Friday, 29 June 2012 16:28

Empress Theatre features four plays to help celebrate the historic theatre’s centennial

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Fort Macleod
Alberta’s oldest running theatre expects a jump in attendance at this summer’s live plays to help celebrate the theatre’s centennial year.


Live theatre has been an important part of the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod for 100 years.
However, the summer program was founded in 2001. A summer production was started in 2004. From 2005-2011 the theatre saw two shows each summer as well as two nights of Vaudeville.
The program was started to showcase the history of Fort Macleod, but the theatre personnel strive to produce plays that have an Alberta flavour.
Andy Jenkins, the summer program director, is passionate about live theatre at the Empress.
“Live theatre holds up a mirror to our culture and gives a voice to our community as rural southern Albertans and Canadians,” says Jenkins.
He adds live theatre is more than just a play, it’s something magical that happens with the relationship between the characters and the audience.
“As a character in our upcoming production of ‘The Stage That Made Us’ says, ‘for every emotion that gets drawn or wrung outta people in a theatre, a little bit of it gets stored away in the rafters, in the walls,’” shares Jenkins.
He says the attendance for the live theatre productions has been growing each year and he expects to see a “jump in patronage” this coming summer.
“In our centennial year, we are producing three very different plays, but equally accessible to all types of audience members. With the arrival of our centennial year we are now offering patrons three multi-case productions which are suitable for any type of audience member.”
New this summer is that people can purchase a summer subscription, which allows a patron a single access to all three of the summer productions as well as a historic tour of the building for a discounted price.
There will be no Royal Canadian Mounted Police costumes on stage this year, but the history of the community will still be promoted.
This summer’s plays include The Stage That Made Us by Ron Chambers. This play will be the opening production of the 100th birthday on June 29 and will run until July 21.
This production is a special one that has been commissioned to celebrate the centennial year. It shows the history of the Empress Theatre also while telling a a story incorporating drama, music and film.
Jenkins says this is the most anticipated night of live theatre to ever grace the Empress Stage. With this play the audience is expected to laugh, cry and laugh so hard you’ll cry.
That Men May Fly by Winn Bray opens July 28 and will run until Sept. 1.
It’s a musical which explores the relationship of two fly boys and an aero-engineer based out of the Fort Macleod Air Training facility in 1943.
Productions by Winn Bray have been popular in the past at the theatre so Jenkins felt it would be a good idea to have another one of his productions this summer.
“We are thrilled to bring this charming and charismatic musical comedy to the Empress Stage,” adds Jenkins.
The third production is The Boys Own Jedi Handbook by Stephen Massicotte. This play is a flashback to 1977 when Star Wars went to the big screen. It’s a charming comedy which shows how the Star Wars film sparked the imagination and friendship of two young boys. Jenkins says you don’t need to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy this show.
“I have had the pleasure of seeing this Canadian Fringe fan favourite on stage before and am overjoyed to have it in our summer season.”
The Boys Own Jedi opens June 30 and will play every Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. until Sept. 1.
Most of the productions are matinées, but the theatre has scheduled one evening show in August hoping to follow the performance with a screening of the original Star Wars film. Jenkins says there will be more information released at a later date about the special production night.
This year, the evening performances will be at 7 p.m. as opposed to the regular 7:30 p.m. and the Saturday matinée will be at 1 p.m. instead of the original 11 a.m. Historic tours of the theatre are scheduled twice daily, Tuesday to Saturday.
Jenkins is encouraging people to attend this summer’s productions.
“This summer’s live theatre productions will be a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical opportunity for patrons and likely a pivotal moment to sky rocket the future of live theatre at the Empress,” says Jenkins.
Jenkins and the staff at the Empress Theatre have been and are still collecting names of interested community members to hopefully bring community theatre back to the Empress stage.
The production costs of doing such plays and programs are high, but the theatre feels it’s important for them to continue no matter the cost.
“Our 100-year-old theatre is one of the few left standing of its day. We are a not-for-profit organization funded largely by sponsorship and donations,” says Jenkins.
For more information on the plays and purchasing tickets visit the Empress Theatre website at: www.empresstheatre.ab.ca.

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