Production posters of posed ballerinas, grand-scale musicals and theatrical dramas line the walls of Erin Kennedy’s windowless office in the lower level of the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, celebrating its 10-year anniversary this week.
Even an errant spider (and it’s a big, hairy one) doesn’t completely sway her from the task at hand. As a glass-armed saviour enters the office to ensnare the eight-legged beast, Kennedy’s eyes light up –– from relief, but mostly excitement –– as she talks about the shows being presented by the Performing Arts Centre’s society for its decade heralding season.
This is the first season that has been completely lined up by Kennedy, who served as the centre’s technical director for three years before taking on her current position as artistic director in 2010 after the centre’s former executive director Michael Cade left to run the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.
“I did most of the season last year, and Michael booked some as well, but this year is all me,” said Kennedy.
Armed with an open mind, and an unfortunate lack of caffeine (Kennedy spent most of last year pregnant, giving birth to a baby boy earlier this year), she set off to presenting festivals all over Canada and the U.S. to find a selection of dance, theatre, children’s and special presentations that would appeal to all –– not exactly an easy task.
“I’ve tried to keep in mind when booking shows that it’s not just about what I would be interested in, but what various groups in Vernon would be interested in,” said Kennedy.
Besides going to the mandatory Pacific Contacts convention in Vancouver, she attended showcases and met producers, promoters, directors and actors at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Ottawa, one of the largest English speaking theatre festivals in North America.
“At Magnetic North, I got to see 10 full-length performances and meet artists from B.C. to Newfoundland. All the people who work on the plays and all the presenters were there,” said Kennedy, who has acted on stage herself, and also studied dance when she was younger.
She also got to meet artists and presenters from all over the western seaboard of North America at the Western Arts Alliance in Seattle.
“There were at least 700 presenters there and I came back with a bag filled with materials,” said Kennedy, who spent months going through pamphlets and watching DVDs.
The end result is a collection of 21 performances with an appeal to every age and taste.
The season opens Saturday with the centre’s 10th annual Birthday Bash featuring Victoria swing band The Ford Seven and continues Sunday with the opening of this year’s kids’ series, Vancouver Opera in School’s presentation of Hansel and Gretel.
And it may be a coincidence, or fate, that one of this year’s most exciting presentations is entitled The White Spider, which will open the society’s dance series Oct. 15.
Based on the book written by climber Heinrich Harrer about his experiences attempting to climb the north face of the Eiger (or White Spider) in Switzerland, the performance has been choreographed by Jennifer Mascall of Vancouver’s Mascall Dance (who brought Traces of Emily Carr to the theatre last season), and features a giant sculptural installation which the dancers will climb on.
With the hiring of new dance outreach worker Nathan Fitch, the centre’s dance series also looks promising with the return of Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet of San Francisco March 6.
“They are a gorgeous company. It’s ballet with contemporary and their dancers are so athletic, they are like Olympian dancers, they are on that high of a level,” said Kennedy.
Comedy is also on the billing as two stand-up shows are planned as part of the society’s special presentation series.
Hosting this year’s I am Women, Hear me Laff for International Women’s Day March 8 is well-known Canadian comic Sabrina Jalees, while three male comics will be bringing the Best of the West to the centre Nov. 4.
The ever popular Cheesecake Burlesque Revue is also returning May 11, showing that burlesque is not just a flash in the pan, but here to stay.
Kids will get in the action with the family show Circus Incognitus, featuring the one-man antics of Jamie Adkins, Feb. 8.
“He’s like a street performer except he puts on a show inside a theatre. He does crazy things like climb two ladders at the same time, and is a hilarious, classic clown,” said Kennedy.
The theatre season offers just as much variety, from Julia Mackey’s one-woman, multi-part historical drama Jake’s Gift, Nov. 20, about a Second World War veteran who returns to Juno Beach for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, to a musical about Buddy Holly, Nov. 11, done by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, who brought A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline to the local stage last year.
Another unique show features Vancouver-turned Nelson thespian Lucas Myers, whose show, Deck, Feb. 18, is about a Vancouver-turned Nelson resident who sets up a homestead in the forest. While he does this, Meyers actually builds a deck on the stage.
“It will actually be raffled off after the performance,” said Kennedy.
Musical revue, Good Timber, March 31, will celebrate the B.C. logging industry in story and song, and features a multi-media presentation of film footage from the Royal B.C. Museum archives, while a co-presentation by Kamloops’ Western Canada Theatre and Toronto’s Theaterfront Productions, Ubuntu: The Cape Town Project, March 22, will feature the story of a South African man who arrives in Toronto to find his father.
Also from going behind-the-scenes on to the centre’s big screen is local filmmaker Jim Elderton’s Curtain Call, Oct. 26, which shows the Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, led by Camille Martens, as they get ready for their 2010 presentation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Martens and her young athlete performers are planning to do a presentation before the screening.
“It’s a really exciting, eclectic season. I hope everyone will come out to see the shows, there really is something for everyone,” said Kennedy.
More on the 2011-12 Vernon Performing Arts Centre’s society season is available in brochures found at the centre and around town, as well as online at www.ticketseller.ca.