Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We're Open!

Smile Theatre's "Made In Canada" is now open!  This delightful collection of Canadian songs and stories tours seniors care homes across Southern Ontario until April 18.

The cast and creative team have had so much fun devising this show, based on the "Made in Canada" Series by Tom Kneebone.

The touring team has their ceremonial coffee cards, and are ready to brave the Canadian winter in the van armed with Canadian songs for our Canadian seniors!

The cast, crew and creative team in the rehearsal hall (sporting assorted costume pieces!) for Smile Theatre's "Made in Canada" originally devised by Tom Kneebone, adapted by Jim Betts.  Directed by Jim Betts, Designed by Sheree Tams, Choreography by Lesley Ballantyne, Music Direction by Rosalind Mills, with Trevor Patt and Jenny Weisz. Stage Managed by Kevin Olson and Laura Grandfield.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fun is Made In Canada!

Smile Theatre begins 2015 with a celebration of all things Canadian in its new show, "Made in Canada".  Originally devised by Smile's beloved long-time Artistic Director, Tom Kneebone, and adapted by current AD, Jim Betts, the show leaves no toque unturned in its quest for the Canadian experience.

Rehearsals for the show began on Monday, and the show opens February 10, 2015 and tours seniors' care homes throughout Ontario until April 18, 2015.

An incredible cast and creative team is involved - Jim Betts directs, Sheree Tams designs, Rosalind Mills is the Music Director, choreography is by Lesley Ballantyne, and it features the performances of Trevor Patt and Jenny Weisz.  Kevin Olson and Laura Grandfield stage manage and keep it all together!  We can't wait to share the good times with our audiences. Fun is definitely "Made in Canada!"

A quick break in rehearsal for Smile's "Made in Canada" to take a group selfie with Jim Betts, Jenny Weisz, Trevor Patt, Rosalind Mills, Lesley Ballantyne and Kevin Olson.  Rumour has it the photo in the back is of the infamous Stompin' Tom Carson.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #26

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Some days, you simply wonder if the universe really wants you to do a show, and then you get there, and it is all worthwhile. Our afternoon show today was cancelled due to a quarantine connected to a flu outbreak, which meant our evening show was in Whitby at 7 PM. That was a good thing as it meant a later start to the day, but it also meant we would be travelling out of Toronto at rush hour. We left at 4:15, and still managed to hit snags in traffic along the way, taking over 2 hours to get to the venue.
When we arrived, we discovered that the long term care side of the home was in quarantine, but the retirement living section was still coming. We quickly set up, and had the show ready to roll within a minute or two of the scheduled start time for the 18 people who did make it (at the same home there was a concert band performing and it was card night ... so between that and the fact that none of the long term care folk could come, it was a smaller house than usual).
The room was hot and dry and during one of my last notes in one of the songs, my throat went completely dry, leading to a squawk rather than a clear note ... but the audience didn't seem to mind. At the end of the show, they were so delighted we had come and praised the professionalism and the quality of the adaptation.
One woman said that she could not really tell who was playing which character throughout the piece as it moved so quickly, but the story was absolutely clear. She gave up wondering which actor was playing each part and just settled into the story. At the end, she said ... clearly you are all very talented, and whichever part you played ... I really liked you.
Tomorrow ... on to Burlington for a matinee. 4 shows and 3 days left in the tour.

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #24

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
A two show day that was very mixed indeed. Our first show was at a long term care home in Etobicoke. The home was under construction and when we arrived, an ambulance had just pulled up to transport one of the residents to a hospital.
We set up and prepared for a large crowd. One audience member cheered and clapped along in time throughout the entire show. Another got scared and had to be removed half way through the show. Most of the audience stayed and were enthralled.
At the end of the show, a few of the residents had their pictures taken with us, and one woman who used to be an opera singer had her picture taken on the set. She didn't speak a lot of English (I believe Italian was her first language), but when the care giver asked her to sing a "high C", a clear note came out.
I knelt down beside the patron and asked what her favourite song was. The care giver said that she used to sing an operetta that had the word "widow" in it. I said that it must be the "Merry Widow" and started humming the tune to the Merry Widow Waltz. Within seconds, the woman's face lit up, and she sang in a lovely voice, with all of the lyrics, in English, and as she got to the end lyric, she eyed me and sang "I love you." I was deeply touched by this woman, who I was later told is in her 90s and doesn't speak much, but when she sings, she always remembers all of the words.
The evening show started with a bit of fuss, as the entertainment for the evening was supposed to be a movie, and then they realized we were scheduled to do the show. We weren't sure how it was going to go, but the audience was very lively, and Scrooge even had a heckler who booed and hissed when he did something nasty.
When Scrooge was overwhelmed with the ghosts, she said "Oh, poor Scrooge."
The audience tonight was a lot of fun, and we were delighted to see Jim Betts, the Director of the show and Artistic Director of Smile Theatre in the audience. He got a playful performance and the audience was truly delighted with the adaptation.
Tomorrow we have only one show in North York, and then the cast is going to celebrate the start of Hanukkah with a festive gathering and food. We want to make the most of the final week of our tour.

