Friday, 25 September 2015

Theatre Just Because at Alberta Culture Days

The One Act Play Night, a part of Alberta Culture Days, shows tonight at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, 7pm-9:30pm, admission is FREE. Hosted by, Theatre Just Because a homegrown, emerging, independent, theatre company the evening will feature two short yet powerful plays performed by local theatre artists, Mountain Top and The Most Massive Woman. Both plays were presented at a sold-out performance at the Alberta Drama Festival Association (ADFA) Regional One Act Play Festival last spring at the Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre.

Mountain Top, written and performed by Pattie Dwyer, is a captivating one-woman show about friendship, racial divides and fear. It was selected for the ADFA Provincial One Act Play Festival in Red Deer and received awards for Best Actress and Best New Work. 

The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George and directed by Michelle Thorne is about four women sitting in the waiting room of a liposuction clinic. Their brave stories as they deal with body image issues are told through a surreal sequence of monologues, flashbacks, nursery rhymes and dance. At the ADFA Regional Festival, the play won awards for Best Ensemble Cast, Best Directing, and Technical Achievement.

Recently Community Strategies Coordinator, Michael Beamish, interviewed the founders of Theatre Just Because, Michelle Thorne and Danna-Rae Evasiuk to talk about their new company, their friendship, and of course theatre.  

Michael Beamish (MB): How did you two first meet?

Danna-Rae Evasiuk (DRE): I knew Michelle when we were both at Westwood Community High School.

Michelle Thorne (MT): Danna Rae was a couple grades younger than me and did backstage work in school productions that I was acting in.

DRE: We were both in the drama crowd.

MT: Fast forward over a decade later and we happen to meet again at the ADFA Regional Festival at Keyano Theatre a few years ago.

DRE: I was playing an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes song in the tech booth at the end of the night and she hollered, “Danna-Rae, is that you?” We’ve been collaborating on projects ever since.

MB: How would you describe your relationship?

DRE: We’re friends, we’re co-workers, we’re family. We come from the same spot, share the same dreams and artistic vision.

MT: We are family absolutely. Her mom is my mom. Her dad is my dad. Her sister is my sister. But we also have a really strong artistic partnership; we share a common love for our community, for alternative, black box theatre, and really understand each others artistic visions. We have completely different skills set and really honed in on how to use that to our advantage through the past few years of collaborations.

MB: How do you stay friends and work together?

DRE: I don’t feel like there’s much of a separation.

MT: It's all the same thing, really.

DRE: We’re friends who work together, co-workers who are friends. We respect each other as people and as professionals.  Both roles are incredibly interwoven and it works in incredible ways.

MT: We've spent countless hours driving all over the Province for theatre festivals these past few years, after our first 20 hour round trip and we still wanted to hang out and talk about projects the next day; thats special! There are many parallels between our friendship and the work that we do and really the work comes from passion projects. It's not work, it never feels like actual "work". It’s what we love to do and now we get an opportunity to share it with our community on such a broader scale.

MB: What was your best theatre road trip?

MT: The trip to High River Alberta for the ADFA Festival.

DRE: I wish you could have seen it. It was a convoy of vans making a B-line straight through Alberta. We had the time of our life.

MT: The community was so warm and welcoming and the group of artists we travelled with were incredible.

DRE: We got to know and enjoy the community, and see some of the most amazing theatre being produced in Alberta.

MT: We saw some incredible pieces and met artists that we still stay in close touch with to this day. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay at Danna Rae's Aunt’s house which was a 5 minute walk away from the theatre. She had a cat named Oreo and a gorgeous backyard.

DR: There was this train car that was converted into a diner – we ate there too often for the length of time we were there, but the food was great and the ambiance was delicious. We were delayed the day we left because there was this massive parade happening outside the front door and blocking the driveway. A few weeks after we left the flood hit. At the interPLAY festival of that year we remounted the play that we took to that community  – Barefoot in Nightgown by Candlelight. All proceeds from those performances were donated to the Windmill Players, High River’s Community Theatre Company, to help replace what they lost. That ability of ours to give back to a community that left such an impression on us is what makes this the best road trip to me.

MB: How did you guys first get involved with theatre?

MT: When I was 4 years old I played Chicken Little in my Jr. Kindergarten production of "Chicken Little"; I've been hooked ever since. 
                                                              DRE: I can’t even remember. Theatre has always been a part of my life – from being a two year old ballerina, to elementary school musicals, to running the lights for my high school’s musicals. It’s a joy and passion that I went to college for it and now it’s my profession.

MB:     How many shows have you done together?

DRE: I’ve lost track. We’re at probably more than a dozen.

MT: A Midsummer Night's Dream-

DRE: Maggie's Getting Married-

MT: Barefoot in Nightgown by Candlelight, Louis & Dave,

DRE: Five Ways To Break A Woman's HeartThe Vagina Monologues,  AND-

MT & DRE: The Most Massive Woman Wins.

MB: What show or shows have you done together that stand out to you?

MT: Probably ones we haven't done yet. We're always thinking about the future. What can we do next? We have lists.

DRE: The one that stands out to me the most is the production we’re currently working on – The Most Massive Woman Wins. It’s unique in the way that we get to revisit it. We first mounted this production this last spring and so many things can change between the spring and fall. To see the characters grow has been a complete inspiration. As a designer, the growth of the direction and acting has moved me to give my own work with lights and music room to breathe and change and become something different.

MB:   What made you want to start a theatre company together?

DRE: Michelle and I collaborated on so many projects for years before we even talked about starting a theatre company. But once we started talking about we wanted to see happen in our community, and what we envisioned ourselves doing, the ball didn’t stop moving. When we started talking about it in detail, we were driving to Edmonton. The drive seemed like it lasted half a hour. We were on the same page with every dream, every idea. There is no moss on our rolling stone.

