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Lethbridge people escape winter by working on cruise ships

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 When Old Man Winter is spitting snow and dripping ice and Mother Nature is howling her head off with her chilly voice, one’s mind wanders to sandy beaches, cool breezes, palm trees, squawking seagulls and exotic locales.
 So what better way to escape a Canadian winter, than working on a cruise ship and seeing the world for a couple of weeks, maybe even months.
 Several Lethbridge people did just that.

 Kyle Gruninger, who returned home to Lethbridge for a few weeks in December to perform with New West Theatre, spent much of the last year playing the perfect gig for a musician— singing on a cruise ship.
 “I started off in Australia and spent four months cruising on the south Pacific,” said Gruninger, in between New West shows, noting musicians have to do whatever possible to eat, and found working cruise lines to be an ideal fit while waiting for a record deal for his band Incura to come together.

After the show “Starlight” ended, he got on board a Carnival cruise ship, which is currently cruising around the Caribbean.Sheena Lawson enjoyed working  in the spa on a cruise ship. Photo by Richard Amery
But after the Australia  tour, he caught other ships sailing out of New Orleans, Long Beach, California and Mobile, Alabama.
“They went to many different places,” he said, noting all he had to do was sing, so he was able to get off the ship and see  the sights.
“You can walk to your gig and then walk back home after it. It really is a dream gig. You don’t have to drive anywhere either,” he said, noting he sang with a variety of different musical combos on the ship including everything from rock bands to musical revues similar to New West Theatre shows.
“It was pretty rigorous. I’d usually be singing from eight to midnight every night. I’d be singing everything from classic rock, disco, pretty much all styles,
“When I wasn’t singing, I got to get off the ship and go cave tubing and scuba diving,” he said.
“But you can’t get sick and you can’t stop. I’d play theme nights like ’80s nights, I’d sing in acoustic duos and solo as well. There was lots of different styles of music. it was definitely a lot of work,” he continued.

“But it was really a pleasure  to do it. Just being a singer was brilliant,” he said.
 He noted he took full advantage of a trip to New York several years ago to audition for a variety of productions and decided to apply to Carnival while he was there.
 Two years and and lot of work later, he got the call to work on a ship.
“I auditioned for three shows while I was there,” he said.
“Now I’ve been on five ships in the past two years,” he enthused.
Sheena Lawson, who often performs with the Herb Hicks Jazz Quartet, also spent most of 2017 on a cruise ship, but went about it differently— she got a job working with British company, Steiner Leisure, working in one of their shipboard spas and parlayed that into a side gig singing on board ship.

“Steiner has spas on 160 ships” she observed, noting it took her about two years of patience and a lot of work, not to mention her own money on flights to Britain for training, before she got accepted to Southampton based P & O Cruise line operating  out of Australia.Kyle Gruninger performing with New West Theatre. Photo by Richard Amery
She was impressed with the diversity of the employees.
“The guests were mostly Aussies and Chinese people,” she said.

“There were a lot of Filipinos working doing laundry and housekeeping. There were some Americans, but also a lot of East Indians, Sri Lankans,  South Africans and a couple of us from Canada— one videographer from Toronto and another person from Vancouver,” she observed.
“ There were also three musicians from Canada. They had agents, who got them that gig,” she said, noting she soon made friends with the musicians, who eventually let her sing with them, which turned into a paying gig.
“I brought my charts with me,” she said.
“So I got to do some performing and was hired by P & O,” she said.
 That made an already long day even longer.
“I’d have to be at the spa at 7:30 a.m. when we‘d have to pick up the laundry and then do an hour of training because training is really important,” she said adding they’d pressure the spa workers about making sales quotas.
“We’d have about seven guests a day for approximately an hour and 15 minutes,” she said, noting she also got a lot of exercise.

“There were a lot of stairs. Our quarters were on deck three and the spa was on deck 14,” she recalled. She noted she was lucky with accommodations.
“There were only two people in my room. I was sharing my room with a fitness instructor, who worked next to me in the spa.  Some of the others had six to a room in bunk beds,” she said.
She observed the Filipinos controlled things for the staff who made a little extra money on the side.
“They have a thing called the Filipino mafia. If you needed something fixed you’d pay them and they’d fix it for you,” she noted, adding most of them were working to send money home to their families.Though they weren’t mafia in the traditional sense of the  term.