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #25

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Even though it hurts, the flu shot is still worth it.
I was all geared up to do a show today, but another reality of touring to seniors facilities is cancellations due to flu outbreaks. Our show for this afternoon has been cancelled, as they are not letting outside visitors in to ensure the health of their residents, many who have come down with a flu bug. During the winter months this sometimes happens. We have another cancellation on our afternoon show tomorrow, but worry not ... we will be back at work tomorrow night. In the meantime ... here's a wish to the universe that those effected by the flu heal quickly.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #23

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Some days are simply ... hard. There are certain venues that we already know are going to be a challenge from previous experience. Often the homes that are the most challenging for performers and stage management are the ones that need some kindness most during the holidays.
The home we went to today is an extended care facility with 24 hour nursing staff, and this is a place where the residents come, and likely will live out the very last days, weeks, months or possibly years of their lives. It is not a fancy high end retirement home like you see on the commercials. This is a place that functions as much as a hospital as it does a comfy home.
When we arrived, lunch had just finished, and the cleaning staff still had to clean up the large portion of food that had found its way to the floor. We brought in our gear, but needed to wait for the cleaners to mop up all the green jello and other crusts of bread and juice from the meal ... for we were performing in the dining area.
Once the area was clean enough to set up on, we got ready, and watched the patrons who were wheeled in. Most were staring far away, but a few had spirited expressions.
The show got underway, and we all continued bravely on in spite of numerous overhead pages for nursing staff, housekeeping staff, and medical emergencies over the speakers above our stage. The nursing station was through a window beside the stage, and a planning meeting connected to a shift change was well underway. I suspect our show was as distracting to them as their conversations were to us on stage.
At the beginning of the performance one of the patrons hummed along with every song ... in her own key, and her own tune, but actively engaged in the memory of music from long past.
Sometimes the residents have no censoring mechanism, and loudly exclaim how they are feeling, and it can, in the moment, seem humorous, for it is not done to be intrusive, but rather to be brutally truthful. Such was the case as I was finishing a scene, and a patron in the front row eyed me and in a clear loud voice said, "I'm going to make a fart." She was honestly warning me of something she could no longer control.
By the end of the show, the patron who had been singing along was tired, and as the final scene was taking place, she loudly exclaimed, "Blah, Blah, Blah ... Get on with it ... I'm tired."
For some residents, the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (a puppet that looks like the archetypal image of "death") and the appearance of a gravestone led to comments of concern. One patron said in a calm steady voice ... "Is he coming to take me ... because I'm ready to go." During this moment ... there was nothing funny in that comment. For her, it was a statement of fact.
After the show we went out to meet our audience. I asked one patron if she had enjoyed the show, and she said, "No! I hated it". I asked if she liked the singing, and she said "No I hated that too." Then she went on to say ... "I hate Christmas, I hate people ... I hate everything.". She was being brutally honest. And one suspects there is a story behind her frustration. It was very sad.
To finish the day, we had a patron who grabbed a hand and said, "I'm dying ... this is where I'm going to die, and I can't get out of here .... help me ... please ... just let me die."
Shows like this are a harsh reminder of a reality of a sector of the senior population who are not like those in the commercials ... many with no family, no money, and their health gone.
So one might ask, why bother? Well, because there were a whole other bunch of people who DID enjoy the show ... a woman with oxygen nasal prongs who danced along to the final number in her wheelchair and said this was the happiest day she had in some time ... and some of the staff who got a moment of cheer in an environment that must surely take a toll on their stamina and morale. And even those who seemed non-responsive, at various moments of the show, I could see a gleam in the eye, or a smile at the corner of the mouth.
A tough way to end the week, but we have the day off to gather our strength for the final leg of the tour .... 9 shows in 6 days and then this tour will be past.
Until next week ... Scrooge is going to settle down with a gin and tonic, snuggle up on the couch with Pete, and count my blessings.