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Playgoers of Lethbridge get serious with “Daisy” at Sterndale Bennett

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Once upon a time, surprisingly, election ads were honest, dare we say positive. The infamous Daisy ad changed all that in 1964.Megan Fennell, Trevor Loman and Cole Fetting rehearse Daisy. Photo by Richard Amery
 So it is all the more relevant as  the U.S. kicks election season into gear.

Playgoers of Lethbridge explore  the effects of media and negative advertising in their production of Sean Devine’s 2017 play “Daisy,” running  Feb. 19-22 in the Sterndale Bennett Theatre.
 “Daisy” is departure from Playgoers of Lethbridge’s usual fare of light, bright comedies and dinner theatres  in that is explores more subject matter and is a lot more tech intensive.
“The Daisy ad changed political ads. The Daisy ad was like a hard punch to the gut versus blah, blah , blah, political speech, blah blah blah,” noted Playgoers of Lethbridge veteran Allen Gibson, who plays Bernbach ad agency boss Bill Bernbach.

“I’ve spent most of my life in advertising, so it was an ideal part for me,” Gibson continued, describing his character as ambitious and confident.
“ The agency DDB (Doyle Dane Bernbach) was struggling  and neededto  improve their reputation in 1964 and that all changed with the Daisy ad. Today they’re worth over $3 billion. I didn’t study the character, but I did study their ads because you can see them on the internet,” he said, noting the parallels between 1964 and today.
“ Back then, if you didn’t understand the power of television, you weren’t going to win election. Today if you don’t understand the power of social media, you’re not going to win,” he observed, adding he is glad to be back on stage with Playgoers.

“It’s an interesting change from the Odd Couple (in which he played Manolo, in Playgoers’ 2013 production of the show).

 The cast includes a lot of new faces to Playgoers of Lethbridge, though familiar for fans of Shakespeare in the Park and The University of Lethbridge Drama program.
Cole Fetting, Megan Fennell and Trevor Loman were all part of Shakespeare in the park’s previous production of McBeth. Fetting and Loman was also part of the University of Lethbridge’s fall production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
 Loman  is excited to play a different character in Sid Myers, Doyle Dane Bernbach’s art director.
“I’ve really enjoyed researching the ’60s– a decade long before i was born,” Loman said.
“Sid is very sensitive, He knows getting to work for the president is a really big deal,” he said.

“ It’s a really different character and it’s been a very different experience,” said Loman, adding he has enjoyed reconnecting with Fetting and Fennell again.
“It’s been great to work with Cole and Megan again,” he said.
Allen Gibson is also excited to perform with the cast.

“There is a lot of talent in the cast. So I’ve  enjoyed getting to spend time with them,” he said.
“ It’s two weeks from opening,” said director Rita Peterson, who was immediately  drawn to the script because of the timeliness of the subject matter.
“ The cast has been great but there is a lot of technical stuff,” she added,
“ It’s a political story that parallels what is going on today, especially in the United States,” she said.

“ It’s the story of the ad agency that was hired to get Lyndon B Johnson elected in the 1964 election. He became president  after John F Kennedy was assassinated, but he was never elected so he need a win and he needed to win big,” she continued, adding the “Daisy ad” was the result- a harrowing clip of a little girl plucking the petals of a flower while a countdown to a nuclear explosion echos in the background.

‘“ So it is also the story of the men behind the ad,” she said, noting Karl Airey, who was in Hatrix’s Production of Neil Simon’s “Rumours” last year,  plays Tony Schwartz, who devised the first attack ad against Republican candidate Barry Goldwater
“ He was a quiet, agoraphobic sound specialist,” Peterson  described.

Karl Airey and Allen Gibson rehearse Daisy. Photo by Richard Amery
“People were afraid of Goldwater because he was considered to be a loose cannon and people wanted a more peaceful president so they came up with the Daisy ad and it launched the age of negative advertising,” she said.
“ It’s been a challenge. But I hope audiences will come away with a better understanding of their responsibility as voters,” she said, adding while it is primarily a drama, it also has some funny moments
“It has quite a few funny moments,” she said.

“Daisy” runs at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19-22. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $23 in advance $26 at the door.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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