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Elmira plays host to WODL Minifest

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A GROUP EFFORT In one of their rare moments of downtime, the Elmira Theatre Company volunteers behind the Minifest efforts gather for a photo. Front row: Paul Dietrich, Sue Rose, Bev Dietrich and Sandy Weiler. Back row: Pam Webb, Debbie Deckert, Gord Grose, Lorna Wittman and Tom Fahey.

Just as no two snowflakes are alike – although it’s July, a snowy analogy seems apropos this “summer” – no two interpretations of the same play are the same. Make that no six interpretations, because that’s exactly what’s in store next week as the Elmira Theatre Company hosts the Western Ontario Drama League (WODL) Minifest.

Six theatrical groups will be performing Return to Sender by Stratford playwright Joan Veldman, an exercise in creativity, skills development and having a whole lot of fun.
“The idea is to help new directors, new actors and new tech people – sets, lights and such – get some experience in a friendly, non-competitive manner,” said Bev Dietrich, who’s spearheading the ETC effort.

Over two days, the participants – Galt Little Theatre, Kincardine Theatre Guild, London Community Players, Theatre Kent (Chatham), Theatre Sarnia and Thistle Theatre (Embro) – will take part in a workshop-format event led by Brian Van Norman.

Van Norman brings more than three decades of theatre experience to the role. He has worked with schools, universities, amateur and professional theatre companies, serving as a teacher, director, writer, adjudicator and producer.

He’ll be providing feedback to the participants, as will the playwright, who’ll be in attendance.

Audience members can expect to see six distinct takes on Veldman’s one-act play, with each performance running about 35 minutes, said Dietrich.

“You wonder how you can watch the same one-act play six times, but you can. You’re going to see six different versions of the play – everyone has their own take on it,” she said, noting that at past Minifests, groups have performed varied versions of the featured play, from operatic to completely off the wall.

This year’s offering, Return to Sender, tells the story of a young woman who gets angry at her boyfriend and decides to take out a personal ad to meet other men. A naïve soul, she is unaware of what all the short-forms and acronyms in the ads really mean, and so ends up conversing with some “interesting” characters. Comedic episodes ensue.

Complications arise when the boyfriend, realizing that he really does love her and wants her back, enters the café where she works in a variety of disguises as her would-be suitors.
As a happily-ever-after story, reconciliation is soon in the air.

Short and sweet, each presentation of Return to Sender will require a great deal of behind-the-scenes work for the ETC crew. As host, Elmira will not be entering the festival, but is responsible for organizing all the details.

Unlike a full competition where each theatre company brings its own sets, props and lighting, everything will be provided by the host company, putting some 30 local volunteers to work, Dietrich explained.

This marks the first time Elmira will host any of the WODL events. While the group is too small to run the large competition held in March, its new facility on Howard Avenue is just right for the Minifest, she added.

A grant of $2,000 from the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund helped seal the deal, allowing ETC to go ahead with its plans. With some 80 overnight visitors – the Best Western Hotel in St. Jacobs is the official accommodation spot – and some 100 daytrippers expected July 24-25, Minifest should be a boon to the local economy, Dietrich argued in seeking the funding.
With the festival now ready to go, performances by Galt and Embro, the two closest groups, will open the event on Friday night. The other four groups take the stage on Saturday. All shows are open to the public.

“We’re hoping Elmira people will come to check it out … along with the groups that will be attending.”

Tickets are $10 for the two plays July 24, and $20 for the four plays on Saturday, including a lunch. Weekend passes are $25 for all six plays and Saturday’s lunch. Tickets are available at the door or by calling (519) 669-3230.

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