MT: We wanted a platform to do the kind of work that we love to do. There comes a time in everyone’s life where they can either lay back and accept the regret of not chasing their dreams, or just take a leap of faith and try. And we want to share this platform with our community; give opportunity to a variety of theatre artists and exciting, alternative theatre options for our audiences.

MB:  Why did you call your company Theatre Just Because?

DRE: Honestly? Okay, I’m going to be honest with you. We were terribly stuck with “Theatre” being the first word. But maybe that was just me. Michelle and I were going back and forth, rapid fire. “Theatre…” We both suggested about a thousand things. Fill in the blank.

MT: It was kind of a throw away. When we started the name Theatre; Just Because when we were filling out applications to be in a festival and decided we may as well give ourselves a company name to keep it simple. We asked why we were doing the show and really it is just because.

DRE: It can mean anything. Just Because it’s a way to connect, a way to create, a way to express yourself, a way to tell your story, a way to be a part of and contribute to your community. It’s anything you want, anything you need it to be.

MT: This is in our blood, its why we wake up in the morning. We are theatre artists. There is no definable reason. Its just in us.

MB: What is your mandate?

MT: Our mandate is to produce relevant theatre with local artists, utilizing black box and found theatre spaces. To educate and inform, to ask questions and explore. To share with other artists and to create outside the box. To make theatre which is reflective of the community in which it is created in and to give back to the community that we were born and raised in.

DRE: We’re accomplishing that by our three-fold series of workshops with the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts.  And of course, we always want to be producing different kinds of theatre ourselves. Theatre that Fort McMurray hasn’t seen before.

MB:   How has the company grown since you first started?

DRE: It’s grown massively. We first started out as a company that produced a single One Act Play a year. We used to rehearse in my parent’s basement, then in Michelle’s living room. Our company comes from very modest means.

MT: We can actually call ourselves a company now, that’s pretty huge. I think a sense of accountability has also taken a stronghold on us as well. There is so much potential for a fresh alternative theatre company in town and we are so blessed that The Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts are supporting us as we begin to branch our way out into the community. We've been working together for years but I get a sense that we have barely scratched the surface.

DRE: Now we’ve incorporated more theatre artists — the ever inspiring Terri Mort and Pattie Dwyer, and a full season workshops that are completely free and open to the public.

MT: These are exciting times for Theatre; Just Because.

MB: Who inspires you?

MT: My community. The people within it. The lives we live as Canadians. I'm usually drawn to the salt of the earth, I get inspiration from overlooked individuals. I'm curious about their stories.

DRE: My family. Whenever I create something, I want to create something that they’d like to see. 

MB: Fort McMurray is a place where people come for work, is it hard for you to attract audiences, artists, and support? Is it difficult creating theatre in an oil town?

MT: I don't think either of us really view Wood Buffalo that way. I, myself never refer to it as an oil town; it’s just my home. We're both born and raised Fort McMurray. Graduated from the same high school. Our immediate families still live here. We are so deeply rooted and invested in our community and the support has been amazing. The ADFA Regional Festival sold out last year with only two plays. People in our community want a theatre experience and we want to give them performances that resonate with them.

DRE: I don’t find it difficult at all. The support in our community is extraordinary - from audience’s interest to the support of the theatres in Fort McMurray. We were fortunate to have the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts want to partner with us to provide the means, support, and guidance we need to deliver the workshops we dreamed of. We’re lucky enough to have amazing audience turn outs to our shows. I can’t express my gratitude for that. However, it is difficult to attract new, up-and-coming artists. The theatre community here is full of superb talent, mind blowing and amazing talent. But I want to see the people who are new to this, who have maybe watched a few shows and said to themselves, “maybe I could…,” take the stage. If anything, my one complaint is that everyone’s schedules are all over the place and it makes scheduling rehearsals a nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that can be creatively worked around.

MB: How do you want to grow theatre/arts in Wood Buffalo? What is your vision for theatre in this community?

DRE: My vision for theatre in Wood Buffalo is to see more independent creation. More playwrights, more directors, more artists with the gusto to put on an independent production, and more participation in the ADFA Regional One Acts Festival.

MT: I personally would love to see/create more educational based theatre programming. The arts is such a phenomenal way to educate and raise awareness. I also want to provide more opportunity for local artists to have opportunities to showcase their strengths and learn new skills from their peers. I am a Canadian Theatre junkie and would love to see more focus on local playwrights and encouragement of locally written pieces. We've seen major successes of playwrights in Wood Buffalo, Jeff Hoffman's One Man MacBeth, you, Mr. Beamish with Hometown The Musical, and Pattie Dwyer's Mountaintop. I want to make theatre that is accessible and relatable. Theatre that tells the stories of the people living in our region. Theatre that educates, that pushes boundaries, that brings people together. Theatre that entertains us in the good times and comforts us in the bad. 

MB:   What is up and coming for Theatre Just Because?

MT: We have several events that are showing for Alberta Culture Days. We’ve remounted our production of The Most Massive Woman Wins from the spring Regional ADFA Festival. We’re also creating a staged reading of I, Claudia by Kristen Thompson.
From October, 2015-March 2016, we’re providing a three-fold series of workshops that will give community members the tools and resources they need to produce, direct, stage manage, design, or act in their own One Act Play. We're also starting a Play Reading Club at the end of September and we have a pretty incredible script picked out for the first session. 

DRE: If you would like to see the full schedule of our workshops please visit our website at 

MB: Thank you for the interview ladies.

MT & DRE: Thank you.

For details on Theatre Just Because events at Alberta Culture Days please visit  

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