Arts & Culture(Archives)
Permission to Let Loose - How Local Community Theatre Changes Lives
Walking into a dimly lit theatre, excitedly speaking in hushed voices with your thespian companions while taking your seats and watching the stage in front of you with anticipation can feel like entering a completely new world. The theatre is a world where you can travel to any place and any time, where animals can speak and furniture can dance, where we watch entire lives unfold and unravel, where Gary Oldman has won an Oscar. Here, anything is possible.
As we take our seats in the theatre, we often do more than merely watch a performance. We fight on the barricades along with brave rebels and we laugh in recognition at wacky hijinks and misunderstandings. Sometimes we cry, because theatre has the ability to show us the souls of those around us and help us understand their pain. Watching a theatre performance can be a journey that stretches over lifetimes, while the actual play may only last a couple of hours.
While being in the audience is an incredible experience in itself, another journey takes place on and behind the stage. Creating a community theatre production involves a legion of dedicated volunteers and professionals, people of all ages and from all walks of life who come together to breathe life into the lines written in the script. Sometimes, the journey as a part of a community theatre production changes the lives of those involved.
This February the Keyano Theatre Company invites us to the town of Bomont, a place where dancing has been banned, as they present Footloose The Musical. The show features the largest cast to take the main stage since the 2014 successful musical Les Misérables, and in this cast we find Jennifer Stephenson.
Jennifer plays Ethel McCormack, the mother of the rebellious protagonist Ren, and it’s a part she easily identifies with. “Ethel’s husband has left her and she is now a single mom to a teenage son,” explains Jennifer. “I became a single mother to my son Josh when he was sixteen. I know what she feels when she sees her son struggling with the changes in his life and how she is trying to figure out how to help him.”
As she was sitting in the audience of another Keyano Theatre musical a few years ago, she started entertaining the idea of getting on stage herself. “While I was sitting in the theatre singing along to all of the songs, I couldn’t help but to be jealous,” Jennifer remembers. “I felt like I should have been up on that stage singing all of those songs too! When I heard that Les Misérables was the musical for the next season I started turning the idea over in my head and wondering if I could really do it.”
This one idea, hatched in the dimmed lights of the theatre, came to have a great impact on her life. “When I decided to audition for Les Misérables, my husband and I had just separated. A month or so before I auditioned, he passed away” she explains. “My daughter Rhiannon was eight at the time and she was in the cast as well. Being a part of that production made a huge difference in our lives. Community theatre to me is a form of therapy. It has helped me deal with huge life changes and helped me meet people that I would never have met otherwise and who have turned into great friends. It has increased my self-confidence, introduced me to live theatre and helped me grow as a person.”
Jennifer’s story of how community theatre can have an extremely positive and powerful impact on the people involved is echoed by several of her cast mates. Jason Beck, who plays Reverend Shaw and who has performed in two previous Keyano Theatre productions, replies: “I think that being involved with the theatre is therapeutic. As an actor I get to pour my energies into bringing a character from another world to life and in doing so escaping my own world for a little bit. As patrons people get to take a couple of hours away from the stresses and pressures of life and get lost in a magical world that is on display in front of them and lose themselves in the story. What a gift to the community that is at this time!”
As we grow into adults, many of us stop playing and exploring, two things that can release stress and help us heal and grow. The lost art of allowing ourselves to play is encouraged during the rehearsal process. The resident Stage Manager at Keyano Theatre Steph Link has vast experience working with community actors and says: “What I have always found with community theatre is that everyone is so happy to help each other. It is a safe place for people to try things and when they mess up they can get right back up and try again without feeling weird or silly.”
The positive effects of theatre and the arts create a ripple effect throughout the community. It has been proven to nurture creative learning and encourage public dialogue. It is a way to help people heal and provides a sense of belonging. “For quite a while I felt as though I was not a part of this community,” Jason reveals. “Getting involved in community theatre is one thing that helped to change that. I have made so many amazing friends.” Fellow cast member and experienced actor Stephanie Ross, who plays Wendy Jo, agrees: “Theatre brings people together, which is exactly what the community needs after what we went through last May. Footloose is a feel good piece with lots of laughs, heart and soul, it’s the perfect musical to present following 2016.”
Footloose The Musical opens at Keyano Theatre on February 17, 2017. Tickets are available at the Box Office or online.