The cast of the Merry Andrew Players production of The Golden Fleecing or the Undermining of Sarah Sweetflower – Verna Markey, Douglas Aalseth, Ronda Thornett, Shawn Markey, Brandon Erga, Lisa Wengel and Kaliandra Fawdry (from left) – rehearse at St. Andrew’s United Church. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

New theatre group in Nanaimo stages its debut production this month

The Merry Andrew Players present ‘The Golden Fleecing or the Undermining of Sarah Sweetflower’

A new Nanaimo theatre company is putting on its inaugural production, with all proceeds going to St. Andrew’s United Church.

On Feb. 16 and 17 the Merry Andrew Players present The Golden Fleecing or the Undermining of Sarah Sweetflower, a 1980 melodrama by American playwright R. Eugene Jackson. The play takes place in an Old West Mining town during the gold rush.

Producer and director Doug MacIntyre describes melodrama as “high comedy or low farce, whichever way you look at it.”

“When I read a script, I want to be able to say, ‘I can really take those black letters off the white page and do something with them,’” he said. “That’s one of my credos: Take the word off the page and make something of them. In fact, things that are not even on the page are injected into my productions.”

MacIntyre said there challenges putting together a theatre group from scratch and he is grateful to St. Andrew’s for providing the venue and to the city for providing support.

He said members of the church congregation are helping with lighting, sewing and selling tickets, but to assemble his cast he had to look outside the church as well, asking every “warm body” he could find, “Hi, have you ever been on stage? Would you like to be on stage?”

He said the actors he found were “top-notch.”

“Darned if I didn’t get seven of the best. And some of them are experienced actors and some are not,” MacIntyre said. “I love doing that kind of work, working with the newbies and bringing them into theatre and saying, ‘Look, even if you only do this once in your life, you’ve done it and I will show you how to do it. I will take the reins.’”

One of those “newbies” is Verna Markey, who plays the gunslinging Big Bad Granny. She said she’s always wanted to act but never had the opportunity. When this one “landed in my lap,” she couldn’t refuse. She said MacIntyre has already asked her to be in another production.

“Now that we’ve practised for the length of time that we have I’m feeling like I’m getting into the role a lot more,” she said. “At first it was very strange.”

Audience interaction is import to MacIntyre, and there is a point in the play where the action will stop and someone from the audience will be sought out to play a role.

“When you get into melodrama, you can do just about anything you want,” he said.

WHAT’S ON … The Merry Andrew Players present The Golden Fleecing at St. Andrew’s United Church. Dinner theatre on Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m., matinee on Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets $28 on Feb. 16, $16 on Feb. 17. Available at 250-753-1924 or 250-327-3086.

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