I recognize that this blog post is more than a few days overdue, but better late than never? This week’s title is brought to you by our adventures with wasps while loading and unloading the tour van. Greg and I are both deathly afraid of and allergic to wasps and they’ve become desperate with the cold weather approaching. It’s become rather stressful to grab things from the trunk of the van while wasps are buzzing and swerving around us. This day of our Week 2, we were in Ajax when a wasp actually came into the van twice. Greg spoke those now infamous words, “It’s a fly. It’s not a fly, RUN!” I didn’t need to be told twice. In both instances I got out and slammed the door not caring if I left my tour mates in the van with the wasps.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I did not have a chance to ask a friend to edit this blog entry so I must apologize for the clunky phrases and lack of quality writing. I’m more of a speaker than a writer, I guess. I will continue to write about my first Smile Theatre tour in the hopes of raising awareness about this fantastic company to my performer and non-performer friends. I’m also trying a new format where I break day which day of the week I’m writing about and how many shows a day.
MONDAY (two show day!): Our second week of the tour began on Monday in Richmond Hill. A woman named Isabelle was celebrating her 90th birthday that day so we sang her our rendition of Happy Birthday before the show. The performance space was small and an extension of the front lobby. This place was very animal friendly; we had a dog in the audience and there were tropical birds in our dressing room. The show went very well despite an interesting comment before the show-a woman in the front row told Greg specifically to put the backdrop in the toilet. He handled it with a big smile and cracked a joke. At the end of our show, the same woman was completely won over and told Stephanie that it was one of the best shows she’s ever seen. She certainly left us that afternoon with a big smile on her face. It was a great way to start our week and we packed up after chatting with audience members after the show and went back on the road excited for our next show.
During our break we went to Hungry Brew Hop in Stephanie’s hometown of Newmarket. The restaurant has incredible food, we all highly recommend the cauliflower fritters! They have a bit of a kick to them so my tour mates found out that I can’t handle spicy food very well.
Our second show of the day was in Newmarket. We performed in the retirement home’s dining room where they had just finished dinner. We had an addition from the audience about zucchini, which made us all laugh. Greg’s Raging Granny character talks about how much she hates broccoli so the face that someone complained about the amount of zucchini on her plate was very apropos. There is a section in our show where we do have audience participation and so we never know what kind of answers we will get. It was an amazing audience who really laughed and sang along with us. Stephanie’s family also came to watch us and that was a special treat.
TUESDAY (Originally a two show day, one cancelled): Our morning show was cancelled due to an outbreak at the venue. This is done for the health of the residents as well as us. Health is extremely important for performers but especially for a Smile Tour when you are visiting with people who are vulnerable and with weaker immune systems. In the evening we had a show in Hamilton, where we had the cutest sign for the office that became our dressing room. We have our own laminated sign that we always tape up on the door of the room we’re using but today the coordinator made one for us! Met a wonderful couple named Charlie and Georgina (or big George as some call her) who came early to grab seats in the front row. Neither of them graduated high school as they had to go into the workforce at 14 and 16 respectively.
The funniest thing to happen (during the show) so far was how a woman answered my question: “If we had the power to change something in our world, what would it be?” Before the show began we talk about world hunger but when I prompted her during the show her answer changed quite drastically. She very eloquently stated that the easiest way to change our world is by starting with small steps, (so far so good) and then she proclaimed that the best way to do that is by changing your underwear! Even though I was more than a little shocked, everyone around was laughing and they seemed to find it hilarious. We’ll see if this still hold up as the funniest line from an audience member.
WEDNESDAY (2nd two show day of the week): We started the day with a “rockstar show” for community living. This was a much younger audience than we had seen and this was a drop-in centre. During the show we had some audience members come right up to the front with us for a song and dance. They were so enthusiastic during the show and were really wonderful to talk to. This was also the first time that the cast was asked for autographs and it was very sweet.
