothing gets the job done like a Spartan apple. They have a good medium size, a nice red colour, the flesh is pleasingly dense and they give a satisfying crunch while remaining tart and delightful. The Spartan variety of apple was developed in 1936 in Summerland B.C. and will be crunched mercilessly all summer long in The Diary of Adam and Eve. Buy a bag and see how you like them apples!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Hope is on the way!

Here's a post from Paul Zacharias, the composer/Sound Designer for Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons and The Diary of Adam and Eve. He's a soulful human being - a big part of Rosebud's company and someone to be shared. The character in the photo is Jake (played by Nathan Schmidt), strumming one of Paul's tunes. You'll have to come to the show if you want to hear the tune.

"The last couple of months I've been fortunate to have written some music that is currently being set to Rosebud Theatre's production of W.O. Mitchell's Jake and The Kid: Prairie Seasons. Some time ago, I came out of a music rehearsal where I watched three of my friends: Nathan, Conrad and Glena singing my words in three part harmony. A gift to hear. A song filled with sorrow and leavened with hope. As with most things in life, the summer comes for a while and warms our bodies and our souls. It gives us strength and joy enough to make it through the winter. Surely, the winter will come:

Oh my love
The snow drifts line the roads
The Sun hides It's face
The stars seem a little less close
They're homeward bound on the way back to His hand
They're closer to Him
But farther from where I stand

At the heart of this beautiful story filled with laughter, love and loss is a truth: as we are forced to let go of one thing, we are thus enabled to reach out for the next blessing. There is pain in the interim but joy will eventually come back to us and perhaps come back all the more, in vivid colour and depth. I'm glad that not every season is summer, or winter for that matter. It allows us to appreciate the years so much more. To smell a first rain. To see the days get longer, or shorter. To see the first snowflake fall or to see the snow melting after a long and hard winter.

I'm so richly blessed to be part of a show that celebrates life lived right in the middle of that journey. A story that acknowledges the value of a life lived for a time in the valley as well as the mountaintop and their relationship to one another. This is a story that inspires us to take heart and be brave: hope is on it's way.
- Paul Zacharias, Composer/Sound Designer -

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Summer in Rosebud, and we're having a ball! The Diary of Adam and Eve

Rehearsals are underway for The Diary of Adam and Eve, adapted from Mark Twain’s short story. We’re having a great time remounting this student final project as a full-fledged Rosebud Theatre Show. Heather Pattengale is the Rosebud School of the Arts student who produced and is featured as Eve in the show. You may remember her as Chava in Fiddler on the Roof, Mary in Mary’s Wedding, Medlock in The Secret Garden, or Lilia in A Bright Particular Star. She’s a bright light on stage and off, and she’s paired with another bright light - the beloved audience favorite, Nathan Schmidt. He’s playing Adam to Heather’s Eve. It’s hard work figuring out what the very first man must have felt when a talkative Eve showed up in his garden. But Nathan is up to the task. He understands bewildered like no one I know. He’ll be popping back and forth from the Opera House stage where he is playing a quintessential Jake in Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons. And I’m playing director to a couple of very fine performers who entertain me far too much. It’s summer in Rosebud, and we’re having a ball!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Reviews are IN!

Homegrown Story Shines
by Louis B. Hobson - Calgary Sun
June 3rd, 2011

The whole experience of visiting the hamlet of Rosebud to see Rosebud Theatre's production of W.O Mitchell's Jake and the Kid is a bit surreal.

It's like entering a time warp.

Mitchell's classic story about a Prairie family in the 1940's feels completely at home unfolding as it does, just a stone's throw from the farms and wheat fields nestled around Rosebud.

It helps that under the warm and loving direction of Karl Sine, this stage adaptation by James B. Douglas has as much heart as it does humour.

We laugh with these people - not at them - and we shed a few silent tears as the young boy deals with loss.

Conrad Belau captures the young farm boy's innocence, naivete, fears and bewilderment at having to deal with his father fighting in Europe, his missing dog and the snow storm that might kill one of the farm cats and her kittens.

