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Atlantic Smile Theatre brings professional theatre to senior residences

by Carol Little

Catherine O’Brien founded Atlantic Smile Theatre, a non-profit organization that brings professional theatre to senior residences, earlier this year in Charlottetown. The original Smile Theatre is an Ontario-based charitable company that has been running for thirty years. O’Brien said “I got my start with Smile as an actor, and I found it incredibly rewarding. I got the idea to bring Smile Theatre to Atlantic Canada, got approval from Tom Carson (general artistic manager of Smile Theatre) and asked Hank Stinson (PEI writer, actor) if he was interested. We’re hoping to eventually be an autonomous branch of Smile, and to bring it to the rest of Atlantic Canada.”

Atlantic Smile Theatre produces original Canadian musical theatre and hires professional actors, musicians, writers, directors and set designers. Rather than playing at a fixed venue, they perform wherever they are needed most, such as hospitals, nursing homes, senior residences and community centers. The goal is to bring skilled theatre directly to people who may not otherwise be able to enjoy it because of physical, financial or transportation related restrictions. O’Brien said, “the shows are very portable, we are able to adapt to any size environment. We basically come to their living room and put on a show for them.”

Speaking of the charitable aspect of the company, Stinson stated, “it is important that people can see the show regardless of their ability to pay.” O’Brien added that, “many Ontario (nursing) homes found the benefit (of the performances) was so great that they began to budget for it.”

Through The Gable Window is an original sixty-minute show based on the works of L.M. Montgomery, written by Stinson and choreographed by O’Brien that the two performed this year as part of the Charlottetown Festival. “I adapted three of L.M. Montgomery’s novels into musicals: The Blue Castle, Emily of New Moon, and Rainbow Valley. In the process of doing this it occurred to me that a good way of seeing Montgomery was through the characters in her stories, so I concocted a review where we talk about Montgomery, of her influences and adventures that happened to her or her family as told through her characters,” said Stinson. O’Brien added, “the goal is to get people excited about Montgomery and her books again.”

Stinson remarked “I think the show is a really good promotion for PEI.” O’Brien added, “the set design (involves) a stunning quilt of PEI scenery.” Also involved in the production are Dean Burry, (music), Donny Fraser (musical arrangements), and Garnet Gallant (set design), and the Charlottetown Festival generously loaned all costumes.

Smile Theatre relies heavily on corporate sponsorship and donations. Ongoing fundraising is essential to the survival of Atlantic Smile Theatre. In addition to fundraisers in the spring of this year, Stinson said, “Royalty Rotary very generously offered us our start up funds.”

This is Catherine O’Brien’s fourth season with the Charlottetown Festival, and Hank Stinson has been a part of the Festival “since about 1980.” O’Brien will be taking Through The Gable Window to Ontario for two months with Kevin Heatherington, former member of the Charlottetown Festival, replacing Stinson for those performances because of previous commitments. The show will then return to PEI where O’Brien and Stinson will perform at various venues from December 12­24.

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