Our second show was at a smaller venue it was nice and we met a friend’s grandfather. He was so engaged throughout the show and tapped along with the songs. There was also a few residents who were coughing or sneezing throughout the evening which brings up health! It’s a good reminder that all 4 of us on tour need to keep healthy! We’re not only responsible for our own health but also for the seniors we visit. Part of our show is chatting with the audience before and after so we can’t be shaking hands and risk making someone really ill.
THURSDAY: The show was in a big and open space. Unfortunately there was no parking on site so Laura, our stage manager, had to go searching for parking which is never fun in Toronto. I spoke to a lady named Edna who is 97 years old and still drives herself around! She watched shows at the Stratford Festival when it was in its second year and still under a tent. We talked quite a bit about Smile Theatre as well since she knew some of the original company members, Tom Kneebone and Dana. Our dressing room was another wonderful movie theatre but this time, no movie posters that I'm so fond of.
It was a really fun crowd and I was really glad to have met Edna. We are all having so much fun with the show and there’s always something to keep us on our toes.
FRIDAY: This was a really fun show as one of our mutual friends came to see it, he’s been in a Smile show himself! This was another kind of drop-in centre so the seniors were quite independent. This crowd laughed in all the usual places and then some! During this show there were a few moments when I had a hard time keeping a straight face. If I’m not mistaken, Greg’s dog hat almost fell off of his head and there was no way to fix it inconspicuously. It’s really lovely to hear from audience members how much they look forward to Smile Theatre shows having seen them before. It proves that there is a demand for theatre for audience who may not otherwise get the chance to see it. In this case, Smile Theatre focuses on the senior demographic.
SATURDAY: We went out to Ajax for our final show of the week. It was a community centre of sorts so the seniors there were quite independent. They had a meal beforehand so some folks remained at their tables in a cabaret-like settin while Others ventured to the front! This venue decorated their walls for our show and had the cutest centre pieces on their tables depicting different travel locations.
The most dramatic moments of the day happened in the morning as we went to Tim Horton’s for some coffees before the show and had to deal with the crazy and deranged wasps.
Otherwise another fantastic week. I feel so incredibly lucky to call this my job. I’ll be answering some questions I received last week in the next post. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions of your own.
Until next time,
Many of my friends and family have seen me recently post about Smile Theatre, touring and/or Granny Penny’s Great Adventure and so I've decided to share my experience on this blog. I'm no stranger to Smile Theatre, for the past two winters I have also been a part of Smile Theatre’s “Smile Serenades” program. I want to share with you my experience of touring a brand new Canadian musical, in a van, 6 days a week.
But first, what is Smile Theatre? What do they do?
Smile Theatre is a registered charity that creates and presents professional theatre. It is a theatre company that tours throughout southern Ontario, but what really makes it unique is the target audience: (primarily) seniors. Smile Theatre was founded in 1972 by Peter McConnell and Brian McConnell and has been awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts. Smile Theatre has the support of the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council and the Slaight Family Foundation as well as numerous corporate sponsors and individual donors. Smile Theatre brings its productions to many different venues including Long-Term Care Centres, Assisted Living Centres, Seniors’ Residences, and Rehabilitation Centres.
What is Granny Penny’s Great Adventure?
For the 2018 Fall Musical Theatre Production program, Smile Theatre commissioned a new musical by beloved Canadian Music Theatre writer, Jim Betts. Inspiration for the story was taken from Homer’s Odyssey and the titular character is even named Penelope, but known as Penny. The show follows Granny Penny after she makes the decision that she can still change her life for the better and get to her friend Bertha’s 90th birthday party. This show runs around an hour and includes audience participation – which is always fun and will surely be different in each venue.
Who’s on Tour?
The Fall tour group consists of 3 actors: Stephanie, Greg and myself, as well as 1 stage manager, Laura. That’s it! We load, set up and take down everything – even the set! – ourselves. Stephanie plays the title role of Granny Penny and Greg and I have the fantastic challenge of playing 3 characters each. We’re very lucky to have the chance to originate these roles. I’m lucky to have worked with each of these three before this tour and we’re all really excited to spend time together on the road!
First week of the Tour!
