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,