Wednesday, 07 December 2011 15:38

Medicine Hat becomes Whoville for Grinch: The Pantomime

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By Ryan Dahlman — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It's nearing the end of a Monday night rehearsal for the Medicine Hat Musical Theatre’s (MHMT) production of Grinch: The Pantomime and director Amber Krause finishes a round of the famous Whoville songs.


In their Musical Theatre Playhouse — the facility formerly known as CTAC (Community Theatre Arts Centre) which the  musical theatre officially owned as of Sept. 1 — the 25 cast members.

One can’t remove the smile from Krause’s face.
“It’s a lot of fun; you can tell (the cast and crew) are having a lot of fun,” explained Krause who is no stranger to the Medicine Hat theatrical scene. “It’s great to see them having fun.”
Krause’s other directorial leadership was with Evil Dead: The Musical — a restricted adult production)—performed in March. She said Grinch is a little easier to direct because there’s a lot less exact timing cues which are needed as opposed to the unorthodox horror/musical where a “knife” has to be thrown at exactly the right time. Plus, it’s difficult for the director to deter the group’s collective enthusiasm for the show while trying to ensure they are following the script.
“It is hard; it’s really a fine line,” explained Krause smiling. “We’re working on this three times a week and it’s brought us closer together. And you know, you’d figure with a comedy you might get tired of the jokes after a while. I’m still laughing; it’s funny. Pantomime is very slapstick. It is a larger than life comedy.”
One of the tough decisions is figuring out the roles of each of the exuberant, MHMT members who are volunteering and devoting a lot of time.
Auditions are held and tough decisions had to be made, but judging by rehearsal, the lead role wasn’t really that hard to decide.
Carolyn Freeman earned the role of the Grinch.
Freeman really isn’t a mean one, nor a heel and undoubtedly is far more charming than an eel. In fact, Freeman is a children’s speech pathologist during the day so having an opportunity to play one of the children’s all-time classic characters is a major thrill.
“I was gobsmacked,” said Freeman who moved to Medicine Hat 28 years ago from Vancouver. “I was thrilled to have got such a wonderful role. The Grinch was one of my favourite characters, often misperceived. The story itself truly becomes one about love. Christmas is not about packages and presents.”
It’s one of those roles which seem fitted for Freeman. She chuckles how anyone who knows her, will tell you how expressive she is ... all the time.
“My face is elastic,” said Freeman smiling broadly.
She welcomed the comparison to Jim Carrey’s facial turns. However, facial elasticity is where she wants the comparisons to end.
“I purposely haven’t watched the movie in a while. So I’ll bring something to it. Amber has been wonderful in how she let’s us bring our flavour to the character.”
“She’s such a darling person,” added Krause. “She absorbs everything you tell her ... I was sitting there last night doing her Grinch make up and as I added the lines to her face, every time I stopped, she was making faces at herself in the mirror. This is herself ... she is so versatile as an actor.”
Freeman must bring different mindsets to each of the characters. Going from such productions as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Footloose, and The Sound of Music adds to the challenge.
For example, Freeman was one of the nuns in The Sound of Music. She stated going from singing in a “tight six- or seven-person” stoic choir to make contorted faces in an adaptation to a children’s classic isn’t as difficult as one would think.
“I don’t find it hard; you just have to know your character,” said Freeman who like the other actors is allowed to put her own special stamp on the character’s portrayal during rehearsals.

It’s been a learning curve too for Krause. While they don’t take themselves individually too seriously, they take the productions very seriously. They’re all trying hard.
Krause allows them to deliver their lines with their own individual touch, but the characters’ stage directions have to be precise.
There is a lot of practice and preparation involved.
“I’m not wanting to waste anyone’s time; this is the scene, this is what we’re doing,” said Krause.
“I’m so excited, it’s a great, great group of people,” added Freeman. “There’s an opportunity to meet new people and build some sort of mentorship  and have the opportunity to work with younger actors. Plus, being able to do on- and off-stage work. It’s a true community atmosphere that brings the show to light — countless hours of work.”
The MHMT are obviously doing something right with the seven sold-out shows.  Check them out online at: www.mhmtheatre.com

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