Thursday, November 20, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #2

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Our first two show day. We started out in Etobicoke at a small venue, and the only way to load in was up a small flight of stairs, so the dollies that we usually use to load in the bins, boxes and sound equipment were left in the van.
The greeting of the residents was warm and wonderful. The space was intimate ... much smaller than yesterday, but there were still over 40 people in attendance. We performed the show and were touched by the audience response. One of the residents spoke of the beauty of Gabi and Mark's voices. One spoke to me about how when she saw Scrooge cry during Belle's song, she suspected he might have a heart after all and she was rooting for him to see the mistakes in his life. Meanwhile, some of the 80 year old men were insisting on helping Laura our stage manager with the load out ... she politely declined, but I suspect had we let them, the van would have been packed before we had time to change.
At the end of the pack-up, the coordinator insisted we all come back. When we entered the room, a gentleman asked the entire room to stand ... a way to give us the ovation that many of the patrons hadn't been able to do spontaneously earlier due to walkers and wheelchairs. But with a little notice, they were all ready to rise to their feet with the help of their canes. They gave us a warm round of applause that lasted over a minute. It was overwhelming. At the end, they presented us with gift bags of chocolates from a specialty store down the street. Truly our hearts were ready to burst.
Laura our stage manager drove us back for the dinner break, and by now the snow was falling heavily. Fortunately our evening show was only a few blocks from home base. We arrived on time, but the performance venue was the dining room and the residents were still eating. We couldn't set up until 6:30 for a 7:00 PM show, but even by the third show of the tour, the company have found ways to set up the show quickly and efficiently. We started the show only a few minutes later than planned and had a rapt audience.
Our puppets were acting mischievously, and one of them had the nerve on a quick move with his head, to leave his body behind, but some improvised "new choreography" got him back into the show in a blink ... he acted up a few more times, but the audience didn't seem to mind. Tomorrow, we'll see if we can't find a better way to ensure that the Ghost of Christmas Present doesn't lose his head.
Sometimes the shows are not only meaningful to the people who attend, but also to the people who act as caregivers. During the end of the show, as I was singing the final number, I noticed one of the coordinators of the home was getting rather "misty eyed". After we finished I spoke to her, and she told me that her father was 84 and had Alzheimers. A Christmas Carol is one of his favourite shows, and she was truly moved by the production.
The care givers in these homes give tirelessly, and often we hear that they enjoy the productions as much, if not more than the patrons. The work is about making people feel joy.
Now it is a night of rest ... tomorrow ... we go to Gravenhurst. It will be an entirely different show as we play a more public venue dedicated to seniors activities. Until then ... goodnight from the Scrooge who gets sad in the show (along with Gabi Epstein who breaks my heart every night as Belle.)

Gabi Epstein and Scott White in Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol". Photo by Warren MacDonald.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #1

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:

Today was the opening show of the Smile Theatre tour of "A Christmas Carol". The home we went to doesn't really have an auditorium or large cafeteria to perform in. Our stage manager knew the space well, and knew exactly what to do. We actually performed in the hallway ... about 10 feet from our backdrop to the opposite wall, with the stage management table running the sound equipment on the "edge" of the stage. On either side, 40 feet in each direction, a total of 50 patrons ... all in wheel chairs and a suitable aisle to ensure fire code was respected.
It is an odd phenomenon to play a show when the audience is beside you on either side instead of having any of them in front of you. The cast simply adjusted entrances, exits and blocking on the fly to ensure that both sides of the audience got as much of the story as possible.
So how did the show go? Well, at first, it wasn't certain ... one patron kept loudly saying "no, no, no, no, no". Another decreed before the show had even started that "this was stupid". But once the music started playing and the show took hold, the audience stayed pretty quiet. One woman even said "thank you" after each musical number. Of course there were the usual distractions ... announcements over the intercom and a bit of confusion as to who was in the show as utility men walked right through the set to get from one section of the hallway to the other ... essentially becoming additional characters in our show.
But the reward at the end, is going and talking to those folks, shaking their hands and having them all wish us a very Merry Christmas ... even on November 18th. These folks rarely, if ever, get out of their nursing home, so how wonderful to bring the outside world, and a professional theatre production with props, costumes and sound to them on their terms.
Not the easiest way to start the tour, but an excellent way to hone our skills at adapting to the unique performance conditions of each venue. What will tomorrow hold? A two show day, and two very different facilities. We'll see what surprises await.