In the boy's mind little tragedies are definitely on a par with global ones and we see this every step of the way in Belau's performance.

It's difficult conceiving anyone being more at home in Jake's irascible skin than Nathan Schmidt, who makes sure the hired hand is never a caricature, but rather a very real Prairie character.

As the cantankerous neighbour and the boy's mother Mike Thiessen and Glenda Warkentin are the strong support Schmidt and Belau deserve.

Rosebud and W.O. Mitchell prove once again to be made for each other.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What audience members are saying about Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons

Here are some responses to our production of Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons.

“Brilliant! We laughed, I cried... all good!” - Kristi Cox, Patron -

“We laughed and cried and laughed a whole lot more. Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons had us all captivated!

One of the best shows our family has ever had the privilege of seeing.” - Amber Link, Patron -

Laughing from start to finish

"If there is only one reason to go see Rosebud Theatre's newest production, W.O. Mitchell's Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons, that reason is Alberta's own Nathan Schmidt's hilarious portrayal of farmhand Jake. Really, that's the only reason one would need.” - The Strathmore Standard -

The Kid and Jake (Conrad Belau and Nathan Schmidt) cutting it up in rehearsal.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

W.O. Mitchell gathers us all together for a great evening!

Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons opened last night to a standing ovation brought on by a lot of laughter and a story that touched people in that sweet spot that brings a tear or two.

I had the privilege of sharing the preshow dinner with Ray and Brenda Shultz, local farmers and long-timer supporters of Rosebud Centre of the Arts; and Jack Hayden, the Minister of Agriculture for the Province of Alberta. The conversation was wonderful, crossing between the subject of new opportunities in agriculture and a lively discussion about the magic of live performance. Ray Shultz is a gifted musician as well as farmer. Brenda has a heart for the importance of story in people’s lives. Jack Hayden loves the theatre and live music.

So, I asked him why he loved live theatre. His response (and I’m paraphrasing) was that there is nothing like a live performer putting it out there on the stage. The energy is infectious. We went on to talk about great musicians we’d seen in concert - Neil Young, Van Morrison, and others. And we came back to the magic on the stage in Rosebud - the conversation driven in large part by the Agriculture Minister’s passion.

And then we watched the play, each in our own worlds, alone, yet together. That’s the magic that happens when the lights go down and a story is lived out in front of you. It’s a marvelous coming together of people of all aspirations and professions. It makes a person believe the world can really work together if held by some kind of common story.

Jack Hayden told us at dinner that he once had a conversation with W. O. Mitchell in an airport line-up. He said W.O. was a real gentlemen.

W. O. Mitchell loved the theatre as well. He gathered people of all stripes around stories that were in some way common to all of them. Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons has gathered us all together to hear his voice again - the wise-cracking and cantankerous gentleman who reached out and touched the whole of this country through words on the page, on the stage, and on the CBC.

It was a good night.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Old men arguing over running water, twirling weathervanes, and sputtering rain machines - Jake and the Kid is coming!

Well, Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons is alive on the stage, rehearsing and technical rehearsing it's way to opening night this coming Friday. I'm always amazed at how much it takes to get a show ready for the stage. Sound cues programmed, light cues programmed, staging tweaked to match the set, the addition of running water, twirling weathervanes, sputtering rain machines, and the storytelling editing that makes it all seem like it's for real. It's magician's work, really. And there are a team of them under Karl Sine's direction, working out details that are often fleeting moments that add up to something magical when they're integrated into the story. And ... a lot of faith in the notion that all of these elements will come together to make some real magic an audience will enjoy!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Brad Graham, Jake and the Kid Stage Manager shares ...

Everyone involved in making a play is a storyteller and observer of life. Here's something from Brad Graham - an observation of inspiration.

"Karl Sine, the show Director, said something in rehearsal today that has so closely echoed some things that I’ve been thinking about throughout rehearsals and for the few weeks leading up to them, as I was reading the stories from the book and preparing my script and the rehearsal hall.

