In Focus: Theatre Canmore

By Maureen McNamee

A new theatre company launched in Canmore this September with a lineup of shows created and performed by local artists.

Theatre Canmore’s artistic director, Melanie DesRoches, says a lot of people in the region have gone to school for acting, stage management, sound and lights or set design, but most of them work at a ski hill, restaurant or hotel because housing in the Bow Valley is expensive and they need a steady income. At the same time, she adds, entertainment options for residents and visitors are limited. “We have tourists, we have weekenders, we have locals—and we have all these people that want to perform,” she says. “So we decided, why don’t we start our own theatre group?”

DesRoches, who has a background in business, and artistic producer Gerry McAuley, who has experience at the local community theatre, started Theatre Canmore as a professional company that provides services to local artists who have small shows but not the time or resources to produce them. The company will take care of the venue, promotion, ticketing, technicians and stage crew. Once the costs are covered, profits will be returned to the performers and crew.

More than 120 people have expressed interest in getting involved, including some artists with performances ready to go. The company has also formed partnerships with the Town of Canmore and the developer of Spring Creek neighbourhood—both want to support affordable entertainment options in the Bow Valley.

“Local artists don’t always want to be dressed in bear costumes.”

In September, six months after the idea was hatched, Theatre Canmore announced its 2017–18 season. For its first show (Oct 20–22), the company will partner with Artists’ Collective Theatre in Calgary for a presentation of The Haunted House Hamlet: An Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Classic by Peter Eliot Weiss, at Canmore Collegiate High School.

For Halloween, Maxine Bennett and Annie Pumphrey will present Canmore Ghost Walks (Oct 28–31). Drawing from local stories and folklore, the pair will perform as residents from the past, taking audiences from one downtown historic site to another as the play progresses. Bennett and Pumphrey are Parks Canada employees who provide educational programs for tourists. “They do shows about bears and wolf packs and those sorts of things,” says DesRoches, “but they also have other projects they want to do—they don’t always want to be dressed in bear costumes.”

On November 10, Mary Schäffer: Mountain Woman by Banff actor Shirley Truscott will run at Canmore’s artsPlace. The play uses slides from the Whyte Museum to help re-create the life of Schäffer, an artist, photographer and writer who was the first non-native woman to travel through Banff and Jasper national parks.

The holiday show, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, will have three performances at artsPlace (Dec 9, 16, 17) presented in partnership with the town, and one at Spring Creek’s 100-seat Canmore Opera House (Dec 10), which is a replica of the original opera house now at Calgary’s Heritage Park.

In February, Stéphane Prévost of Banff directs Sex With Strangers by Laura Eason, which will run in Canmore (Feb 2–4) and Banff (Feb 9–11). The contemporary play is about a popular blogger and an academic writer and the impact of social media on their success. Theatre Canmore will also host a “pop-up” dinner theatre at the Legion for Valentine’s Day.

The final event of the season is a 10-minute-play festival March 16–19 at Canmore Opera House, which will showcase local theatre artists in a fringe fest atmosphere.

Professional theatre is scarce outside Alberta’s larger cities, but DesRoches says the enthusiastic response so far indicates Theatre Canmore is filling a void in the region’s arts scene. “It’s been very easy to get this started,” she says. “I think the idea speaks for itself, because it’s just exploded.”

—Maureen McNamee

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