Our tour officially began this Tuesday, September 11, 2018. However, we had an open dress rehearsal on Monday night for just our friends and family. It was wonderful for the cast and crew to have an audience before our first tour stop. This was an incredibly supportive crowd and many folks are performers themselves so our audience participation was phenomenal!
Our first tour venue was in Hamilton! Fun fact: Greg and I both grew up in Hamilton. Our fantastic writer/director, Jim Betts, and Smile’s Executive Director, Tom Carson also joined us at the venue for our official opening. It was a really lovely crowd and they seemed to really enjoy singing along with us. As part of our pre-show mingle, Stephanie found out that a couple near the front row had just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary! Their names are Roy and Anne. Roy shared these thoughts with Stephanie:
“People always assume that seniors stop caring and are miserable when they get old. They’re wrong in their assumptions. We still try to help, give, and change things for the better if we can. We just can’t physically do as much anymore but our passion is still there. You need to love unconditionally, work hard at your relationships and not throw in the towel like so many people do today. Love isn’t always easy but we always have it to give.”
Another lady I spoke to, named Patricia, told me that she absolutely loved her home. She even recommended that if I grow old and need to be looked after that I should move there because the staff are so incredible and the community is very welcoming. That really affected me. Having been to many different types of facilities and homes not everyone you meet is happy but I try to engage in meaningful conversation and thank them for spending their time with us today.
Our second day was also a TWO SHOW DAY! We began in the East end of Toronto where we encountered our first less conventional performance space. In Hamilton we were in a rec room of sorts with lots of space; now we were in a lobby with carpet and pillars, and low-hanging light fixtures which meant we needed to adjust our blocking. Neither of these posed a huge problem, it was just something for us to be aware of. The light fixtures caused the most trouble and I somehow managed to get a scarf we use as a prop almost stuck up there within the first 2 minutes of the show!
The second show of the day took place on the upper floor of a residence and our audience sat in front of a bar so they were able to sip wine or a mixed drink while enjoying the show. I spoke to a lady named Betty who told us about her recent trip to Newfoundland where she went hiking with her family. She had been working with a personal trainer in order to be able to keep up on the trip and I only hope that I’m even half as active when I reach her age.
Greg, Laura and Stephanie did give me a heads-up about Bowmanville: they said it is the most fun audience and you sort of feel as though you’re at a rock concert. They were right! I met so many incredible people that afternoon and they insisted on giving us some peach cobbler before we headed out on the road again. It was also the first venue where we performed on risers which in turn affected a few moments of our show. We all made sure to adjust our dancing to avoid extra noise, and our entrances, exits and quick changes had a little less space.
On Friday we performed in Markham for our smallest crowd to date. A woman named Margaret was in the front row and was so smiley and sang along with us. We had an audience member named Floyd, just like one of our characters! In each venue, our dressing room situation varies. On this particular day we were grateful to the staff member who gave us her office to use as a dressing room.
Our final show of the week went quite well! One lady showed up super early and snagged a seat in the front row. We later found out that her name is Blanche and she’s originally from Port-Aux-Basques, Newfoundland. Her friend, Thelma, sat next to her for the performance and they stayed afterwards to chat with us. There was also a gentleman who mistook our old Granny Cherub for being pregnant with quintuplets during our show! These are the things that keep us on our toes as you never know what someone will think or say. It was a really great group of people and many of them took the time to chat with us afterwards which was really nice. One lady I spoke to asked what my job was and was pleasantly surprised when I told her that Smile Theatre has me employed full-time, 6 days a week for the next few months. I told her how grateful I am to be doing what I love and she reminded me that as long as I’m paying the bills I should keep on going!
It was a great first week and I am genuinely so thankful to my cast mates, stage manager and Smile Theatre for this amazing opportunity. Theatre should be enjoyed by all, and I’m glad Smile Theatre can share the arts with senior citizens all across Southern Ontario.
Do you have any questions about Smile Theatre? About our tour? Please leave a comment or send me a message! I plan to do a post at the end of each week.
Today we begin our second week with three double show days! IN A ROW!
Signing off for now,