The people in Jake and the Kid are our people. They are our parents or grandparents, the people who invested in us and who lived harder lives than we have to so that we don’t have to. They might be people who are a bit hard to take sometimes, either because they were a bit more crass than we wanted them to be or more stern or a bit more demanding that we do our best. They weren’t, aren’t, perfect people, but they belonged to us, so we find grace for their faults. The fact that they aren’t perfect is what makes them genuine.

Somehow W.O. understood that. I suppose in spending so much time watching prairie people, listen to them, that he felt a bit of ownership, of family, towards them. It’s something that good writers seem to do; watch and listen. I think the other thing he did was be honest about them. He could see the beauty & magic in two old men who just couldn’t get along but who also couldn’t get along without each other’s friendship.

Its been so much fun watching our own little family figure out who’s who so far in the rehearsal process. The things I’m enjoying most are the unique ways this team of artists have been problem solving. The ingenuity and creativity that’s coming to bear every day in the shop, in the recording studio and in the rehearsal hall under the very encouraging direction of Karl Sine has been thrilling to watch and contribute to. I can’t wait for people to see it and enjoy it as much as we are enjoying putting it together!"

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Jake and the Kid: The stage in miniature

Steve Waldschmidt is the Designer of this bit of prairie. What you see is the set model that Byron Linsey (Scenic Carpenter) and Cheryl Daugherty (Scenic Artist) are delivering onto the stage in a day or so from now. It's a simple looking set, but the intricacy and detail is phenomenal. And Karl Sine's staging in the middle of this bit of prairie sweep is a delight. I just watched a run-through of the play this morning. Opening is just under two weeks away!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons rehearsals underway!

A post from Karl Sine - Director of Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons

We just officially finished our second full day in the hall rehearsing Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons and already I am just thrilled and excited about this story. It so wonderful to be given a script that does half the work for you. W.O. Mitchell’ s wit and humor just jumps off the page and then you marry that with actors that understand timing, and deliver and you have a recipe for hilarity. I have caught myself getting the actors to repeat scenes not because I have a particular note that I hope them to achieve but instead because it was so funny I just want to see it again. What a delight it is to work with these performers. In addition to this the masterful work of my designers is also making this project such a joy, one thing in particular that I would like to mention is the original music written and composed by Paul Zacharias, just today we were implementing some of the music; which happens to be performed by the actors live on stage, and I found myself being so inspired by Paul’s work that it would lead me to places I had never thought of. This is one of the many reason I love theatre. The final product always becomes so much more then the sum of its parts.
What a great pleasure this is , I can’t wait to share more!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Theatre - What a life! A Bright Particular Jake and the Kid

We had a full day in Rosebud yesterday. It was the first rehearsal for Jake and the Kid: Prairie Seasons and the first read of the play - that moment when virtually the whole community in Rosebud gathers in anticipation to hear the next show. I haven’t had such a good laugh in a long time. And then I was on the edge of tears, because W.O. Mitchell has the most remarkable celebratory voice for the humor and the simple understated pathos of life. The story is simply wonderful.
Nathan Schmidt, whose rendering of Daddy Sherry in W. O. Mitchell’s The Kite some years ago is playing Jake, while Mike Thiessen, who is still on stage playing a very funny Mark Twain in A Bright Particular Star, plays Old Man Gattenby. It was worth the drive to Rosebud yesterday just to hear these guys argue. It brought the house down! Karl Sine, who directed the riotous and out of control We Won’t Pay, We Won’t Pay last spring, is directing the show, and his passion for the celebration of the story is infectious. We’re on to a great summer offering!

And it’s just two weeks until A Bright Particular Star ends its run. I love this play. I love our people in it. I love the heart of a story that’s all about a young woman catching her life and lifting off with it. It’s inspiring and full of light. And the audience hangs on it like it’s a movie - metering out passion and love frame by frame. Of course, it’s not a movie, it’s a play, so its emotional ride is even more immediate. These are flesh and blood people in front of us! They actually feel what they say. And that's the magic of it. They live it, and in this story, they live the way they live in real life - this company of bright and particular actors with the courage to hang on to the dream of it all onstage and off!

