A family that spent many formative years in the Foothills area is living proof a passion for the arts helped to enrich their own lives. A life enriched by living in the Foothills.
For Wayne Corner, his wife Carol Case, and their children Brenna and Ben, the arts have defined and shaped their family experience right from the beginning.
A director’s voice
No matter where life took her, a woman raised in Foothills County knew the arts would be part of her world
Even as life took her to the Peach State.
“It was pretty much by osmosis. I sort of grew up around the theatre, playing among the costume racks, that kind of thing,” said Corner, a director with Atlanta Opera. “The arts was always what I wanted to do – theatre was just something I was enamoured with.”
Brenna and her brother Ben were introduced to the arts as soon as they were in the crib. Mom Carol Case and Dad Wayne met while working at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg.
They would later raise their young family at their acreage west of High River, near Women’s Coulee after the Corners moved there in 1998.
“Art is part of our family life – it's part of how we are,” Case said, who is a costume designer and has worked on several TV and film productions in the Foothills area.
Ben and Brenna grew up with music at their schools, while acting in community theatre and always taking part in the arts around the Foothills area.
Playing dress-up as a young girl for her mom’s costumes sparked a love of theatre for Brenna.
“I have a distinct memory of her making costumes for a new production of The Nutcracker in Calgary and she needed someone to be in the mouse outfit,” the 35-year-old Brenna said with a laugh from Atlanta. “I remember definitely being the stand-in for all those fittings.”
Wearing all those costumes led to a passion for theatre, particularly musical theatre. She acted with Windmill Theatre Players in High River, playing Josie Pye in Anne of Green Gables, among her several appearances on the Highwood Memorial Centre stage. (Alberta High School of Fine Arts grad Lindsay Angell, now an award-winning actor in Vancouver, played the lead.)
Brenna credits community theatre, like Windmill, for fuelling her passion as a young actor.
“The first time I was on stage through Windmill, I didn’t realize how important that was – there is something beautiful about doing theatre with people who do it because they love it,” she said of community theatre.
Her passion drew her to musical theatre, and she was a regular participant in that discipline at the Highwood Music Lions Festival.
“When I was little, I loved music,” Brenna said. “But as I got older what I discovered I really love is storytelling through music...
“That’s what took me into opera, because it is all musical storytelling.”
Brenna, a 2003 Highwood High School grad, would later graduate from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of arts degree in music.
One of her first acting gigs after university was as part of a touring group that presented Shakespeare plays to schools.
An actor has to learn to pivot.
A vehicle accident in northern Alberta in 2008 while travelling with the group put an end to her opera career.
“We were doing a touring production of Romeo and Juliet and in that crash, I paralyzed my voice," she said. "That's what took me into directing because I couldn’t sing anymore, I couldn’t act anymore because my voice wasn’t strong enough.”
She said she was fortunate to be able to use the experience gained from trying on her mom’s costumes and her Windmill Theatre, Lions Music Festival and university performances which, combined with her perseverance, resulted in her ultimately getting a job in the director’s chair.
“I was working with Vancouver Opera, where they have a training program for young artists and I was directing for them,” Brenna said. “A woman in Vancouver, who was from the States, helped me get to New York and someone from Atlanta called New York and said: ‘We need someone. And they said ‘Would you take Brenna?'
"Three weeks later I was in Atlanta.”
While she no longer sings from the stage, she has helped hundreds of actors with her direction, which includes Calgary Opera’s La Bohéme in 2019, Seattle Opera’s Don Giovanni in 2021, San Diego Opera’s Hansel and Gretel in 2020 and Carmen in Atlanta and more.
“When I first stopped singing, I used to really miss being able to communicate with an audience,” Brenna said. “But what I really love about directing is I get to help these incredible performers nuance and create stories around them and with them.
“It gets to be much more collaborative than if I would have just been a singer.”
Arts by design
Clothes help make the man, including the ones Carol Case picks out for the likes of Kevin Costner and other actors.
As a costume designer, Case has helped dress many actors, from Heartland’s Amber Marshall to Costner, who recently made a film with Diane Lane in High River.
“As a designer, I did the first two seasons of Fargo. That is the one most of the people in Foothills would know, and I did five seasons of Hell on Wheels,” Case said. “I started out my film costume designing with Heartland, that was the springboard to get me going with other things.”
She is presently working on Billy the Kid, which is being filmed in the Foothills area. A production that has legendary chuckwagon drivers Rick Fraser, Buddy Bensmiller and others doing stunt work, under the direction of head wrangler for the production, John Scott out of Longview.
It was while cutting her teeth in the Peg that she met her husband to be.
She met Wayne while she was a ‘junior cutter’ working in Winnipeg in the fall of 1977.
“I was a junior cutter in the costume department and Wayne worked as a production assistant/truck driver for the technical department,” Carol said.
She received her training at Wimbledon Arts School in England and after working at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and then the Stratford Museum in Ontario before the University of Manitoba,
It’s a career that has had her rummaging and creating clothes for the most bizarre characters.
That includes dressing puppets, with the help of shopping locally.
“I just did a really small gig on Fraggle Rock,” Case said. “I needed a few things and I ended up going to the salvage centre at the (Foothills Regional) landfill. They had all kinds of stuff. There is amazing stuff to be found if you poke around and take your time.
“I have also found lots of great things at the Sally Ann in High River.”
A break from the beat
Ben Corner is taking a break from beating the path to a musical career. He’s switched to the underground scene.
That would be under the earth, not underground music.
“I am taking my third year of my undergrad, I’m taking geophysics,” said the 33-year-old Corner, a University of Calgary student. “I am planning to take my master’s.”