“There is a zero, zero tolerance for physical violence and fighting. Even verbal abuse,” she said.
 She noted ships are different. Some have more classes than others.
“On the first ship, crew weren’t allowed up on the passenger deck without  a name badge and uniform. It must have been two weeks before I discovered I had deck privileges,” Lawson said, noting crew had their own bar to socialize in.
“We’d always meet at the crew bar after work. Some people were on board for six months and others for five days, so somebody was always  leaving the ship, so we’d all meet there to say our farewells,” she said.
 She also got to do some exploring in between shifts.
“The spa would be closed during excursions, so we could go in them too as long as we were back by 2:30 p.m. when the spa opened again, she said, adding she got to explore a lot of Australia including Sydney, New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia and numerous island nations.

“A lot of the crew went snorkelling, though I had no interest in snorkelling,” she said.
She did a lot of research before applying to work on the cruise ship, finding where most of her crew mates applied.
“It took me about two-and-a-half years cost me about $3,000— about $5,000 including flights. They really want to make sure you want to work on a cruise ship,” she said, adding once she was accepted they’d pay for the flight to the port where their assigned ship was docked.

 She noted she’d like to work on another cruise ship and was offered a contract in December, but she turned it down to take care of family business.
“Though it was very tempting when it‘s -50 with wind chill,” she said.

Newlyweds Jocelyn  and Devon Brayne had a perfect honeymoon they got a job sailing around the Caribbean, working with Disney Cruise Lines.
“Disney Cruise Lines had the first open casting call  in Calgary in 10 years, so a group of our friends got really excited about it and went up because we all grew up loving Disney. Devon went along begrudgingly because he didn’t want to be away from home that long, because character contracts are quite a bit longer at nine months. He was the only one who got cast,” related Jocelyn Brayne, noting her husband was cast as a good friend of both Goofy and Captain Jack Sparrow.
 “Then we went looking for jobs that I was qualified for on and until we found one,” related Brayne, whose naturally bubbly and outgoing personality  ended up best suited for a job as entertainment hostess.
“They wanted people with two years  experience with a microphone, a background in entertainment and  in customer service, so that was  me,” she enthused.


Hatrix holding auditions for A Comedy of Tenors next week

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Hatrix theatre  is excited to present a new Ken Ludwig comedy “A Comedy of Tenors, May 24-26 at the Eagles Hall. And they are hoping you will join them on stage.
 So get to auditions at Casa, Jan. 23  from 7-9 p.m.

 The 2015 play is the unofficial sequel to Ludwig’s hit comedy  “Lend me a Tenor,” which features a few of the same characters including dogsbody Max, who has become a famous tenor himself in the ensuing 10 years since  the antics of Lend Me  A Tenor. So his his neurotic mentor and boss Saunders.

And famous tenor Tito Morelli and his ever feuding wife  Maria return also.

 This time you get to meet Tito’s doppleganger.
“ Ken Ludwig combines his love of Shakespeare and opera in A Comedy of Tenors,” observed director Karolyn Harker, noting you don’t need to know anything about either one of them to audition for the show. You don’t even need to know how to sing.
“We’ll probably order a tape, but if you can, that would be great. But we don’t want that to stop you from auditioning,” Harker continued.


Yates renovations force local theatre groups to improvise with weird spaces

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 Theatre can happen anywhere, and in part, due to the closure of the Yates Theatre for renovations last year, it has as local theatre and arts groups have been performing anywhere they are able to.
 Due to asbestos, the re-opening  of the Yates Centre has been tentatively postponed to July.

“We usually have a main stage production in February, so when the Yates closed, it was challenging,” said Playgoers of Lethbridge board president Elaine Jagielski, who is also directing their upcoming dinner theatre of the British comedy “ Beyond a Joke.”
“We Playgoers of Lethbridge rehearses for their play “Beyond a Joke” in an upstairs room at the Southminster United Church. Photo by Richard Ameryalways do well with dinner theatres,” Jagielski observed, noting usually they do a main stage production in February, but had to re-evaluate their plans as a result of the Yates Theatre closure.
The Derek Benfield penned British comedy “ Beyond a Joke,” runs Feb. 7-10 at the Italian Canadian Club featuring actors Rob Berezay, Jocelyn Steinborn, Aaron Tyslan, Stephanie Wickham, Kevin Reddyk, Marcie Stork and Howard Pearson.

Jagielski emphasized the biggest problem community theatre groups face is finding a place to rehearse and perform that is affordable and will welcome them in.
“It has been challenging to find alternate places to perform,” she said, noting there is such a demand for performing spaces apart from theatre group, that there is a lot of competition to  get into a space.
She noted Playgoers approached numerous venues for their upcoming production.

 “We looked into the College Drive Community Church and  the French Canadian centre, who have a nice stage, but it wouldn’t have worked for a dinner theatre. We even looked at the Gem of the West Museum in Coaldale, but there is an open space in the middle of it and there are pillars in the way. We even looked at the community hall in Diamond City, but we weren’t sure if people would be willing to drive that far,” she said.