I do love the theatre! What a life!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

A Bright Particular Love

In A Bright Particular Star, there’s a conversation that happens between Lilia MacDonald and her father as she parses the single most important crossroad in her life - whether or not to marry the man she loves or follow her unbridled passion for the theatre. It’s a beautiful scene between a father and his daughter, an intimate exchange between two people who share a passion for a Father God whose presence they crave.

GEORGE. So. What is most important?

LILIA. In the grand scheme of things?

GEORGE. To you. To Lily.

LILIA. God. Whatever's most important to him. To please him.

GEORGE. But you can't please him! ... Any more than he is already. There's nothing you can do, or undo, to add to that. Or to take it away. Do you understand?

LILIA. Yes, I think so.

GEORGE. Don't let go of that.

On this Easter Sunday, I am struck by the fact that the first person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven after Jesus’ suffering and death was a thief who hung on the cross beside him. The man asked if he could be in paradise with a dying Rabbi we don’t know he even knew, and the answer was “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” Who knows why the thief was compelled to ask the question. Did he hang beside a personified matured innocence, and like a besotted lover who has no time, blurt out an impossible hope? Did he hope to please the grace-filled Rabbi who gave himself to suffering without uttering a word? Maybe in the silence before the question, he heard George MacDonald’s words drifting outside of time, the voice of the spirit whispering to his already suspended and ascending body, and in the miracle that is myth, maybe those words were actually there as an unspoken expression in the Rabbi’s eyes. “You can’t please me. Any more than I am already. There’s nothing you can do, or undo, to add to that. Or to take it away. Do you understand?”

“I think I do.”

“Don’t let go of that. Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Most of us won’t suffer such an ignominious end as that thief. Our lives won’t be that dramatic. But we’ll face hundreds of crossroads where our only wish is to please those who love us the most. And those who love us from a place of God-light will always say that nothing we can do will please them more than they already are. True love does not have to be earned.

Happy Easter everyone - Morris

Monday, 18 April 2011

Goings On - Around Our Town

Even with Bright Particular Star playing on our Mainstage through May 14...  there's multiple shows of note on display in our 'burb.  Check out the offerings below.

The TRIUMPH OF LOVE, by Marivaux

What's a princess to do when she falls in love with a man taught to hate women, love, and her in particular?  Dress up like a man and seduce everyone in sight!  Everyone, that is, that hinders her from her beloved.  A romantic comedy filled with secret identities, relational reversals, and the ultimate triumph of love.

Through April 30, on the Rosebud Studio Stage
For more information, visit the Facebook Event.

Presented by the THTR 359 class of Rosebud School of the Arts

SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, by Jason Robert-Brown

Presented by Theatre SHHH! :  Sienna Howell-Holden's Final Project in fulfillment of the Mentorship Program at Rosebud School of the Arts.  A two-act musical "about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, take a stand, or turn around and go back."  It's a musical feast that transports the audience through history and into new lands with a startling array of characters and situations.

April 18 - April 20, on the Rosebud Studio Stage
For more information, visit the Facebook Event

THE TURN OF THE SCREW, by Jeffrey Hatcher.  
Adapted from the novel by Henry James.

When a young governess travels to a remote English manor to care for two orphaned children, she hardly suspects the frightening events about to take place.  As the days continue she fears the ghosts of her predecessor and a lover are using the children to continue a relationship from beyond the grave.  Will spirits succeed in taking control of her young charges, or is it all simply a product of the governess's fevered imagination?

April 25 - April 27 at the Akokiniskway Gallery
For more information, visit the Facebook Event.

