New theatre company goes old school

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For those who just can’t seem to get enough holiday entertainment at this time of year, Theatre Canmore has jumped into the live theatre mix with a rendition of the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the case of Theatre Canmore’s offering, though, it’s not Jimmy Stewart on the silver or small screen, but the theatre company staging a radio play in a theatre setting with It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

In kicking off the production, Theatre Canmore is looking back to the 1940s, when radio was all the rage as people gathered around to listen to news of the day, hockey broadcasts and live recordings of Amos and Andy, The Lone Ranger, Jack Benny and others.

“We saw it in Calgary last year and really enjoyed it,” said Director Gerry McAuley. “It’s great to have something to get people into the Christmas spirit.”

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will be staged with a Black and White 1940s Gala on Saturday (Dec. 9) at 6 p.m. at artsPlace, on Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at Canmore Opera House, then again at artsPlace on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 2 p.m.

The gala (1940s apparel or formal attire appreciated) will feature hors d’oeuvres, vintage cocktails by Wild Life Distillery and live music with the Jazz Plus Trio from 6-7:30 p.m. with the play from 7:30-10 p.m.

Theatregoers will find themselves transported as a live audience to a radio studio where the cast is performing It’s a Wonderful Life; each delivering multiple roles. The adult portion of the cast includes McAuley, Jeremy White, Kelly Cytko, Erin Walsh, Tyler McClaron and Martin Finnerty. As well, youngsters Kiera Culleton, Kasha Hay, Peter and Louise Codere and Isis Burnette will perform.

The life and times of Bedford Falls’ George Bailey will be played out in front of radio microphones as actors read multiple parts from scripts as Foley man Finnerty and others chip in with sound effects.

It’s a Wonderful Life features nice guy Bailey, who has spent his entire life helping his neighbours and is in a pitched battle to keep miserly Mr. Potter from taking over the town. All that stands between Mr. Potter and disaster for Bedford Falls is George’s building and loan company.

In bemoaning his life and his failures, George is visited by an angel named Clarence, though, who shows him how life in Bedford Falls would have been so much different had he not made a difference.

“This play gives the feel of a radio station,” said McAuley. “We’ll have music and sound effects, On-Air and Applause lights for audience participation and period costumes.

“When introduced, our cast will be introduced as the ‘40s characters. So it’s an actor, playing an actor, performing in a radio play. We’ll even have singing commercials for things like hair tonic.”

When it comes to sound effects, a broken window will actually be a pane of glass broken with a hammer, for example. Other Foley effects include jellybeans dropped onto a metal tray.

Foley is the art of creating sound effects with everyday objects; coconut shells struck together to sound like horse’s hoofs, for example.

Work on the Foley effects, said McAuley, “was a challenge, but everything needs to be period items. You can’t use plastic, for example, and it’s not easy to find things like a galvanized metal pail these days. Martin’s (Finnerty) our Foley guy and he’s really excited to be doing them.

“This is going to be a lot of fun. The actors are looking forward to it, and when we did a casting call for kids, we have five show up and that’s about what we needed. They’ll also get to help out with Foley stuff. It’s also a way for us to encourage some kids to come out.”

Audience members will be able to get into the act with applause, for example, and McAuley is hoping appearances by Mr. Potter will draw a chorus of ‘boos.’

Both venues will seat about 100, “and this is the type of play you don’t want to do in a big venue,” said McAuley. “A smaller venue gives the feeling of being more intimate.”

Tickets are $15, or $50 for the gala, at www.theatrecanmore.com.

In the near future, Theatre Canmore will be casting for Sex With Strangers, then working toward a 10-minute play festival which will include a playwriting challenge where writers will be given a subject, then have 24 hours to create a play.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook