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L.A. Beat

Fort Whoop Up under siege by Drama Nutz

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If you hear gunshots  and cannon fire echoing over the coulees,  every Friday and Saturday beginning this Friday, don’t worry, it’s just Fort Whoop -Up under attack by Fred Kanouse and his whiskey trading band of scoundrels.

Don’t call the police though, Cst. Tabor (Terry Edwards) apprehends Fred Kanouse  (Jon MacBurnie). Photo by Richard Amerybecause Northwest Mounted Police officer Cst.  Arthur C Tabor, Fort Whoop Up manager David Akers and his friends already  have things under control. Because in the world of theatre, the good guys almost always win.

Siege at Fort Whoop-Up is a production of local improv group Drama Nutz in conjunction with  Fort Whoop -Up which runs every Friday and Saturday from July 24 to Aug. 28.

 It features some familiar faces and several newcomers.
“I’ll say it again and again, never let history get in the way of a good story,” said Drama Nutz director David Gabert , who also plays Dave Akers in the production, adding all of the characters are based on real historical characters, though the events transpiring are fictional.

 The play takes place in 1877 at the wedding of  Marcella Sheran (played by Bev Stadelman) , older sister of Fort Whoop Up coal mining mogul  David Sheran (played by David Adie), and Fort Macleod area rancher Joseph MacFarland (played  by Richard Amery). The wedding is unfortunately timed as Cpl. Tabor ( Terry  Edwards) has just apprehended murderer Fred Kanouse (Jon MacBurnie) and Kamouse’s men are planning a jailbreak.

 The actors are using real rifles and pistols, filled with real black powder ammunition (firing blanks of course). All of the actors completed and passed a government  gun safety training course.
 Calgary’s Guns of the Golden West add extra firepower.
 To make each show unique, all of the dialogue is completely improvised.Fred Kanouse (Jon MacBurnie) holds Marcella (Bev  Stadelmann) hostage. Photo by Richard Amery

“Rather than writing a script, we wrote detailed character descriptions. Fortunately I’ve  had the honour of working with four or five members of the cast before. We found when you add extra elements, like guns, you don’t know what is going to happen, guns jam and safety becomes paramount ,” Gabert said adding a written script can quickly go by the wayside.

“We’re interested in  portraying interesting events rather than  the characters, which we admittedly don’t know a lot about. We’re bringing the Fort to life , so to speak, and using theatre is a great way to do that,” he said adding the Siege evolved from previous activities at Fort Whoop -Up including  the ‘Wild West Weekend.”

“It was just the gunfight. It was a great spectacle, but nothing for the audience to connect with” he continued adding after discussions with Fort Whoop-Ups executive director about the future, which examined the activities of the past,  the Siege at Fort Whoop Up was born, combining the stories from Drama Nutz murder mysteries and  the spectacle of the gunfight.

“I’d never directed anything with black powder or anything really, or anything involving more than one gun, let alone 14 guns, so the premise was simple, the bad guys attack the fort, the good guys  win,” he said adding because they are using the same characters, and the same actors portraying the same characters, they have grown.


“Fred Kanouse is cocky and more self-assured while Dave Akers is more timid and always asking other people for advice. So the play sets a different reality,” he said.

History buff Ron Hoar, who plays William Gladstone, is excited about being part of the Siege again.
“I like making lots of noise and shooting things, he laughed adding he was involved with a similar project in the early ’90s with Fort Edmonton and when he moved to Lethbridge, learned Fort Whoop Up’s ‘Black Powder Club’ was looking for volunteers and so happily got involved.

William Gladstone (Ron Hoar) cleans out a cannon. Photo by Richard Amery“My mother was proudly  Canadian, so when I came home talking about Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, my mother said they were Americans. We had a lot of exciting stuff happen in Canada too,” he said.
“I’ve always liked history  and I’m always a little disappointed  when I speak to Lethbridge people who don’t know  how Lethbridge   got it’s start,” he said.

University of Lethbridge drama student Bev Stadelmann is enjoying the improvisational aspect of the show.
“I started working here (at Fort Whoop Up) and found out what the Drama Nutz were doing. I like interacting with new people, so I like the improv at the beginning,” she said.

The wedding ‘guests’ will be treated to a barbecued hamburger dinner, after which the cast will visit with them and give tours of the fort for an hour before the action begins.

Another University of Lethbridge drama student , Curtis Gallagher, is enjoying  playing Jim McDevitt in his fifth show at Fort Whoop Up.
“I’ve been friends with David Gabert since university , so when he told me what he was doing, I got involved and kept coming back,” Gallagher said adding  he enjoys the exposure he gets in these productions.
“It’s a lot of fun and , plus it keeps me in practice as there’s not a lot of acting in the summer,” he said.

Siege at Fort Whoop up runs Friday and Saturday evenings, July 23- Aug. 28 from 7- 9 p.m. (Doors Open 6:30 p.m) at Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site
For tickets please call 403.892.8719 or 403.329.0444

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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