So, lots to do and see... as well as a couple of new CD release events we'll keep you posted on in days to come.   If you've got any questions on events listed, just post in comments below and we'll get back soon.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Artist and Action

One of the central tensions in A Bright Particular Star is the notion of doing something that matters versus doing something just for the beauty of it. I was stewing about this on the long ride home from Rosebud this week.
I love gardening - flowers in particular. In fact, the only things growing in our two gardens are flowers and trees - nothing practical. Maybe that’s why I hide out in the theatre for a living. I love the care with which a fine props builder creates a piece of period furniture. I love staging that speaks metaphorically. I love paintings that pierce the heart.
Almost all of these words were stated in a similar way by the central character in a show I directed several years ago by Wallace Shawn called The Fever. The story of the play was the story of a call to action, so familiar words celebrating beauty were beginning to ring hollow. It was as if a monstrous plant of an idea had taken root in the greenhouse of a heart and was pushing through the glass, lifting the foundations of a well protected spirit and thrusting it outwards, with all the tearing agony that entailed. S/he discovered that this giant plant held within it the capacity to feed starving mouths, if only it was allowed to grow beyond the walls of the greenhouse. We discovered in rehearsal the character’s call to action - a call to feed and engage the lives of the poor. St. Francis, Father Damien, Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi invaded our rehearsals, and I came to the conclusion that the play was about the making of a great soul. I also realized that the same plant had taken root in my own heart, seeded in my youth and covered by the accumulated soil of a lifetime, and now it was responding to light and water. The time for resting in the admiration of its spring blossoms; photographing them, breathing in their remarkable fragrance, even sharing the wonder of the Creator’s touch with others as we collectively admired the play of light and shadow on the roots below it, was over. The time to tear down the house surrounding that great tree had come. The time to expose its blossoms to the open air and the pollination that would come with it, rendering fruit that could actually feed starving souls had come. So the lover of art is called to produce fruit in the Kingdom of God. The artist is called to tend and harvest fruit that can be put into the mouths of the poor in spirit.
In Wallace Shawn’s play, the fevered character makes a confession of sorts laying on the floor of a bathroom in a third world hotel:
“I’ve always loved people who enjoy good meals, people who look forward to good performances. Of course I have. Everyone I’ve ever known is one of those people, I’ve always been one of those people myself. I’ve always thought that it’s so much nicer to love people whom are happy. But the funny thing is that everyone might be.”
“The funny thing is that everyone might be.” There is a selfishness in the painter of spring blossoms who will not tend to weeds, till the soil, or harvest fruit, so keeps the plant growing in his/her heart pruned within the confines of a well kept greenhouse. It is the selfishness of the aesthete who holds the Spirit of God captive in his/her heart, thwarting and stunting it, afraid to let it become something unmanageable.
There is an image romantic and compelling of the painter sitting in the greenhouse, rendering spring blossoms through the subtlety of water-color on paper. But there is an image even more romantic of the artist sitting at an easel in the clearing of an orchard, capturing the work of harvesters pulling fruit from branches. But the most compelling image of all is the image of the artist on the ladder, participating in the life of the community, harvesting fruit that will feed the hungry in the coming winter. It is an image of an artist whose love of what is true compels him/her to climb into the upper reaches of the tree, pushing past branches that scratch at arms, reaching beyond reach for fruit that can be tasted, and in that tactile activity, discovering the true artistry in a basket of apples, the artistry of a Divine order where none need starve. Could it be that the paint applied to a canvass at the end of a day of harvest holds a promise of artistry more profoundly metaphorical and more acutely understood by spirits who view it? Could it be that those brush strokes hold an infusion of spirit that is understood more fully because they are made by hands scarred by the task of harvesting the fruit of the Kingdom? I do think so, because those same hands have delivered fruit into the mouths of those whose spiritual sustenance it has become.
“Your hands are full of thorns, but you can’t stop reaching for the Rose.” - Bruce Cockburn -
Pope John Paul in an address at the turn of the new century called artists to the full expression of their gifts in the Kingdom. This playwright/actor turned Priest and Pontiff understood the true aesthetic of the Kingdom - the transforming artistry of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the poor in spirit.
Oh to be articulate in the fullness of the voice that God has given us. Oh for the humility to see ourselves as the embodiment of a story that is more than fiction, a story where metaphor is truly a glimpse of grace, a voice coming through fog calling people to clarity and light, a hand offering the fruit of the Kingdom to starving spirits.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Show Shots!