He admits the sciences are totally different than what he expected to study while growing up.
“I was raised in a wardrobe truck on set, I pretty well just knew the arts,” Ben said with a laugh. “I liked it.
“I don’t recall my mom ever using me as a model, but whenever they needed an extra on set, I would usually get thrown into it.
“I did the TV show Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, when I was a little kid. And when I was in high school, I did September Dawn, which was kind of a weird western.”
Music, however, was his first love, particularly the drums.
His first lessons were from Nathan Boucher in Okotoks.
“I think what happened is I asked my mom if I could take drum lessons and I really enjoyed it,” Ben said. “I know in middle school I was in Herb Froese’s band class and there were no drummers. Someone knew I had taken drum lessons, so I sat behind a drum set and that was it.
“It just blossomed from there.”
After graduation from Highwood, Ben received an associate degree in music while attending the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles.
“That was crazy fun,” he said. “It was a super time to be 21 in L.A. and playing music.”
While focused on his studies, he was able to play music from jazz to rock to country while jamming with friends at the eclectic school.
Although he had a temporary work visa in L.A., work was hard to come by.
“I came home to High River and moped, so one day, it triggered to me that I am going to go to Toronto,” Ben said. “I made a little bit of money, not much, but that is why I decided to go back into theatre.”
He worked behind the scenes across Canada – thanks in part to family connections.
A lot of his work had him travelling back to Calgary – one of his first jobs was the Grandstand Show at the Stampede. He ultimately moved back west and worked in the theatre behind the scenes.
“I loved it, but I couldn’t see myself doing it long-term,” Ben said. “I wanted to get a good career job, I started telling people I either wanted to study mechanical engineering or geophysics.
“And everybody said: ‘What is geophysics?’ For me that was really cool. It was a 100 per cent roll of the dice gamble for me to go back to school, but I love it.”
A new bluesman
You can teach an old stagehand to do new things with his hands.
After years of building props and sets, Wayne Corner has turned back to playing music.
“I have always been fascinated by music and theatre ever since high school, which was in Montreal,” said Wayne.“Montreal was where I first learned to play guitar and I got interested in theatre. As a child of the ‘60s, the way to meet girls was to play an instrument.”
He and wife Carol went on to work together in theatre at Manitoba, Theatre Calgary, the famed Stratford Theatre and others as the theatre lovebirds followed the work.
The couple settled in Calgary with thoughts of raising a family in 1983. Carol worked at Theatre Calgary and Wayne took welding technology at SAIT – as many theatre productions were switching from wood to metal.
“When I came out of SAIT, I was a metal worker and welder for a group that did a lot of work for Alberta Theatre Players and Theatre Calgary,” Wayne said. “I built a carriage for Cinderella for Alberta Ballet and they (Theatre Calgary) did K2 (in 1985) and the mountain was all made of steel.”
He worked outside of theatre in the late 1980s to provide a stable income for his family as things turned tough in the arts when the price of oil plummeted.
The whole time he never lost his love for music. In the late 1990s, Carol gave him a guitar lover’s dream.
“I always dabbled in music and when I turned 50, Carol said, ‘I am going to give you music lessons at Mel’s,” Wayne said.
Mel is the late Mel Wilson, local legend and former Black Diamond/High River resident, who played with Ian Tyson. Wayne also has been taking slide guitar lesson from Tim Williams for the past several years. Williams is a fixture on the Canadian blues scene.
“I became fascinated with the slide guitar ever since,” Corner said. “He’s a great guy and a very good teacher.”
Corner then began jamming and helping out a few bands, often at Gitters, a pre-flood bar in High River.
Corner became a member of the bluesy bluegrass band Spitzee Post in 2013, a band formed out of the muddy waters of the great flood of that year.
“We like to say we put the blues in bluegrass,” Wayne said. “After the flood Joe (Gore) started asking around to form a band to play ‘new-grass’ music. We formed in the aftermath of the flood. Gitters was gone and in 2013, the band was hosting a jam at Spitzee Post bar and we named it after the bar.”
The band tightened up as it hosted the jams. It has since played the Coombs Bluegrass Festival, Shady Grove festival and in late July, Spitzee Post played at the Blueberry Bluegrass Jam in Stony Plain.
Wayne’s retirement from work in 2016 led to a special project.
He released his solo CD I’m Here You’re There in 2016, which was produced by High River’s Karla Adolphe.
“Karla had a song-writing class and out of that came a bunch of songs,” Wayne said. “She said: ‘Wayne, you are like my dad. You are retired and you need something to do.’
“I told her I would put out a CD only if she would produce it.”
The opening track is Prairie Women, a tribute to women from Fort Saskatchewan – Carol’s hometown – to Winnipeg, where they met.
Not only does it sound good,it looks good. The cover and back cover are by High River's Don Hamm, who has several of his paintings on display in Okotoks and area galleries.
The CD pleased the ear of some harsh critics.
“I love it, I am so proud of what my dad is doing, he has taken his passion to a new level,” Ben said.
“He started taking lessons, he worked so hard,” Brenna said. “Very impressive.”
There is plenty of pride around the Corners.
“I think the arts has made a huge difference. It is a part of their lives and always will be part of their lives,” Case said of her children. “Even if they change direction and do something else with their lives, art enriches their lives, that’s the most important part.
“It gives you a different way to look at things.”
She said High River and the Foothills community are supportive of the arts.
“Both the kids blossomed, there are lots of things to do if you tap into it,” Carol said. “It’s like a giant family. People still ask me, how is Brenna doing? Is Ben still playing the drums?’
“They grew up with the community supporting them.”