Local audiences are in for a real treat with Red Deer College’s latest production Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding – which opened on Wednesday, April 12 in Studio A.
Additional performances run April 13th – 15th with curtain at 7:30 p.m. There are also matinees April 14th and 15th at 1 p.m.
Calgary-based actor/director/educator Karen Johnson-Diamond is guest directing the show, which was conceived by Nancy Cassaro. Incidentally, Johnson-Diamond was the very first grad of the theatre arts program at RDC back in 1987.
She had attended there through 1985 and 1986 taking drama classes, but the actual theatre arts diploma program wasn’t set up quite yet. “When I enrolled, I already had all of the first year classes,” she explained during a recent chat. Nevertheless she was enrolled as a second year, and come 1987, she graduated by herself.
“It’s my claim to fame around here,” she added with a laugh. It’s also certainly part of what makes being back at RDC such a joy – along with working with the students who will be featured in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, a shining example of what’s known as ‘environmental/immersive theatre’.
That means that the audience is essentially a part of the show; they are guests at the Italian-Canadian wedding and reception. And the magic flows from the interactive and improvisational nature of the show, too, which features a cast of 18.
Meet Tina, the headstrong 20-something party girl bride with an attitude; Tony, the handsome yet rowdy groom-to-be; Connie, the pregnant maid-of-honour; Father Mark, a priest who thinks he’s hip and a whole wedding party on the edge.
“Twenty years ago, it was a huge, huge thing so I love that we are re-introducing it to this generation which is great. It’s like no other theatre piece that I have seen or been involved in,” explained Johnson-Diamond. “I’ve seen a number of (plays like this), but this one stands out. It’s considered environmental theatre and immersive theatre – the event is going to this wedding, and the audience members are treated like wedding guests for the ceremony and the reception.
“During the reception, we hope that they will have a party and get up and dance, as will all of the actors,” she said. “The theatre happens in and amongst them; with them and around them. About 60 per cent of it is also completely improvised also,” she added. “It’s one-on-one interaction with the audience.
“There is no ‘us and them.’ We are all in this together,” she added with a laugh. “There are some scripted moments, but they are few and far between.”
As Johnson-Diamond pointed out, the production has proven to be a smash around the world. The piece has also been staged in over 100 locations worldwide, including cities in Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“It ran in New York for 22 years or something crazy like that, and then it was in Las Vegas for a long time.”
Johnson-Diamond has indeed enjoyed an amazing career in the industry since graduating from RDC.
She is the co-founder/producer of Calgary’s improvisational theatre company Dirty Laundry, and has appeared on many stages including most recently, Verb Theatre (HEART) and The Chemainus Theatre Festival (Hilda’s Yard).
Previous directing credits include Footloose (Keyano Theatre), A New Brain (Storybook Theatre) and Forsooth, My Lovely (Hoodlum Theatre).
For Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, it’s been a delight not only re-connecting with old friends and colleagues but also sharing her extensive experience with a new generation of actors.
“It’s about helping the kids figure out what improv draws the audience in, and the best way to schmooze with a crowd,” she said. “I think the secret to improvisation is just thinking – how can you make your scene partner look even better?” Also, looking at the other actors in a positive light and considering their ideas as great ones serves to only strengthen the overall impact of improvising, too, she said. “You also never think of trying to be funny – the ‘funny’ happens on its own.”
Meanwhile, Johnson-Diamond also serves as the administrative director for Artstrek, a summer theatre camp for teens which happens every summer at RDC. “It’s my Disneyland – it’s my favourite place to be in the world,” she noted of the annual camp.
Of course, being back at RDC has been a terrific experience as the halls hold lots of great memories for Johnson-Diamond.
“For me, I’m seeing myself onstage – I see myself at 21, my first year of drama class – at Red Deer College,” she said of guiding this particular cast through the paces. “Also, just being back around people that have been such a big part of my career, seeing the potential in these kids, and knowing this is the next generation of theatre, is one of my favourite parts of this.”
For tickets, check out www.blackknightinn.ca.