Heather Zacharais, David Snider & Aaron Krogman

Jeany Van Meltebeke, David Snider & Heather Zacharais

Sienna Howell-Holden & Jeany Van Meltebeke

Cassia Schraam, Heather Zacharais & David Snider

Mike Thiessen & Aaron Krogman

Alysa VanHaastert & Heather Zacharais

Heather Zacharias, Aaron Krogman & Leah Hearne

Aaron Krogman & Heather Zacharais

Heather Zacharais, Jeany Van Meltebeke & Aaron Krogman

Lyle Penner & Heather Zacharais


Friday, 1 April 2011

an opening night gush

An audience response to A Bright Particular Star from a long time patron ...
"What a GREAT night last night was!
Congratulations to each of you for pulling off an extraordinary evening of celebration. The Rosebud Mercantile looked fantastic, the food was exceptional, the play (a great choice for Rosebud and extremely well written) was wonderful, and the cast demonstrated exactly how God's gift of a passion for the stage is expressed.
I am absolutely in awe. Thanks be to God and Congratulations to each one of you."
- Janet McLean

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Thoughts from George

From "Paul Faber, Surgeon", by George MacDonald

But love is the first comforter, and where love and truth speak, the love will be felt where the truth is never perceived.  Love indeed is the highest in all truth; and the pressure of a hand, a kiss, the caress of a child, will do more to save sometimes than the wisest argument, even rightly understood.  Love alone is wisdom, love alone is power; and where love seems to faint it is where self has stepped between and dulled the potency of its rays.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Because We Believe

Morris & Cast on Opening Night.  Photo by Dale Marushy.
A Bright Particular Star has opened, and it has opened very fine indeed. This is going to be a bit of a gush, but a person has to celebrate glorious moments, like collecting travel stickers, or autographs, creating word talismans of some sort. It is the momentum caused by a growing collection of glorious moments in our theatre’s life - in our own lives - that add up to something mythic and grand.
It was a glorious opening, heightened by the presence of my dear friend and theatrical cohort of some 30 years, Ron Reed. He’s the playwright who penned the words that came to life over the course of four weeks of rehearsal, the story that resonated and came to life in the performers for the sake of our audience. He’s a man of considerable warmth, and he loved the show. So now we can both sleep at nights!
The company was wonderful last night, delivering performances that gave such clarity to the humor and the truth and the pathos of the story. I am, in a word, proud. The actors are costumed in Victorian garments fitted and built to perfection in our wardrobe. I feel like I’m back at Stratford again, looking at the finery of the fit and finish. The set is a small wonder, effortlessly gliding through the scenes in a way that lends such magic to the storytelling. It looks as beautiful from the back as from the front. Am I really in Rosebud, or did I wake up in a theatre with ten times the resource to pull off the magic we delivered? It feels a bit like loaves and fishes made more by some mystical hand.
This is what it means to have a resident company of artists, creating together show to show, year to year. It means that we reach beyond what we’d ever be able to do because we trust in the fundamental heart commitment of everyone involved. A question was asked of the well-known Estonian composer, Arvo Part in a music workshop. “Why do you fill your music with religious themes?” His answer was quite simple, “Because I believe it.”
Last night’s glorious coming together of all of the elements of our theatre into a unified and up-lifting experience for all rests on the same answer. “Because we believe it.”


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Celebrity Spotlight: Ron Reed

Alright, so maybe he's not a celebrity in the Hollywood sense, but for anyone in his sphere of influence, this guy's a shining star.  He's Artistic Director and founder of Pacific Theatre, a widely-produced playwright (Bright Particular Star, Tent Meeting, Refuge of Lies, and Book of the Dragon to name a few), a wonderful actor, and regular cohort with Rosebud's Morris Ertman.  AND he still finds time to teach acting and playwriting at Trinity Western University and occasional courses for Regent College.   Not to mention he's currently at work on a book, "Soul Food Movies:  A guide to films with a spiritual flavour," and keeps others abreast of notable arts events with his Soulfood blog.

