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Playgoers showcase Southern Alberta arts at A Taste of the Arts

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Playgoers of Lethbridge celebrated their one hundredth anniversary with a two day extravaganza of Southern Albertan artists at the Yates Theatre/ Sterndale Bennett Theatre, April 21 and 22.


Joel Bhaskaran, Darrell Croft and Teresa Huszar in A Dog’s life at A Taste of the Arts. phot by RichardAmery

They featured a little bit of everything running throughout the two days on both stages and workshops in the mezzanine, where there was also a historical display of memories of Playgoers from through the ages.


David Mikuliak plays one of MacBeth's witches at A Taste of the Arts. photo by RichardAmery

There was lots of dance from local youth dance companies, Troyanda Ukrainian Dance, local jazz bands, some film , a performance from the Father Van Tighem Performing Arts, Métis Jigging, hoop dancing, Lethbridge community Taiko, the Southern Alberta chorus and even acts for children and families

I only caught a few of the acts.


As expected there were plenty of plays.

All three entrants from the Taber Players reprised their plays from this year‘s  Chinook One Act  Drama Festival. The Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance  Society offered a taste of Shakespeare, and Lethbridge Musical Theatre performed Ed Bayly’s Priscilla Pringles’ Predicament.


 I missed most of Friday, but made a point of catching the Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance Society.

hey  offered up a  menacing version of the witches scene from MacBeth featuring some familiar faces including David Mikuliak and Jeff Carlson.


 They also played a brief scene from Othello.


But the best part was getting a sneak preview of this summer’s  production of Taming of the Shrew.


 Though the summer production will be set in the ’60s, they put on a traditional version of the immortal Kate and Petruccio wooing scene featuring the actors who will be playing Kate and Petruccio this summer.

I got there relatively early  on Saturday to catch part of a children’s show with the Band Formerly  known as Karen, Lewis and Pam featuring Ash Thomson, Gabe Thaine  and Jillian Bracken backed by upright bassist and drummer Brad Brouwer. They played a few Sharon, Lois and Bram songs and  a few of their own children’s songs. Rufus the mime was in the audience silently cheering them on and getting the kids to participate.


Taming of the Shrew at A Taste of the Arts. photo by RichardAmery

 I  took part in  a stage fighting workshop which was a lot of fun and very informative, but cut it short because I didn’t want to miss  the return of “ A Dog’s life, which was my favourite One act.  Darrell Croft reprised his award winning role of Ben, the old hobo dog.

 As a bonus, Teresa Huszar stepped into the role of cute, naïve puppy Ginger. It’s always a pleasure to see her on stage.

Ryland Moranz and Mickey Hayward looked a little worse for the wear during their headlining set with bassist Kurt Ciesla.


 As always Moranz was an affable and captivating frontman, playing his always uplifting songs on banjo and guitar. He added a couple of harp solo.

 His fleet fingers flew over the frets in between telling jokes and stories about  touring Europe and playing songs from his last album  XO 1945.


He added couple new songs he wrote during the pandemic with only his wife as the audience.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. beat Editor

The band Formerly Known as Karen, Lewis and Pam at A Taste of the Arts. photo by RichardAmery

Brent Butt returns to his roots in stand-up comedy

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Comedian Brent Butt has a lot on the go, but he always returns to his roots as a stand-up comedian.


 The Corner Gas creator and star performs a sold up stand-up comedy show at the Yates Theatre, Sunday, April 23. Though Butt is best known for  Corner Gas, he has been doing stand-up a lot longer.


He has his first novel coming out in October, surprisingly not a comedy.

“Well I wouldn’t say I’m on the road again, it’s an ongoing concern,” said Butt from his Vancouver home.

“At the end of the day, when you boil everything away, I’m a greasy nightclub comic, right, so I hit the road any time I’m not in production. I’m trying to get on the road and do stand-up. That’s the way it’s always been. Even in between seasons of Corner Gas, as soon as we were on hiatus I would go out on the road.”

Comedian Brent Butt returns to Lethbridge, Sunday, April 23 for a sold-out show. Photo submitted


Butt is always writing new material, but there are always older bits that people want to hear, so he gauges the audience’s reaction and adjusts his set accordingly.


