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Darkhorse Theatre set to celebrate 25 years

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Shaunavon Standard

Darkhorse Theatre is celebrating a milestone in 2014.

The local theatre group, which has produced some of the most creative and entertaining moments in the community’s history, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Appropriately enough, Darkhorse has selected “Play On”, a hilarious story about a theatre group trying desperately to put on a play.

“It’s a play about putting on a play – which is one of the big reasons we selected it,” said Joanne Gregoire.

“It shows the challenges of trying to put a show together and some of the things that can go wrong,” she added. “It’s brought back a lot of memories for us because we recognize these same situations that have happened to us over the years. We’ve experienced many of the same things – in one way or another – that occur in this script.”

In Play On, the cast has to deal with the maddening interference from a haughty author who keeps revising the script. Act I is a rehearsal of the dreadful show, Act II is the near disastrous dress rehearsal, and the final act is the actual performance in which anything that can go wrong does.

As the curtain falls on the production, the audience will be treated to a madcap climax.

“The play gives the audience a little insight into the process of staging a play,” said Gregoire.

The play features a cast of 10 actors, including many Darkhorse veterans. The group includes Bernie Deobald, Dana Thiessen, Norma Hunter, Nickey Johnston, Cathy Smith, Joanne Gregoire, Darren Johnston, Andrew Burch, Warren Widmer and Shaun Fritz. All of the actors have appeared on stage in at least one other Darkhorse Theatre production, including a couple of performers who were high school students in their only previous gigs.

The show is being directed by Dianne Greenlay.

Greenlay, Gregoire and Deobald are all founding members of Darkhorse Theatre. Between them, Greenlay and Gregoire have directed all but a few Darkhorse productions, while Deobald has starred in numerous productions.

Another member of the crew that has been with the group since the beginning is Joe Gregoire, who has handled the group’s sound and lighting for the past 25 years.

In an interesting twist, Cathy Smith, another longtime member of the local theatre group, is serving as stage manager for this production and has been cast for the stage manager’s role in Play On. Smith has been the stage manager for many of the group’s productions.

Gregoire, meanwhile, is playing the role of the director in Play On.

Deobald , Smith, Gregoire and Greenlay are among a core group of volunteers, who have been around long enough to remember the early days of the fledgling drama club.

The group’s very first production was a 20-minute performance of “A Year Without Santa Claus,” performed outdoors in front of the museum during a nighttime Christmas promotion put on by the Shaunavon Chamber of Commerce in December of 1989.

More than a dozen local actors took part in that memorable first show, although the night might be best remembered more for the freezing cold temperatures than the historical debut of a new community theatre group.

“Even though it was incredibly cold outside, there were still a lot people out to watch us,” recalled Gregoire. “Obviously there was a real interest from the public in something like this.”

That initial effort only encouraged the small group of enthusiasts to pursue their drama plans, which were first hatched earlier in the year through an informal conversation among friends.

Later, a public meeting was organized for anyone with an interest in helping start a local theatre group.

“I had always enjoyed theatre in school, and I discovered there were a lot of other people who shared that same interest,” said Gregoire. “It just sort of blossomed from there and we starting thinking; ‘Why can’t we do this?’”

The group’s next question, however, was a little trickier.

No one in the new group had any professional training or background in theatre, although many had been involved in school productions or were fans of live stage performance.

“We really didn’t have any idea of what to do,” explained. Gregoire. “Where do you start with something like this?”

“But we talked to Lisa (Shaunavon’s recreation director Lisa Schmit) and got hooked up with Theatre Saskatchewan,” she added. “That was helpful, because we got some great resources from them – including a library of play material – and we just sort of went from there.”

Darkhorse Theatre’s first full-fledged production was staged at the Elk’s Hall in the spring of 1990. The comedy “Chokecherry Wine” was written by Saskatchewan author Walter Mills. The story centred on a farm family concerned about the marital status of one of their daughters.

The cast featured a group of local residents that included James Smith, Bernie Deobald, Lise Vause, Rob Kuling, Gerry Mitchell, Dianne Greenlay, Norma Hunter, Jim Coulter and Brenda Flaherty.

That first group was representative of what the cast line-up would look like over the next 25 years. People from different walks of life got involved in Darkhorse. Coulter, for instance, was the principal of the Shaunavon Public School at the time. Mitchell operated a well-known family grocery store in town, and Kuling was the administrator of the Shaunavon Nursing Home.

Several of those actors still live in Shaunavon – such as Deobald, Greenlay and Hunter – and have gone on to star in numerous other productions, while others have moved on to different communities.

It’s been that way since the beginning.

Smith says that more than 100 different people have acted on stage for Darkhorse over the years.

Gregoire co-directed that first production along with Sharon Hagen.

“It’s amazing to see how much people have changed when you look back at some of the old pictures from previous shows,” laughed Gregoire.

The actors – and those behind the scenes – have shared a special bond that comes with producing something of high quality that has required a lot of hard work and commitment.

“My personal experience has been one of working in nearly all of the Darkhorse departments – onstage and off – and I have found it to be such a great opportunity to have met several people whom I would otherwise have had no opportunity to get to know so well,” said Greenlay. “And production nights are just a pure fun-filled adrenaline rush.

“Play On” will be performed five times over two weekends, with full dinner theatre shows scheduled for Friday, Nov. 14, Saturday, Nov. 15, Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22. A pub night presentation is also slated for Thursday, Nov. 20.

Ticket sales for the show were launched this past weekend. Tickets are now available at Joz Cloz.

At one time, when Darkhorse would stage two plays in a year, the group would put on a series of pub night shows in the spring and dinner theatre productions in the fall.

“We’ve had a pretty good run,” admitted Gregoire. “And hopefully Darkhorse will be going strong for years to come. But like every other group, we will need people to step forward to help out in the future.”

Anyone interested in getting involved in community theatre is encouraged to contact a Darkhorse member.

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