The Heartland Arts Troupe Society (HATS) production Happily Ever Once Upon drew crowds from Stettler and neighbouring communities to the Performing Arts Centre (PAC) from Nov. 18-21, keeping it packed.
“HATS has done two dinner theatre productions in a row, and it was time to do a family-friendly production in the PAC again,” said director Wayne Smith.
Based on a script written by Virginia Kidd, the production was a twist on the much loved-fairytale characters.
“The play was received very well by the community,” said Smith. “The attendance was outstanding, with Friday and Saturday being essentially sold out, and ran to very full audiences on Wednesday and Thursday, and I heard nothing but positive reviews from all ages and demographics.”
When the community wanted a show on a larger scale and no one stepped up to the role, Smith decided that he would give it a go.
With the long-time producer of HATS deciding not to get involved this year, Andrea Muhlbach volunteered as the producer.
“I had to search for a script that would be suitable for the size of cast I was expecting, but at the same time it had to be family friendly,” said Smith. “I was adamant that HATS needed to put on a play this year, even if we lost money on it, because I wanted to keep the momentum going.”
Smith soon stumbled upon the script of Happily Ever Once Upon and connected with it.
“HATS has done many fairytales in the past and this was a great twist on some of those themes and characters,” said Smith. “I have always been interested in visual arts, so I was eager to get involved with the process of set design and construction.”
From the set construction it was easy to see that Smith had laboured over the design and had been meticulous with all the details.
“It took many, many, many hours to create it all, done mostly on evenings and weekends, but in some cases I used an empty room in my clinic and worked on props and costumes during my breaks throughout the day,” added Smith. “Because of the setting inside a castle, I knew I wanted stone, but did not want to build complete walls.”
With the PAC stage being large, costs had to be kept to a minimum, according to Smith, and so he wanted the set to be simple and minimalist.
What took most people by surprise was the swan wing.
“The swan’s wing was also a lot of fun and I had to modify something I had seen online to suit our needs, with the feathers being made with coat hanger wires and two pieces of fabric literally painted together” said Smith. “I used my sewing skills to add a fabric cover to the top part of the actor’s arm.”
Playing the Cinderella part in the act, Tana Nixon said “My favourite characters in the play by far were Melba and Jason, and they were brought to life by Nancy and Justin in the most perfect way.”
“I’d also like to thank Jeff, my Prince Charming, an experienced community theatre actor, for being a great and supportive partner, and reminding me to just breathe,” said Nixon.
Speaking of her experience as an actor, Nixon said, “And wow, did I ever learn how important a reactive and involved audience is.”
“When they are having fun and showing you the love, it absolutely elevates you to a different plateau on stage,” continued Nixon. “Amazing what a difference it makes, and I thank Stettler for bringing it, especially on Friday night, and helping all of us on stage have so much more fun, and I would want to do this again and again for the community.”
Speaking of the funds raised, Smith said, “Once we pay the royalties required to put on this production, and pay for the use of the PAC for rehearsal and performances, plus all the other expenses of costumes and sets, there isn’t a lot left.”
“It is surprisingly costly to put on these productions, and HATS being a non-profit organization, we donate scholarships to local high school students who are interested in pursuing the arts, and whatever funds we have left over are used to kickstart next year’s production,” said Smith. “None of the actors, producers or directors are paid anything. We all do it because we love it.”