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I’m getting used to dying at Fort Whoop-Up

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I’m getting used to getting shot and killed twice a week. By now, I must have more lives than a proverbial cat. I’ve got used to dying twice a week, not to mention going home half deaf from the gunfire though I don’t even fire any of the shots. Because I’m getting murdered this summer, multiple times, every Friday and Saturday until the end of August.

And sore ribs and nastTom Purcell (Jonathan Kirsch) reloads during Siege. Photo by Richard Ameryy colds aside, it’s been a lot of fun despite crowds not being as large as we hoped.

While Fred Kanouse and his whiskey trading band of scoundrels are putting the fort under siege this summer,  Northwest Mounted Police officer Cst.  Arthur C Tabor, Fort Whoop Up manager David Akers and his friends already have the situation under control.

Siege at Fort Whoop-Up — the Wedding is a production of local improv group Drama Nutz in conjunction with  Fort Whoop -Up which runs every Friday and Saturday until Aug. 28.

All of the characters in the play are based on real people around Fort Whoop Up in 1877, when the play takes place, however the situation is completely fictional.

I’m playing Joseph  MacFarland, the unfortunate groom  whose wedding to Marcella Sheran , older sister of Nicholas Sheran, Lethbridge’s original coal mining mogul, is interrupted by some of Kanouse’s cronies, looking to break him out of the Fort Whoop Up jail.

“I’ve said it again and again, never let history get in the way of a good story. 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,” director Dave Gabert said adding the Siege evolved from previous activities at Fort Whoop -Up including  the ‘Wild West Weekend.’Marcella Sheran (Bev Stadelmaan) wields a pistol during Siege at Fort Whoop Up.Photo by Richard Amery

Gabert said the format of Siege at Fort Whoop Up is partially a response to requests from Fort Whoop Up patrons, so it combines dinner theatre (a barbecued hamburger dinner is served) with the murder mysteries Drama Nutz is known for with  suggestions from Fort Whoop  Up patrons.
Because working with real vintage 1800s weapons and real black powder can be unpredictable, there is no script per se. Gabert wrote up a detailed character descriptions, designed detailed plot points and had the actors improvise all of the dialogue, so the show is different every night.

I’ve enjoyed my first time working with Drama Nutz. And you know what? Dying hurts, rather  pretending to die hurts —  a lot. I’ve cracked a couple ribs and did something to  my left arm, while a couple cast members have dragged my body off the set. It’s all in good fun and now I know what actors who do their own stunts, like Jackie Chan and Harrison Ford, must feel like after they shoot a scene.

Newcomer Noel Burles, who looks like he stepped right out of the wild west,  has also enjoyed his first time working with the Drama Nutz.
“I‘ve done a lot of different things in my life, but never anything like this,” said Burles, who plays villain William Conrad and who also plays some wicked mandolin at the front gates to help greet the guests. I get to play too, when there are no guests to greet. After all we are supposed to be enemies


William Conrad (Noel Burles) looking menacing. Photo by Richard AmeryIt’s been a lot of fun thinking of ways to insult his brother Charles Conrad (played by Gord Tolton) when he tries to crash my wedding as I get to play bouncer too. That’s been a lot of fun greeting the guests while throwing out the bad guys at the beginning. It keeps me on my toes too, because I never know what these Conrads will try to pull next.

 It’s also been fun giving tours of the Fort in character, not to mention listening to some of the other characters giving tours and enjoying their unique take on the whiskey trading days of yore.

“I was asked to come in and do some voice work for the Fort and I guess they liked my look. I was really honoured to  be asked to come in,” Burles said, a complete counterpoint in real life to his menacing character.

And having the Guns of the Golden West coming in from Calgary to add extra firepower is  always a lot of fun because we never know which new faces will be appearing.

“ I like to learn new things,” Burles continued, who is enjoying exploring some of Lethbridge’s wild west history.

This is something I share with a lot of the cast— discovering  Lethbridge’s whiskey trading, fur trading whoop up history. The real Joseph MacFarland  was one of the first  commercial dairy farmers in the area, whose biggest customer was the Northwest Mounted Police.
MacFarland and Marcella’s marriage was also the first marriage of a pioneer couple in the Lethbridge area. I’m enjoying meeting lots of new people, not to mention learning how to actually make bullets as we spend Tuesdays making ammunition for the weekend shows.
We clean the cartridges, add the new primers, fill the cartridges with gunpowder , pack it down with cotton and a sticker to prevent leaks and we’re good to go.

And even though I know my wedding is going to be interrupted by gunfire every night about 8 p.m., I still jump at the first shot.  So check it out. Come and see me killed, listen to the gunfire and the cannons go off. It’s a blast.
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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