Flying Arrow Productions, a professional non profit theatre group created by Founding Artistic and Managing Director Anita Hallewas, is about to hit the local theatre scene with its first community musical production, Shrek the Musical.
After more than a decade long hiatus between community theatre musicals, and with opening night for Shrek the Musical just around the corner, the Revelstoke Current looked into the long and colourful past of Revelstoke’s musical theatre history.
In the early 90’s, when the ski hill was small and owned by the city, the mountain above it cat skiing terrain, and the community much quieter, Revelstoke still pulled off large scale productions featuring the talent that has long made Revelstoke home.
The First Musical
“The idea of a musical production was hatched in 1991 by Kirk Wassmer, the high school band teacher, and Trevor Biggs, the local radio personality and Revelstoke Theatre Company (RTC) member,” explains Brad Binnington, a longtime member of the now defunct RTC and the thriving Flying Arrow Productions. “The idea was to combine the talents and capacity of community organisations (RTC, Revelstoke Community Band) with those of the high school.”
Binnington filled the role of technical director (and continued to do so for every musical until Shrek, where he is part of the set construction crew.)
The first chosen production was the Wizard of Oz.
“Alan Chell was recruited as producer, and the RTC decided to take on the project,” Binnington says
Alan Chell, who was the Director of Parks and Recreation at the time of the production, notes there was a lot of local excitement regarding the project. Revelstoke has, it turns out, always loved a good musical.
“It was a collaboration between the high school and the community,” Chell explains. “We held the performance in the old Revelstoke Secondary School (RSS) gym. After we premiered on the first night, word spread and we ended up with large crowds for the next three nights. In fact, the Friday and Saturday night sold out, and I believe seating capacity was about 600 people.”
The production boasted an orchestra made up of both the community band and high school band, the stage crew comprised of high school students and the cast was a mixture of school students and community members.
“It was always a neat challenge to transform the RSS gym into a theatre and we hung baffling , curtains all around and sound and lights in the rafters,” says Chell. “One week later, we would all get together on the Sunday and take it all down.”
With the success of the Wizard of Oz under their belt, musicals became a front and centre piece of the RTC scene.
Over the years, a lot of collaboration and dedication made the various musicals the highlight performances of the year for the community.
“We did a lot of neat things,” explains Chell. “One instance was when I got the Seniors Association to look after set construction They had an eager crew of retired carpenters who built the sets for years. The most impressive was Peter Pan where they built a full size pirate ship and the audience gave an ovation when the curtains were pulled back to reveal it. One other nice comment was when we did Sound of Music and a couple talked to me at intermission, saying they had just seen the professional version in Toronto with Marie Osmond. I asked how it was and they said it was very good but not as good as ours.”
“We were fortunate to have a very talented, dedicated production team and set design – set painting and costumes were all of the highest calibre,” Chell elaborates. “One example was for Music Man, the Wells Fargo wagon comes to town and we had a fellow by the name of Dave Williams who got a wagon from Three Valley Gap, completely restored it and painted it (I can’t imagine how many hours he put in) : all for a short one scene appearance.”
The wagon was, unsurprisingly, a hit with the audience.
The 90’s and early 2000’s saw the RTC produce a musical yearly. After the Wizard of Oz, audiences were treated to Anne of Green Gables, The Sound of Music, Annie, The Music Man, Oliver!, Hello Dolly, The Wizard of Oz (again), My Fair Lady, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
“There was a break of several years, and then we did Chicago,” explains Darren Mckay, who was on the technical team for several musicas and is serving as Shrek’s head technical operator.
A couple of years after that, The Sound of Music was in the works again, but things didn’t go as planned.
The Musical That Never Was
The work had been done, the actors were ready, but ultimately, this production of Sound of Music was cancelled.
Directed by Anita Hallewas, it was to be the first musical in the new theatre, the Revelstoke Performing Art Centre (RPAC.)
“Because of tearing down the old high school, there was a forced gap in producing musicals in Revelstoke, as there was nowhere to perform them,” explains Hallewas. “RTC and Alan Chell devised a plan to have a musical be the opening event in the new theatre, so it was going to be a big deal.”
With a planned opening night in February of 2012 after RPAC opened, a fire in a Mexican factory where fabric for the RPAC seats was being manufactured resulted in unexpected delays.
“As a group we needed to decide whether to a) postpone, b) change venues or c) cancel. There was a long discussion with the RTC board, of which I was a member at the time, and we decided reluctantly to cancel,” she says. “Change of venue was going to be tricky, the biggest space at the time was the old Mountain View school gym. This space wasn’t big enough to house the set Brad Binnington had designed.
Postponing the production wasn’t an option – several cast members were seasonal and Hallewas was pregnant at the time. With pushed back dates, the performance would have been short characters and had a director recovering from childbirth.
Hallewas and Martin Ralph, the stage manager, had been putting in 20 hours a week for months, and it was a disappointing blow to everyone involved.
Musicals – It Takes a Team
“Musicals are a huge undertaking. They require so much more work than other shows because they incorporate a much larger creative team,” says Hallewas. “We are not using a band which removes that aspect, but we still require vocal coaches on top of acting coaches and a director. The costs are higher, too. Often (and certainly in the case of Shrek) the “wow” factor is bigger so bigger costumes, bigger sets, lighting and so on are required.”
“Some past musicals were similar in size and scope to Shrek,” explains Biddington. “Musicals go through the same production process as any other show. The differences are mainly the scope (the number of people involved), the finances, and the logistics, all of which can be very challenging.”
What Makes a Musical Special
“Musicals are different to other shows as they seem to attract different members from the community,” explains Hallewas. “People who would never audition for a play audition for musicals as so many people love to sing. This results in a diversity in the cast and how this makes for a really fun and eclectic team to work with. One piece of feedback we have already received from the team is that members, especially people new to town, have made so many friends.”
Shrek boasts three vocal coaches and two choreographers.
“One of my favourite things about musicals is that they make people happy,” says Hallewas. “Musicals are traditionally fairy tales with happy endings and feel good songs and they just make people feel good. Listening to happy and funny music lifts your spirits.”
Lindy Silano, a Revelstoke actor who portrayed Roxie in Chicago and can be seen in Shrek as Mama Bear, agrees.
“Musicals are extra special because of the different people it brings together. We have people who are involved because they love to sing. Others involved because they love to dance. And each group is pushed a little to try what they don’t usually do,” she says.
Bex Parkin, a choreographer for Shrek who also plays Shrek’s mum, says Shrek is something special.
“It is the funnest and funniest production because of the amazing talent that is involved. It is also different because both of my kids are in this with me, which I am so happy about, as well as my niece and father-in-law,” says Parkin.
For Chell, Biddington and others who have been around since the start of the musical scene, the return to community musicals is heartwarming.
“I’m thrilled to see Shrek being put on,” Chell says.
Come See Shrek
Based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek The Musical is a Tony Award-winning fairy tale adventure, featuring all new songs. It brings all the beloved characters you know from the film.
The performance is family friendly and runs 2.5 hours with intermission.
Matinees and Feb 8 & 15, 2:30pm (doors open at 2pm)
Evening Shows are Feb 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15, 7:00pm (doors open at 6.30pm)
Adults $25 (16+ years)
Kids $15 (0 – 15 years)
Family Pass $70 (two adults and two kids)
Gala Night Performance Tickets $30 Adults/$20 Children
All performances are at the RPAC. Tickets can be purchased here.