Every year, Winter Carnival swoops in to relieve Vernon residents of their winter blues. And, every year, Michael Poirier plays his part as writer/director to enliven the festival.
Poirier’s Backstage Theatre presents Wonderland Retirement Home Feb. 7-10 at the Schubert Centre as part of the Vernon Winter Carnival. This year, the Carnival’s theme is Carnival in Wonderland.
“I do wait until the theme of Carnival comes out (to begin writing),” Poirier said, adding that he has written plays for Winter Carnival since 2006. “It’s about a retirement home for actors who never made it to the red carpet, and they’re all down on themselves — a little depressed.”
Characters in the play, reliving their glory days by refusing to let go of the characters they once embodied, are disheartened by the day’s lacklustre “big” news: Wonderland is receiving new bingo cards. Gus Calling’s Ninja Man (Mike Panian) and Chancey Calm’s Tinkerbell (Betty Anne Northup), like the rest of the gossip-fuelled actors that call Wonderland home, are constantly at each others throats, which only serves to make matters worse.
“The new owner tries to bring moral up by producing a play, but if anyone wants to act, they have to get along,” Poirier said. “When the opportunity comes to get back on stage and have fun, they compromise their comfort zones on the regular to serve that opportunity. It’s a play about relationships and coming to terms about aging with dignity.”
Backed by a six-piece band led by music director Julie Armitage, the two act musical comedy features a Winter Carnival-themed menu complete with a two protein buffet.
“I had someone who said, ‘I come to your plays because I get greats plays and great dinner. It’s like going to a music night,’” Poirier said. “It’s a very great relationship we’ve had with the Schubert Centre.
Wonderland Retirement Home’s score compiles hits from a multitude of genres, from classic rock to big band, to Woodstock-esque tunes and folk jams.
“Hopefully there’s something there that appeals to everyone,” Armitage said. “This year was a bit of a challenge with the Wonderland theme. We ended up using songs that reflected more about either characters or what they were trying to convey.”
For example, Armitage said, Nurse Nancy (Lori Hancock) sings The Doors’ classic hit Light My Fire while drooling over a photo of her crush. Moreover, the score seeks to add to the fun ambiance found in Wonderland Retirement Home.
Poirier, a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada and 2015 Theatre BC Okanagan Zone Festival Best Ensemble and Outstanding New Play Award-winner, put the finishing touches on the script in October. It then went to a first reading in November with four-times a week rehearsals beginning in January.
However, the playwright of more than 25 productions fell into the craft by mere coincidence.
“I never let anyone read anything I wrote,” Poirier said of his early days in writing. “I let Anne (an aquaintance and member of the local theatre society) read one of my short stories and she asked if I could write a play. I wrote a play for her, and I was just hooked.”
Several years, a handful of films, a self-published novel and dozens of short stories and scripts later, Poirier is looking forward to the curtains opening on Wonderland Retirement Home.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of people who stood up and wanted to have fun,” Poirier said of the audition process. “If you can’t walk away happy after putting on a performance, it’s not worth it. To me, that’s what theatre is all about.”
Wonderland Retirement Home runs at the Schubert Centre Feb. 7-10. Doors open at 6 p.m.; dinner is at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $49 at the Winter Carnival Office, 250-545-2236, or the Schubert Centre, 250-549-4201.