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Peace River Zone Festival features local thespians

The curtain goes up on the first of six plays in five days at the Peace River Zone Theatre Festival tonight.

The curtain goes up on the first of six plays in five days at the Peace River Zone Theatre Festival tonight.

Besides getting the chance to move onto Mainstage 2010, the actors will get feedback from a professional adjudicator, a unique element in the regional festival.

The annual festival, now in its 25th year, is a great opportunity for theatre communities to share with each other, said festival chair Jim Peltier.

"It brings plays in from outside of the community which allows us all to connect with each other within the region over the five day period. It allows for a lot of cross fertilization within the local and the regional community."

The festival over the years has provided many opportunities, he said.

"It opens doors for actors, we have had quite a few local actors that have gone on to theatre schools, both through the recognition they have received from local productions, at the zone level and at the provincial level too. To be recognized as the best actor or actress opens doors for a lot of them."

The plays, from Tumbler Ridge, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, will be competing in 12 different categories, including the top prize of best production. Professional actor, director and educator Andrew McIlroy is being flown in to make those tough decisions.

McIlroy will give feedback following each play and a more thorough, interactive assessment to the cast and crew of each production the following day in most cases.

Peltier said success for the festival would simply mean more people in the seats and further interest in theatre from the community.

"What is important to me is that we constantly see high quality theatre coming out and we have been seeing that over the years."

Festival treasurer and Stage North executive director Sue Popesku said the annual event has grown in key areas since it began.

"This festival seems to grow every year although it has been going for about 25 years, it gets stronger and more educational each year. Everyone who participates learns more as we have qualified adjudicators."

Terry Boyle of Stage North, directs Toronto, Mississippi, and said the play should appeal to most patrons.

"It has everything in it. You have the dysfunctional family, the comedy from the Elvis impersonator, the depression of a poet and then you have Jhana who is mentally handicapped and a bit autistic. It is a wonderful story that has everything, tears, laughter, everything you could want to see in a show."

Darcy Frost adds Sylvia to her directorial credits, a production of the Dionysus Theatre of Dawson Creek.

She said the play has a number of twists.

"It is a comedy about a man, a woman and a dog. It is interesting in that the part of the dog is played by an actor. It is not a dog but the personality of a dog. When I first read it, it appealed to me because it had that human aspect of it. Pet owners will appreciate it and I am hoping it might draw a tear or too as well."

She said the play has coarse language, but it belongs there.

Erin Hanna, director of November, said the Tumbler Ridge Grizzly Valley Players bring comedic value to the production.

"It is just verging on farcical at times. It is going to be a lot of laughs. We have some strongly characterized people in the play."

The play is a historical look at author Don Nigro's family seen through comedic eyes, she explained.

"It is the story of a woman in a nursing home. She has a lot of visits from relatives who are trying to steal her farmhouse, and from relatives who care about her, a mix of the two."

Oliver Hachmeister, who directs the Stage North production of I, Claudia, said the play is for people looking for something a little different, as masks are used throughout.

"That generally doesn't happen in Fort St. John. The show itself is quite entertaining, funny at times and heartfelt at others as you are introduced to Claudia and the people in her life."

He said it will reveal adult truths through a child's eyes.

"Over the span of the show, you will learn how a child can feel when change threatens to topple everything she knows to be true, but also how those changes can bring her to realize a truth about herself that so many of us know in our heads but not in our hearts."

Tom Kirschner, the sole actor and director of the Bridge 2 Broadway production of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, said the play's self titled themes are universal.

"They are three subjects that invoke either emotions of pleasure or distain. This production is about people: what they think and what they feel. We all see the world through our own thoughts, views and emotions."

He said the show is a "dark comedy into the minds of men, from the incredible mind of writer Eric Bogosian. It is almost as exciting as getting a message from outer space."

Cynthia Livingstone is both writer and director of The Melancholy Minstrel, a production of the Fort St. John Players based in the Fort St. John Association for Community Living.

She said the actors are "a wonderful group. We have been together for 10 years and this is our third full-length play. It is a comedy. It written to appeal to both kids and adults."

The main character, Pete Boggs, has lost something, she explained.

"It is a play about finding inspiration and true love right under one's own nose in the course everyday life."

Seven new actors this year make a cast of 17 bringing to life a total of 21 characters, she said.

Some of the actors have disabilities, while others do not.

"It has some twists to it, is it colourful and there are a lot of gorgeous costumes. The text rhymes and it has a hint of Shakespearean flavour. We also have a great deal of fun playing with sound."

The play, not unlike the association, has an agenda.

"We don't want people to be looking at the disability, what is lacking or missing. We want them to look at the ability, what the person can do and we work really hard at that."

Popesku said the festival is steadily growing and evolving.

"We have six shows this year, not the usual five and some years we have even had four. The number of shows is increasing and the excitement seems to be increasing as well."

A large meet and greet is planned for Saturday at 6 p.m. and is open to all Saturday evening ticket holders and "after that is the awards ceremony, and after that is a big celebration in the loft of the Cultural Centre."

For tickets or more information, contact the North Peace Cultural Centre at 250-785-1992 or online at