Whew.  Not to mention his influence on countless number of individuals who have been inspired by his passion and dedication to theatre.  Ron proves again and again that art and faith are kindred spirits.  His favorite play opens up our 2011 Season.   It's the story of Lilia MacDonald, (daughter of famed 19th century writer George MacDonald), who was a talented actress and vibrant social worker eventually forced to choose between marriage and her love of theatre.  She fought for her passion, despite the objections of family and friends.  So we chatted with Ron for some inside intel about this play and his process.  
So, what first sparked your idea for Bright Particular Star?
 It was a conversation I had quite a long time ago, flying back from St. Louis with Scott Nolte, Artistic Director of Taproot Theatre.  He had done a Christmas show based on one of  George Macdonald's short stories: a fantasy / fairy tale with a Christian theme.  I thought it sounded great but since based on a short story, too brief for a full-length production.  But Scott started telling me that the MacDonalds used to put on theatricals, so Taproot used the family's productions as a framing device for telling the story.  I thought that was great, something really worth writing about.  "Oh, but there's more", Scott says.  "Apparently the eldest daughter, Lilia, was quite an actress.  But she was made to choose between an acting career and the love of her life."  That had happened to me [as well].   So I needed to write this story.  

So I did a bit of research, but at the time there wasn't much information out there other than little bits about the family making plays.  I suppose I could have invented a lot of stuff and made the story more fictional, but I didn't feel like it.  So I let the idea lurk in the back of my mind to follow up another days.
A few years later, I'm not sure what brought it to mind, I sent out a few e-mails queries looking for research and found that lots more had become available about the family. So I went after it.  I developed the first draft at Lamb's Players Theatre in San Diego, and eventually put it on the Pacific Theatre stage in 2006.
What was one of the most surprising parts of your research?
That George and Louisa MacDonald actually put some barriers in Lilia's way.  They didn't want her to be an actress.  Which shocked me.  Here's George MacDonald, the imagination guy, the man who left the ministry to be a fantasy novelist, trying to keep his daughter from pursuing a calling in the arts.
Two of Lilia's brothers wrote books about growing up under their father.  One of them was quite expressive about his unhappiness with their parents' opposition to her acting.  He felt they didn't trust her and it became a source of controversy in the family.
The other discovery was Octavia Hill, who was an important mentor to Lilia.  She was an amazing figure in British history.  She's one of 3 people who sort of originated the "social-action" movement.  There are charitable trusts she invented still in operation today.  She got money from John Ruskin and bought buildings in the slums and essentially started building housing co-ops.  She lived there among the poor and made a difference.  So in her I found this other claim to Lilia's passions: her drive to serve the people in need.  So there were all these forces pulling Lilia in all directions, which only makes her story more compelling.

          Which character do you identify with most?  You, of course followed your calling (like Lilia) but also are a father of daughters (like George). 

