P.E.I Community Theatre Festival
By Sean McQuaid
Before we were dating, my future wife reportedly described me to her best friend as “the dense one.” Seems I was slow-on-the-uptake in some respects back then. Decades later, this year’s PEI Community Theatre Festival proved that little has changed in that regard.
I’d gone to see the festival’s featured shows and possibly write something about them. This year’s festival entries included improv games by Spotlight School of Arts, the latest iteration of the Mi’kmaq Heritage Actors’ charming, self-assured Tales from Long Ago, and excerpts from ACT’s recent production of The Dining Room, still stellar.
All good stuff, as were the entries representing various geographic communities. There are small local theatrical venues and groups all over PEI, from St. Peters to Tyne Valley and beyond, and the festival offers a singular chance to gather samples of these far-flung theatre scenes for a Charlottetown audience. Communities represented this year included Murray Harbour (The Murray Players’ A Partridge in a Pear Tree), Tracadie (The Tracadie Players’ A Trip to the Dentist) and Georgetown (The Kings Players’ Pygmalion excerpt).
All three groups fared well, though my favourite was probably Tracadie’s dental romp — not because my aunt Joanne Schieck was in it (conflict of interest #247 in a series, collect them all), but just because it was such fun. Chock full of stock characterizations, goofy gags and shamelessly punny character names worthy of Max Allan Collins, it was powerfully corny stuff but lots of laughs, especially some primo Brian Craig slapstick. I literally slapped my knee at one point as I guffawed, mentally chiding myself for becoming a human cliché as I did so.
As for that “dense one” business I mentioned? Turns out there was a seventh item not listed in the festival program, the presentation of ACT's semi-annual Community Theatre Appreciation Award. ACT rep Keir Malone was a good ways into his eloquent introduction before I had the vaguest inkling of who he was talking about, which turned out to be me.
Keir said some very kind, exceedingly generous things about my theatre background in general and my theatre reviewing in particular, and presented me with one of the niftiest gifts I’ve ever received: a framed Sandy Carruthers caricature of yours truly scribbling a theatre review while reading a Kid Colt comic (eerily close to my actual writing process, really).
I was beyond surprised. My wife, daughter and others had successfully concealed the award plans from me for about a month, hence my dumbfounded deer-in-headlights reaction. Both touched and vaguely unsettled by their expert hoodwinkery, I later urged them to use their surprisingly potent powers of deception only for good.
My mother-in-law said the award presentation was the only time she’s ever seen me at a loss for words. I was then (and remain now) slightly overwhelmed by it all — such a gracious gesture, expressed through a very fine artist’s work as presented by one of PEI’s best actors on behalf of such an admirable organization. I’m not sure I deserve it, but I do appreciate it.
In that spirit, and still groping for words adequate to the task, I’ve just one thing left to say to Carol, Elsa, Keir, Sandy, Rob, Kim, Peter and all the other folks who made this happen: Thank you all so much.