“I always try to make it a mix of both. Because what I learned is sometimes  I’d go to a place a do all new material and people would storm up to me mad as a hornet  afterwards and say I brought my friend down here   to hear you do such and such a bit. I’ve been doing stand up comedy for 30 years and I can’t do everything on every night but I try to make it sort of a mix and a blend of newer stuff that I’m working and some sort of classic staples in the act. I never really know what I’m going to do when I go out there. That’s one of the things I like about stand-up comedy is that it’s very reactive. I know what I’m going to open up with and depending on how the audience is responding, that sort of dictates the direction that I go and what material I start pulling out of my tickle trunk. Because I kind of have a grab bag of material I’ve collected over the years. Like if I’m  doing some sports jokes and they’re not going over  that great, I ditch the sports jokes and go into something else, But if they’re going over great then maybe I’ll pull out a couple more sports jokes,” he said.


“So you kind of shape it. Every audience is different. It’s its own entity. Once you get several hundred individuals in a room it creates a brand new animal. The chemistry of it creates a brand new animal that has never been there before and you don’t know what it likes and what it dislikes and that’s one of the things that still excites me about doing stand-up,” he said.

“When I’m waiting in the wings,  waiting to be introduced , standing there, I don’t know how it’s going to go I don’t know how they’re going to let me rub their belly. Are they going to bite me what’s going to happen,” he said.

One beloved bit people ask for is  abut  what he’d do if you’d win the lottery. And how if he was a billionaire, it would make him go a little crazy.


 Another bit people ask for like the bit about model Fabio getting hit in the face with a goose while on the rollercoaster aren’t as timeless, but still gets a lot of requests.

“That’s one of the bits that people come up to me mad that I didn’t do that and the Fabio bit. That bit’s like 20 years old now. People come up ‘ you didn’t do the Fabio thing.’ That’s not in today’s headlines,” he said.


 Butt is working on new material, but nothing specific.

“There‘s nothing specific. I couldn’t sit here and say I’m focussing on this. It’s always just little nuggets. Little nuggets that you pull out, tumble them around and see if you can get them to germinate into something. There’s no theme.There’s nothing thematic, it’s just stuff dribbling out of my head,” he said.

 Butt discovered stand up comedy when he was a boy growing up in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, particularly the Alan Hamel show.


“The first time I ever saw stand up comedy when I was 12 -years-old. I was watching. They used to have the old Alan Hamel Show come on in the afternoon. We only had two channels growing up in Tisdale and one of them was CTV and in Vancouver they had an afternoon talk show called the Alan Hamel show. And they would sometimes have comedians on there and I’d never heard of a stand-up comedian before. I’d seen sketch comedy and sitcoms, and I was a fan of funny things. But when they said ‘and featuring stand up comedian Kelly Monteith, I was very intrigued by that. What’s a stand-up comedian? And I saw this guy walk out, Kelly Monteith, and just talk and be hilarious. And I thought that’s it for me. I didn't know that was a thing somebody could do and I told my mom that day that I wanted to be a stand up comedian,” he said.


“And she said  fine go do it outside. That was her standard response to anything I wanted to do,” Butt laughed.


In addition to Corner Gas, the animated version of Corner Gas, Butt also finished his first novel— a thriller called “ Huge” 


“ I did. It’s not a comedy. That surprises some people. It’s about comedy. It’s about three comedians on the road. It’s actually a dark psychological thriller. It follows  three comedians out on the road, two of whom do not have a disturbing capacity for violence. It’s just based on first  starting out in standup going out on the road. Sometimes you  have to go out on the road with people you don’t really know and you’d be a couple days into the gig, driving across Northern Ontario in the middle of the night, listening to this person and you’re thinking to yourself am I safe? Am I going to be killed out here by this guy who clearly isn’t thinking properly. So that’s the feeling I wanted to capture. That’s the type of  book I like to read. I like to read thrillers. I like to read books that kind of scare you a little bit. I like classic murder mysteries and procedurals but I really like if a book has a scary element to it that’s what I like to read. So when I sat down to write a novel, that’s what I wrote,” he said, adding the book will be released  Oct. 3, but it is available for pre-order now through


He gave the book to a few writers he really respects for feedback.

“It hasn’t hit the market yet but the from advance readers. Some people I know who are both writers, like authors who have written thrillers and crime novels, the response has been really good. And some people in the TV and  film industry who have read it just to see what they think of it and the feedback has been fantastic including some people that I really look up to,” he said, adding he love authors like Stephen King, Linwood Barclay and Shari Lapena.


Playgoers of Lethbridge celebrating 100 years with a Taste of the Arts this weekend

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Playgoers of Lethbridge is celebrating their 100th anniversary by giving the community a taste of the arts this weekend.

