Feasting on stage
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Sprightly Sherri-Lee Darrach says she is “ready for anything,” and in her roles as a performer, director, and artistic director of the Feast Dinner Theatre, she has to be. “Life’s really good,” she offers. “We all have to work, right? So we might as well do the things we love doing,” she says—and that requires improvisation, in more ways than one.
“In dinner theatre, we make some of the best actors,” she says, with a killer smile. “Every night is live and every night is different. It’s the best job in the world.”
As a teenager at Three Oaks High School, Sherri-Lee thought she would apply her quick reactions and lightness on her feet as a police officer. She had plans to go to the Police Academy, until year-end skits arranged by her teachers set her on an unexpected path into performance. “I started taking every lesson I could, every audition I could. I had a plan to go to the National Theatre School… but then I met a boy, and he was from the Island, and he had a business here… So I went to college and took computers and business. And I married him, and we had two kids. We’re not together anymore, but I have had the best 18 years.”
She says, “As an actor, I started late and didn’t get to theatre school, so my experience is hands-on and on-stage. I had to catch up, so I had to start running! I did a little bit of everything—stage, voiceover, film.”
She had auditioned unsuccessfully for dinner theatre in her late teens. When she was 25, the voice teacher she was studying with insisted she try again, and this time she was cast in a show. “I was newly married. I worked at a bank. I quit my job and did dinner theatre,” she says.
After time off for babies, more dinner theatre, and successful roles in ACT productions such as Evita and The Blue Castle and more, the opportunity to learn directing came from two directions at once, from the producer of the Feast Dinner Theatre Don Groom and from then-artistic director of the Acting Conservatory at the Watermark Theatre, Duncan MacIntosh.
Sherri-Lee loves directing. “I don’t ever go in and say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do.’ I ask, ‘What do you have?’ and then ‘How can we build on that?’” I have the experience as an actor to know what I needed onstage… As a director, I can put in motion what was in my brain that I might not be able to produce myself. I want to specialize the skills and build on the unbelievable talent here.”
With a new business she has begun, the Atlantic School of Performing Arts at the Harbourfront Theatre, she is working with talent in new ways again—with students “from four to forty-five,” and with teachers from multiple branches of performance. She’s also taking classes at UPEI because as a teacher “it’s important to always be learning.”
For the summer, the focus will be the dinner theatre production Scandalous, (“the name says it all,” she says), then (“just as we start getting comfortable with one show…”) on to a new show in September, with an improv-based Revue Dinner Theatre “after dark” production.
“Dinner theatre is its own beast,” Sherri-Lee says. “It makes you very hard-working—and agile,” she reflects. “You learn that even in situations you think are the worst moments, you can make the best moments. I work customer service at the TD Bank during the day, and that’s all about reading body language and keeping ‘on’ all the time.”
Sherri-Lee says, “Personally, I think it’s something every performer—actor, singer, dancer—should do, if you want to get better at your craft. The training we have there is so unique… I can’t teach you what it’s like to be live every night, to get out of your comfort zone—the audience teaches you that.” Sherri-Lee is looking forward to putting a lot of audience-teachers in front of dinner-theatre performers this summer.