“There’s a lot of interesting spaces, but it is challenging trying to find one that is cost effective and aren’t booked up. All of the spaces are booked up,” she said.
 They are rehearsing for “Beyond a Joke” at Southminster United Church.

“We have a relationship with them and we’ve had people who are involved with our plays who are also involved with the church,” she said, adding she is appreciative of their support for Playgoers.

LCI usually has a main stage production, however, they decided to use their own theatre instead for their December production of “Anne of Green Gables.”
Frewin noted putting on the musical has been a challenge.
“We’re working with a smaller stage than we’re used to, especially for a musical,” said drama teacher Kelly Frewin, noting they put on a musical every three years or so.
While Hatrix Theatre isn’t affected by the closure of the Yates, they still use alternate spaces for their productions. They have been using the Moose Hall for productions like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Avenue Q” to name a few, though they put on Spamalot in the Yates.

The other arm of Hatrix, has used the Nord bridge Seniors Centre for their past two productions of “12 Angry Jurors” and “the Game’s Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays.”

 Utilizing a space which is already used by other community organizations and events presents its own unique set of technical problems.
“You still need to find a place to meet. And for the show, you need to think of audience visibility,” said Hatrix Theatre’s Karolyn Harker.

“You have two choices, you have to either raise the audience or raise the stage. And if it is used for other events, you have to tear it all down,” she continued, adding lights also have to be moved at the end of the show.
“When there’s no fixed lights, they have to be changed each night too. And there’s no backstage area,” she said.

 “That limits the director’s choices unless there is a space you can lead actors off into a separate room. That’s why I chose 12 Angry Jurors. The actors were on stage all the time and there was consistent lighting with no special effects,” she continued, adding she enjoyed working with Nord Bridge using their space when nobody else was using it.

 She is planning a May production of Ken Ludwig’s “ A Comedy of Tenors,” which features some of the same characters, though it isn’t a sequel. It will be a location to be determined.
New West Theatre was probably the theatre group most affected by the Yates closure, so ended up having shows at an assortment of various locations all over the city.
“We chose  plays based on the spaces we expected to be in. So a lot of extra time went into planning,” said New West Theatre General manger Derek Stevenson. They utilized the Trianon Art Gallery for “Vigil,” which was a collaboration with Club Didi, held a Christmas show at The multicultural Centre downtown, Chinook High School for their big annual winter musical revue of “Starlight” and used the Casa community room for their theatre for young people’s production of “Hansel and Gretel.” They will be in the University Theatre for “Ms. Sugarcube,” their final production of the season, Feb. 21-24.

“The Trianon was a perfect match for the Vigil,” Stevenson said, noting who you know is an important part of being able to get access unusual spaces.
“Sharon Peat (New West Artistic Director) is really good friends with the Savilles who own the the Trianon,” observed Theatre Outré general manager Jay Whitehead.
“And it’s an art gallery, so we had to move in seating and lighting and black out the windows, because there were a lot of blackouts in the play. We were set up for two weeks. They were very generous,” Whitehead said.
“It takes place in the attic of an old house, so the space really suited the play,” Whitehead said.

“When we‘re paying professional actors, we’re hoping at the very least to break even,” Stevenson said.
“We also had to think about parking and audience accessibility, especially because the audience for the musical comedy revue are elderly,” Stevenson said, adding they had to do a lot of organizing in a short time, with three of their shows this season happening  within a month.
“They were  bam, bam, bam, one right after the other, which was also difficult for people like Erica (Hunt) and Kathy (Zaborsky,) who were involved in all three of them.


Cast has lots of fun with Hansel and Gretel

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ICamille Pavlenko and Kelly Malcolm rehearse for New West Theatre’sproduction of hansel and Gretel. Photo by Richard Amery f your kids are getting antsy, or maybe you just want to get out and do something frantic and fun, check out the matinee of New West Theatre’s Theatre for Young People’s production of Hansel and Gretel running at Casa at 1 p.m. until Jan. 6.
 Director Sharon Peat penned the hour long adaptation of popular children’s tale Hansel and Gretel.

It features energetic cast members Kelly Malcolm, Ryan Reese and Camille Pavlenko playing an array of different characters using a variety of different accents as the kids (Ryan Reese and Camille Pavlenko) act out the story with their babysitter (Kelly Malcolm).

 As always there is crowd participation as the audience is asked to “act like water” to scare away trolls chasing the Hansel and Gretel, a fun device that could be used a little more often.

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