Performer Scott White speaks with audience members after the opening performance of "A Christmas Carol".

Smile Theatre Brings Christmas to Seniors

Smile Theatre presents a joyful, frolicking musical version of the holiday classic, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  Based on the musical by Mavor Moore, this version is adapted by Smile Theatre Artistic Director Jim Betts, and features a dynamic and versatile cast of three - Mark Allan, Gabi Epstein and Scott White.  This lively production also includes the use of puppets designed by Cathy Elliott, as the sinister ghosts that visit Mr. Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

The production tours seniors' care homes, retirement homes, community centres and other seniors' facilities in Ontario until December 20, 2014.

Smile Theatre presents
A Christmas Carol, based on the musical by Mavor Moore, adapted by Jim Betts
Directed by Jim Betts
Music Direction by Michael Mulrooney
Choreographed by Stephanie Graham
Designed by Cathy Elliott
With: Mark Allan, Gabi Epstein, and Scott White
Stage Managed by Paula Stewart and Laura Grandfield

Mark Allan, Scott White and Gabi Epstein in Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol". Photo by Warren MacDonald

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smile Theatre Opens its 2014-15 Season in Remembrance

Nathan Carroll and Cara Pantalone in "In Flanders Fields"
Nathan Carroll and Cara Pantalone in Smile Theatre's "In Flanders Fields", book by Robert Gontier, music by Nicky Phillips, lyrics by Robert Gontier and Nicky Phillips. Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones, Music Direction by Aaron Eyre, Designed by Sheree Tams, Stage Managed by Kevin Olson and Laura Grandfield.  Also featuring Michael De Rose.
Smile Theatre's 2014-15 Season opens with a new production of In Flanders Fields, a tribute to John McCrae, his famous poem, and WWI.

Originally commissioned by Smile Theatre in 2009, In Flanders Fields is written by the Canadian Musical Theatre team, Robert Gontier and Nicky Phillips. This compelling hour-long production is a musical based on the extraordinary life of Major John McCrae - soldier, doctor and poet - writer of the legendary elegy, "In Flanders Fields".  Set during the great Battle of Ypres in WW1, the story weaves through his life as John shares his past with his dear friend Lt. Helmer.

The production tours care homes, retirement residences and community centres throughout Southern Ontario - opening on National Seniors Day, October 1, 2014 and touring until November 15, 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Summer Smile Fundraising Event, June 25

You are invited to our annual fundraising event, A Summer Smile: An Evening of Light Refreshment for The Body And Soul. Come and celebrate with us another season of fantastic theatre for senior citizens, and help us send our show Extraordinary to Winnipeg and Calgary.

Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Location:  Wychwood Theatre (in Wychwood Barns), 76 Wychwood Avenue, Toronto
Time: 6:30 Reception, 7:30 Performance
Tickets: $100 (tax receipts issued for a portion)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Smile Theatre opens "Art Meets Havoc"

Mark Allan and Lesley Ballantyne in Smile Theatre's Art Meets Havoc by William Orlowski.  Directed and Choreographed by William Orlowski with Jim Betts and Lesley Ballantyne. Designed by Sheree Tams, Music Direction by Rosalind Mills, Stage Managed by Charlene Saroyan and Laura Grandfield

Smile Theatre opens its final regular show of the 2013-14 season with "Art Meets Havoc" by William Orlowski.  Art Linkletter (Growing Old Is Not For Sissies) and June Havoc ("Baby June", sister of Gypsy Rose Lee) meet in this musical celebration of two exceptional talents.  Song, dance and the interaction of these two fascinating characters round out a fun hour of enjoyment and familiar tunes.The show runs in Senior's Care homes until June 14, 2014.