After a four-year hibernation, Stage East Dinner Theatre is hoping to bring Vaudeville-inspired performances back to Beiseker in 2022 and is looking for interested actors to audition for the troupe this spring.
Ray Courtman, a long-time Beiseker resident, and the co-founder, and emcee of the annual Stage East Dinner Theatre performances, said the troupe’s intention was originally to produce a show in 2021 in honour of Beiseker’s centennial. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the village’s centennial celebrations, he said the society felt it would be best to hold off a year.
As some of the Stage East cast have moved to other communities since the troupe’s last performance in 2018, Courtman said it is necessary to find some new talent. He said if there is enough community interest in auditioning, members will return to the stage this October.
“We’ve had a lot of people moving into town, so I’m sure we can find some people who have a secret desire to act," he said. "Hopefully, we can get a cast together and do it again.”
Stage East Dinner Theatre emerged in Beiseker in the early 1980s, according to Courtman. He said the troupe’s early motive was to put on dinner-theatre shows and raise enough money through ticket sales to salvage the village’s historic Canadian Pacific Rail station, which was slated for demolition at the time.
“We did that for a few years, and then we actually did manage to raise enough money to save the old station, which is now the Village office,” he said.
Their goal accomplished, Stage East went into a lengthy, well-deserved hibernation for over 20 years.
Then, in 2005, Courtman said the troupe managed to obtain some grant money from the Alberta government, which was doling out funds to municipalities to resurrect old community traditions in honour of the province’s centennial that year.
“We applied to resurrect Stage East, and we did,” Courtman said. “We’d been doing Stage East almost every year until three or four years ago.”
According to Courtman, Stage East performances are always held in mid-October, near the Thanksgiving weekend. The yearly shows are inspired by skit comedy, like the slapstick routines seen on the Carol Burnett Show and Benny Hill Show.
“When we started out, we even had a dance group and a singing troupe,” Courtman said. “We actually had a male quartet, too. Since that time, we’ve changed a little bit, but hopefully we can bring back some of those parts. We had a barbershop quartet and a group of ladies who used to sing for us.
“Of course, we’ve updated a lot of the skits and we take skits from wherever we can find them.”
He said proceeds from the shows’ revenues over the years have helped pay for upgrades at the Beiseker Community Centre, which acts as the troupe’s theatre. Improvements included purchasing a new automated curtain system and a piano.
With Stage East Dinner Theatre’s origins dating back more than 40 years, Courtman said he and Leroy Whitnack are two of the only remaining members to still be involved with the troupe. He said with that in mind, this year’s hopeful performances could be his final hurrah.
He added audience members can likely expect some of Stage East’s original, popular skits, as well as some newer material.
“A lot of them were very popular, so we’ll do some of those, and then some new skits. If we can do a skit that ties in the centennial, I’m not sure yet,” Courtman said.
“My wife and I have written a number of skits too,” he added. “We’ll take an old joke and turn it into a little skit. We do them with a minimum amount of props. The idea is to have fun and do a lot of laughing, and I think we have accomplished both of those over the years.”