Of course I have compassion for George.  Being an actor, I'm used to entering into the mind/soul/skin of anyone I play.  As a writer, it's the same thing.  I recognize George as a character who will present obstacles for Lilia, but in my mind I'm playing the role of father.
There was a time in my life my parents had qualms about me pursuing theatre.  Not because they wanted to control me, but because they had genuine anxiety about whether or not I would be happy.  So I understand the parent aspect.
But really, Lilia is the hero for me.  She faced the same decisions that I faced in my life, and she faced them, I think, more courageously than I.
Do you think her journey was different, being a woman?
Oh absolutely.  Sure.  There are whole new layers of complexity when you factor in the social elements of her time.  But, we're also all so dumb historically.  We think everything happened in our lifetime.  But the Suffragette and Feminisim movement was huge in the MacDonald's era.  Even still, in Victorian culture, a woman in theatre was still literally assumed to be a prostititute.  Nowadays, I'm sure there are exotic dancers and strippers who aren't prostitutes, but it's still an assumption that gets made.  You wouldn't stand up in your women's church group and announce yourself as a career girl, a stripper working at the Kit Kat Club.  It was a similar thing with actresses back then.  
As opposed to me, a young man in the 1970's, deciding to pursue theatre.  There are differences to the social obstacles.
Was there a particular play that lit the spark for your calling?  
The first professional play I saw was in grade 8.  It was Great Expectations at Theatre Calgary, and it was definitely an epiphany for me.
I was actually a year younger than my classmates, so I think I was 11 when we went to see it.  Christopher Newton directed.  After the performance I phoned the box office and bought a season subscription.  Me and my friend Mike bought bus tickets and went to see shows on Saturdays.  How many grade 8 kids see a show on a school outing and them become subscribers with their allowance money?
It was love at first sight.
In grade 10, my lowest grade on the report card was in drama.  I loved it, but it just wasn't happening.  In grade 11, I had my spiritual awakening - you know, where the lights just turn on.  My life was different and all of a sudden I started doing great in drama and music.  A week before the school show went up, I got cast.  It was Enter Laughing, based on the novel by Carl Reiner.
It was phenomenal.  I had so much fun, and for me, it was the beginning of the end.  I didn't become an actor right away, I left it for awhile and returned in 1980.  But I haven't done anything else since.  So those two plays were my turning points.
Why do you think so many Christians struggle with seeing arts as a valid calling?
I [actually] don't see that anymore.  It's still true for some people, but it wasn't my story.  I never thought theatre wasn't legitimate.  I had an experience where acting and music were given to me - I never questioned that they were from God.  And at Pacific Theatre, the audiences and the church are both really behind what we're doing.  The tension between faith and arts is less.
Why do you think that is?  What's happened to lesson the tension?
Because Evangelical Christians have become less and less isolated from Culture.  It started in the sixties when they bought televisions.  Once they had a television it was harder to tell the kids they couldn't go to the movies.  And once they go to the movies, it's harder to explain why they can't make them, too.  Once they had radios and could listen to rock music, wouldn't it be better to MAKE rock music and have a Christian presence in that scene?

So, once walls were breached, Evangelicals became way more involved.  That increasingly keeps happening.

When I started teaching at Trinity Western 23 years ago, challenging students meant having them question whether or not they would swear on stage, in character... or see the value of a show without a happy ending, or one not overtly centered on Jesus.  Now, I challenge my students not to take every role that comes their way - to listen to the Holy Spirit and consider whether as a Christian you have boundaries for what stories you tell.  So there's been a significant shift with respect to culture.

As for tension between religion and theatre, I think there will always be some kind of wrestling because theatre is not a good medium for preaching messages.  Plays are open-ended, they go after the hard stuff that doesn't have clear answers.  People who turn to religion or faith to nail things down or find certainty can feel threatened by the arts - especially theatre, which loves to dwell in uncertainty.
Plays like complexity.  And if you're trying to simplify your world-view, you might not like them.
Also, the craft of theatre is centered on an actor.  It physically involves the body and involves transforming ourselves into characters that might not be role models.  Exploring that side of life can seem like a dangerous thing to do.  But it's also dangerous to go to Rwanda and become a missionary.
For me, life is full of risk and when you go into theatre you embrace those risks.  But it is not really that different than all the other risks you take in life.  "Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world."  You don't travel into those explorations alone.
Anything else you'd like to add?
 This is my favorite play I've written.  Hard to say why.  Probably my very strong identification with it.

Ron will be with Rosebud Theatre, LIVE and IN PERSON for two special talk-back performances of Bright Particular Star.  Stick around after the shows on Saturday 3/26 (8:00pm) or Wednesday 3/30 (matinee) to dialogue more about this show and his writing process.

For more information on availability and ticket prices, check out