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Arts & Culture(Archives)


Community Theatre: Building Community, Strengthening Families

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I have had the privilege of experiencing community theatre in almost all of its forms over three decades. The brand of community theatre that we get with Keyano Theatre Company is pretty special, and something that I constantly brag about. More recently, I’ve been able to share this creative journey with my sons, with both Dylan and Ben in Les Misérables last February, and with just Ben in A Christmas Carol in November. Being able to go through a shared experience, the highs and lows, from first reading to final bows, is an incredible gift.

The family connections we’ve seen in recent years are numerous. Tim Heggie, who played Valjean in Les Mis, shared the stage with his son Noah. Jennifer Murphy and her daughter Rhiannon did the same. Brothers Chris and Jonathan Bowers were fellow revolutionaries, gaining so much from their theatrical adventure. The family effect for Chris was even more pronounced, as his wife Diana Moser was also in the show.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” says Chris. “These strangers I had been crammed into a room with months ago for the first day of rehearsals were no longer strangers. They were family. I was doubly blessed in that both Diana and Jon also got to share in this adventure with me. We have all shared a number of laughs together, as well as the occasional tears. There were trying times and long days that required incredible amounts of patience. We were all there to pick each other up and ensure the success of this production.”

“It would be truly impossible to describe or to put into words the bond we’ve all shared through an experience like this,” saysJonathan. “The only way to truly understand would be to experience it for yourself. That final moment before we went our separate ways to prepare for the final show is one I will never forget.”

For Jennifer Murphy, being able to participate in a community theatre experience came at a time in her life when a positive distraction was sorely needed.

“It is so hard to put into words what being a part of Les Misérables has meant to me,” says Jennifer. “When I auditioned my life had been turned upside down and I was looking for something new that would keep me busy. What I got was an incredible experience. I have left this process with 50+ new friends and wonderful memories.”

For others, being involved in a play is a way to connect to a new place, and meet people. Hanna Fridhed is a great example. She married a young fellow from Fort McMurray, and pulled up stakes to move here all the way from Sweden. Playing Belle in November’s production of A Christmas Carol had a profound impact.

“When I was offered the part of Belle, my initial reaction was that they must’ve phoned the wrong person, or perhaps I had forgotten to clean my ears and wasn’t hearing things correctly,” she shares. “Luckily, my ears were sufficiently q-tipped, and from the initial read-through I have been in awe of the entire crew and cast that has been part of this show, finding that the more I gave - be it energy, hugs or help – it was returned tenfold. I will always treasure this experience, from which I’ve made great friends and had the opportunity to connect with people I would otherwise never have met – much less had the privilege of working with, both on and off stage.”

Hanna was not alone in expanding her circle of connections with her inaugural community theatre experience in Fort McMurray. Mark O’Neill, who played the Undertaker, and Karen Sturgis, who played Mrs. Dilber in A Christmas Carol, thrived in their first production in our community, committing hundreds of hours to rehearsals and performances. Mark had come to us from Victoria, while Karen spent most of her life in the Detroit area. By the time the production closed, Hanna, Mark, and Karen felt like old friends, and connected to community much more deeply than before.

I think what sets a theatre production apart is the fact that you are thrown together with a random mix of strangers, friends, and in some cases family, and you build something together. At the beginning you stumble and fumble through the script. Slowly, you put the show on its feet, collectively figuring out your path through the story. The emotions go up and down, and then up again, as you muscle through long nights of rehearsals, and early mornings of work and school. Exhaustion factors into every production, as does elation and the anticipation of an audience. Over time, a disparate group of individuals coalesce into a single organism, moving, responding, and breathing together through the shared experience. It’s a powerful effect that generates a bond that is difficult to describe.

The families who have benefited from going through Keyano Theatre Company productions are numerous, and span 35 years. The extended family of community theatre alums is massive, and stretches far and wide. Thanks to the work of people like Alan Roberts, Claude Giroux, Steph Link and so many others in recent seasons, the community theatre family in Fort McMurray is growing, evolving and getting even more interesting.

Those of us long in the tooth get a little giddy when new people come out of the woodwork and show up at auditions, a delight that is becoming more common. Most recently, I actually had to make some unfamiliar tough decisions in casting May’s production of The Odd Couple. Sadly, I had to disappoint a few good men. As tough as that was to do, it bodes well for the strength and diversity of community theatre in Fort McMurray. Meanwhile, the door to community theatre is always open.

Neil Scott, who had his debut performance as Peter in A Christmas Carol:

“Acting for my first time with Keyano Theatre Company was a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone with an interest in acting, or even getting to know other people in your town, to give it a shot.”


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.