Brandon’s newest theatre group was designed to serve the entire Western Manitoba region, hence the name. The brainchild of Lisa Vasconselos and Katherine MacFarlane Sherris two long time teachers (MacFarlane Sherris at Riverheights, Vasconselos (Rolling River School division), Westman Theatre Group is an offshoot of Mecca Productions Theatre. Kate and Lisa are a dynamic-duo who have been long-time friends and veterans of the local theatre scene through their many years with Mecca. With Westman Theatre Group they get to spread their wings a bit more than usual. This is the case especially with the subject matter in their latest production Heathers which opens tonight (Wednesday, June 15th and also takes the stage at the Keystone Centre Amphitheatre this Friday, June 17th. To shed some light on what theatre supporters can expect with this major production BDNMB.ca presents this brief Q & A with Westman Theatre Group Music Director Katherine MacFarlane Sherris.
FM: What was the motive behind going with such an edgy storyline?
KMS: Lisa Vasconcelos and I had the opportunity to see Heathers in New York, two summers ago, along with two other friends. We had all seen the 80’s cult classic movie and had ‘lived through’ high school in the 80’s so the musical really resonated with us. While the storyline is definitely edgy, there also very poignant moments in the show. I think it is a sign of strong writing when an audience can go from tears to laughter in seconds.
Is it your intention to push the envelope a little bit with this particular production?
I wouldn’t say that we ‘set out’ to push the envelope, but we knew that taking on a show with edgy content would challenge us in a variety of ways. We always want to be respectful of our cast members and our audience, while honouring the writers and composers in telling the story they have written. We have laughed a lot in rehearsal and have enjoyed working with these young, talented cast members to tell this story.
Sometimes, edgy content makes us ‘cringe’ because it pushes us into uncomfortable territory. That being said, I think that that discomfort can cause us to reflect, think, defend our views and make connections to some of our dark or difficult experiences. The themes in this show are still very relevant and can hit close to home. Today’s young people face so many of the same struggles that their parents did as teenagers. It might just look more ‘high tech’ today.
We are very excited that The Middle Coast is bringing this challenging rock score to life. I think that many people in Brandon are familiar with The Middle Coast (formerly Until Red). I definitely see them as ‘up and coming’ in the music scene and I am delighted to be working with them, along with our pianist Shirley Martin.
Is the show open to all ages?
This musical definitely has mature content and is not a ‘family show.’ Our cast members are young adults and, if they are still in high school, Lisa was very clear that parents needed to be aware and on board with the more risqué content. Most of our young actors had already listened to the soundtrack and watched YouTube clips prior to auditions so they had a good sense of the nature of the show.
Picture Left to right Katherine MacFarlane Sherris and Lisa Vasconselos, co-creators of Westman Theatre Group (photo submitted)
How many major productions are you planning to do with this new company?
I think that will depend on what shows capture our interest in the future. Lisa and the Mecca team have worked hard to establish a reputation in our community for putting on ‘family-friendly’ shows and offering opportunities for children and families to participate in classes, choirs and musical theatre productions together. We will continue to keep that focus with Mecca because we believe so strongly in the positive impact of these programs. That being said, it is great to have a company that allows us to pursue other theatre opportunities – like Heathers – that have a mature theme and content, separately from Mecca.
What ratio of productions will be open to “all ages” casts and audiences as opposed to adult casts and audiences?
Again, I think it will depend on what shows come across our path. There are so many great shows out there! Some of them are available now and there are others that we are waiting for the rights to become available. Depending on the content, we would decide what would be most appropriate, in terms of producing it under the Mecca or Wheat City Theatre umbrella, as well as the appropriate ages for cast members.
How do you foresee things improving for the local theatre scene over the next few years?
We really are incredibly fortunate in Brandon and the Westman area to have such a thriving and active performing arts community. I have friends who live in much larger urban centers who struggle to find the kind of opportunities we have here. I have enjoyed so many memorable theatre moments: on the stage, in the pit, from the wings and in the seats; I am excited to see what the future holds.
Show times 8pm tonight (Wednesday, June 15th & Friday, June 17th) in the Keystone Centre Amphitheatre. Tickets available at tickets.keystonecentre.com