 There will be workshops, performances, film and a chance to dance and sing at the  Yates Theatre and Sterndale Bennett Theatre, Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22.


Mayson Merkle, Cole Fetting and Jaclyn Elfring perfoming in  Alternative Accomodation. photo by Richard Amery

“ Move between the two venues, stay for the day or come and go. The longest performance is 45 minutes. So come and see what you like and maybe learn a little about Playgoers’ history,” said Nancy Purkis, Playgoers of Lethbridge Board member and one of the festival‘s organizers.


 Planning the two day event has been in the works  for a year when Playgoers started applying for city, provincial and federal grants to cover the costs of the event and to ensure that everything is free to attend and to ensure the performers receive an honorarium.


“ It’s certainly snowballed,” Purkis said, adding they had to submit a tentative schedule to apply for the grants, so Playgoers was pleased the Lethbridge arts community answered calls through the Allied Arts Council and on social media.


 The opening ceremonies at 5 p.m., Friday, April 21 and plaque unveiling featuring speeches by Mayor Blaine Hyggen, Playgoers of Lethbridge president Elaine Jagielski and Dr. Mike Bruised Head, has been moved inside due to concerns about the weather.


“The Southern Accord Chorus are going to sing Happy Birthday to Playgoers at 5:50 in the Yates Theatre. And The Lethbridge Big Band will be performing  “Going Up” from the first musical comedy Playgoers of Lethbridge ever did,” Purkis continued, adding local dance companies including Beyond Limits will perform and provide an opportunity for the audience to dance if they desire.


One Act Play Festival features Taber Players talent

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Playgoers of Lethbridge hosted the  Chinook Region One Act Play Festival, Saturday, April 8 at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre. But The Taber Players showed their talent, providing all three entries for this year’s festival.

Mason Merkle, Cole Fetting and Jocelyn Steinborn in Alternative Accomodation at the One Act Play Festival, April 7. Photo by Richard Amery

  But there was plenty of familiar faces from previous playgoers of Lethbridge  and Lethbridge Shakespeare in the Park Productions acting in the plays.


 Julia Cho’s “ The Breakup” was their story of a daughter trying to break up with her overbearing  mother. It amounted to be basically a monologue about mother - daughter relations from Teresa Huzar who was adorable as  Lil, and small but vital parts played by Angela Renner as mama and Cole Fetting as Lil’s boyfriend Jason.

 By the end Lil realizes she misses her mama and indeed that she may be turning into her.


Pam Valentine’s “ A Dog’s Life” was a touching, and heartwarming story about  four dogs in the pound talking about their owners and their lives leading up to  their  residence in the pound.


Darrell Croft, Angi Heninger,  and Annie-Jo Lee in A Dog‘s Life at the One Act Play Festival, April 7. Photo by Richard Amery

 Darrell Croft was amazing as the old, road wearied hobo’s dog Ben. He deservedly won the best male actor award for his performance, which combined perfect pathos with humour.

Talented young actress Annie Jo Lee shone as the over-excited and naïve puppy Ginger. Mason Merkyl was fantastic as the snobby, spoiled ,overweight puppy  Fifi and Joel Bhaskaran stood out as standoffish German Shepherd guard dog Fritz. 


The four brought out the human characteristics of their canine characters. Kadence Ridley and Warden Angi Henninger provided the actual human element enhancing the canine stars.


Another Pam Valentine play “Alternative Accommodation” won best play for this festival and Jocelyn Steinborn won best female actor for her performance as  harangued  and under appreciated mother Anne, of her self involved children: yuppie financial advisor Peter played by Cole Fetting,  hyper-motivated business woman Joy played by  Jaclyn Elfring and religious housewife Gemma played by Mayson Merkle. 


Teresa Huszar in The Break Up at the One Act Play Festival, April 7. Photo by Richard Amery

 The story is about the  grown children discussing whether to move their mother into a seniors home after their dad dies, but without discussing the issue with her.


Drama ensues as Steinborn  puts on a fantastic performance tearing her kids a new one and proving that she is doing fine on her own.


Director Jaclynn Elfring won best director for the “Alternative Accomodation.”


Anybody who has elderly parents should see it. And they will get a chance to during the Provincial  One Act Play Festival, May 26 and 27 at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre which Playgoers of Lethbridge hosts.

 — By Richard Amery, L.A. beat Editor

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