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ETC ready to set the stage on fire

For the next couple of weeks, there’ll be no place safer than the Elmira Theatre. That’s because you can expect to find a sizable contingent of township firefighters taking in The Fire Inside, which runs Apr. 23 to May 9.

The play, written by Baden’s Teresa Brown, is a two-act drama about volunteer firefighting in a small town.

The plot follows the rookie John McConnell (Joe Brenner) over the course of one year as a volunteer firefighter. He joins not knowing what he’s getting into, and indeed soon discovers that the job is not entirely what he expected. Increasingly, John is torn between excitement and boredom, triumphs and frustrations, camaraderie and horror, and he begins debating whether he’s “got it in him” to do the job.

Jeff Dakin and Kimberly Young rehearse a scene.
Jeff Dakin and Kimberly Young rehearse a scene.

For the Elmira Theatre Company’s Deb Deckert, whose son is a third generation firefighter in Linwood, the script had an immediate resonance. When reading it, she laughed at times in recognition of how true-to-life the scenarios are, situations that will be recognized by firefighters and their families.

The reality reflects the fact the playwright’s husband is a longtime volunteer with the fire department in Baden.

Taken with the story, Deckert was a little hesitant about the technical requirements of staging the play, but eventually overcame those concerns. Audiences will experience the drama of the rescue calls through radio dialogue as images flash on the back wall.

It’s the first time ETC will be using this kind of projection, she said, adding the productions she directs are known for taxing the technical and acting range of the company.

“I always want all the bells and whistles,” she chuckled.

The theatre company also found plenty of support from fire stations in Woolwich, Wellesley and Wilmot in putting together the gear and equipment needed.

Though dealing with some serious issues, The Fire Inside has its lighter side too.

“There are some funny moments in it. You can see how they use comedy as a coping mechanism. And you see the camaraderie of the crew,” said Deckert, applying the “dramedy” label.

The play includes fire and other emergency scenes, personal moments both dramatic and humourous, and ordinary day-to-day duties. There is no melodramatic heroism in the play, but there is one unifying question:  “why does someone become a volunteer firefighter?”

Though open-ended, the question is central to the play, she explained.

In a small town setting, firefighters are more likely to be confronted with emergency situations involving family, friends and neighbours – making the job that much more difficult to cope with.

“It’s tough when you’ve got a personal stake in it.”

Originally entitled Fire Red Blood and set in Baden, the play has been renamed and moved to Linwood, Deckert’s home for 30 years before she moved to Elmira. The changes, made in conjunction with Brown, come to a story that’s making its world premiere on the Elmira stage.

The Elmira Theatre Company production of The Fire Inside runs Apr. 23 to May 9, with 8 p.m. shows Thursday-Saturday, and two Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. at 76 Howard Ave., Elmira. Tickets are $18, available at the Centre in the Square box office in Kitchener by calling 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977.

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