It may have surprised some in the audience of the play 100 Lunches when director David Symington, in his introductory remarks, said it was the first such production in Slave Lake in 16 years.
“Since the Walter Twinn Theatre closed,” Symington said.
That would have been in 2001. That small venue – created out of an Alberta Power office and garage – was a labour of love of the Slave Lake Musical Theatre Association in the later 1970s. It was a sort of ‘golden age’ for local theatre there for a couple of decades, with several ambitious productions and strong community support. The times for live shows was well past its peak by the time the Walter Twinn was deemed unfit for large crowds, but there was still a small but active group, putting on the odd play.
However, that sort of thing ground to a halt in 2001. Since then, the SLMTA has stayed alive by producing occasional shows for kids. They were fun enough, but never quite the same or quite as good as a full production in a proper theatre. Then the Legacy Centre arose out of the ashes of the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire disaster, and local drama types started getting excited again and making plans. The result was ‘100 Lunches’ the comedy by Leo Sears and Jack Sharkey, which just ended a seven-performance run at the Legacy Centre.
“It’s a totally different experience,” says SLMTA president (and 100 Lunches actor) Sean McConnell. “We’re looking forward to doing more.”
It was also a good and necessary learning experience to be doing a full production in the new theatre space, says director Dave Symington. They needed to find out what it was like, what they could do and how much it cost, he says. The inevitable comparisons with the old Walter Twinn Theatre arose. In most respects, the Legacy Centre is better – certainly bigger, with better lighting. But costly, and because of that unavailable for most rehearsals, and that was a pretty big deal. It makes quite a difference, says Symington (echoed by some of his actors), to rehearse with the sets, and that didn’t begin until the week of the first performance.
“Our first show was our dress rehearsal!” says one of the performers.
Having said all that (and not said a lot more), cast and crew all seemed to have a lot of fun, and the feedback from audience members seemed universally positive
“Every character got belly laughs,” says Symington.
The waiter character(s) played by Robin Caird probably got the most. Brandy Walters, who played ‘sexy but predatory’ Yolanda Weintraub says the waiter worked for every age group, from kids to adults. Depending on which restaurant the lunch was being held in, the waiter was either an insufferable snob or an utter slob, and Caird pulled them off nicely.
Perhaps the most impressive actor was Andrea Avery, playing the theatre critic who ravages the work of playwright Chuck Reynolds (played by McConnell) in print; then shows up at his door asking his advice on writing her own play. For those unfamiliar with the story, he agrees to give said advice over the course of many luncheon dates in Manhattan. Of course he has an ulterior motive, but in the course of 100 lunches, he falls in love with her.
“Dumb Chuck, that’s what I was calling him,” says McConnell.
Back on the home front in Long Island, Reynolds’ son Terry (Jordan Nahamko) and housekeeper (Jeanne Montgomery) try to hold things together and influence their dad/employer’s course.
“I got to tell my boss what to do,” says Montgomery. “I got to be sassy.”
For Nahamko, a Grade 12 student at Roland Michener School, it was his first full stage play.
“I really love acting,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but it pays off.”
“It was really nice to have a high school kid in a play,” Symington says. “I had hoped we’d get more high school kids coming to see the play. We did get a few.”
Audiences ranged in size from 30 to 70 over the two weekends.
Symington figures it’ll take time, effort and perseverance to build up an audience again. In the heyday of musical theatre in Slave Lake, getting over 100 people out to a play was usual. In fact the very last one done at the Walter Twinn (‘Murder Most Fouled Up’) had a sellout of 110 on its second weekend.
“If we’d had that (this time), we would have broke even,” Symington says.
There are lots of positive signs. One is the solid turnout of ‘back stage’ support, not to mention the ‘front of house’ volunteer crew. They numbered 18 (going by the list on the program), and included expert hair and make-up by Brian Watson and Heather Burkinshaw. The sets were skillfully and attractively built and decorated by Chuck Riddell, Todd Vekved and Michelle Vekved. Stage manager Tamara Rushton was a great help, Symington says, to say nothing of producer Gail Ungstad, who took care of “the real world details,” in putting on a play. The list goes on, and of course includes a list of sponsors, who no doubt will be recognized appropriately.
Meanwhile, plans are afoot for the next production, and the next.
“We’re already reading scripts for something in the spring,” says McConnell. “And in June we’ll be casting for a fall production.
According to Symington, that’ll be ‘Boys and Ghouls Together,’ which was a Roland Michener drama program production many years ago.
“It’s a fun show,” he says.
‘Here’s the deal’ – director Dave Symington sets the stage for the final performance of 100 lunches.
Terry (Jordan Nahamko) makes a point, using unmistakeable body language. Also pictured are Andrea Avery, Sean McConnell and Jeanne Montgomery as housekeeper Glinda Bellows.
‘Whattya want?’ – the waiter at Wally’s Wiener World (Robin Caird) does not inspire confidence in diners Charity Starr (Andrea Avery) and Chuck Reynolds (Sean McConnell).
‘There, there.’ – Yolanda Weintraub (Brandy Walters) delivers some TLC.