With the broad spaces and sparse population of Saskatchewan there is little professional theatre outside the major cities of Regina and Saskatoon.
For residents who love live theatre in rural Saskatchewan the void is filled by amateur community theatre. In Melfort the local group is called MAD (Melfort Amateur Dramatics) on Main (they have a home in a building they own on Main Street). MAD celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. While Sharon and I find our lives too busy at this time to be a part of MAD we enjoy attending their productions. They put on 3-4 shows a year. Their website is http://melfortamateurdramatics.weebly.com/.
Theatre Saskatchewan holds a pair of annual competitions that draw community theatre groups to a specific community. Melfort hosted the full length play festival this year. There were 7 plays on 7 consecutive nights. Six different theatre groups participated.
The commitment of the theatre companies to performing is reflected in the distances they traveled to reach Melfort. The closest drove 100 km. Three came from small cities about 300 km away from Melfort and the furthest had a 400 km trip. All the distances are one way.
Sharon and I were able to attend 6 of the 7 plays:
1.) Hat Tricks by MAD;
2.) Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve adapted by David Birney by the Crocus 80 Theatre of Weyburn;
3.) Drinking Alone by the Battlefords Community Players;
4.) The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery by the Paper Bag Players of Yorkton;
5.) The Mighty Carlins by Smoke Screen Productions of Prince Albert; and,
6.) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (adapted by Jennifer Lyn Squires) by the Regina Little Theatre
One group had to drop out so MAD had a second production, Men Fake Foreplay. Sharon and I had already seen it so we took one night off from the theatre. (It is a fascinating one man play that explores contemporary mores concerning male and female relationships.)
None of the plays was a drama. Each had a major comedic component. The Farndale play was a farce set in England.
There is a professional adjudicator at each TheatreFest who provides a brief critique after each show and then a 2 hour session the following morning to which everyone was welcome. We were able to go to one of the morning adjudications and it was fascinating to see the adjudicator make comments and offer suggestions to improve the show. Two or three scenes would be specifically worked upon to see how they could have been performed differently.
The CJVR Performing Arts Theatre in our local community centre, the Kerry Vickar Centre, was a perfect venue. It was just the right size for the crowds and the plays.
Sharon and I invited the adjudicator, Ian Nelson, on the Tuesday to come with us for a Rotary luncheon. Ian has a huge resume. He had a career as a university librarian. He has acted in over 100 productions and directed over 100 plays and shows. He is a playwright and in demand as an adjudicator. As if the above was not enough he does it all in English and French.
While each group was striving to be the best there was a wonderful camaraderie and support of the other theatre companies present.
I am proud to say the adjudicator picked the same play for the best of TheatreFest as I had chosen. It was the The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society Murder Mystery. No marque was ever going to hold that title.
The play saw the local women’s Guild putting on a murder mystery and everything going wrong. It was so much fun to watch the antics.
Saskatchewan prides itself on being an egalitarian society where entertainment must often be locally created rather than professionally supplied. TheatreFest was a great example. The week reminded me how much joy we can make for ourselves.
By the end of the week Sharon and I were worn right out. I could say it was because of working each day and going to the theatre each night. However, honesty compels me to acknowledge it was going to six after parties and drinking and eating well into the night. I do not regret a minute of sleep lost from time spent at TheatreFest.