Okotoks’ longest-running theatre group pulled out all the stops for a sold-out run.
The Dewdney Players’ stage production of The Full Monty closed out a record-breaking run last Saturday after three weeks, selling out each night, filling the Rotary Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) to capacity and selling a total of 1,500 tickets.
“It’s been the most surreal ride,” said director Sherene Seders in an interview on closing night. Right from the beginning of it when we got started and wondering when we were going to be able to do it, to rehearsals and when we got into the theatre.
“Then it was sold out show after sold out show – last night we had women throwing their panties on stage – just amazing reception. People want pictures with the cast when all is said and done.”
Having been put off since 2020 because of the pandemic, producing the show was daunting, not just in terms of expectations, but technical and social aspects.
“As soon as I looked at the script, I knew there were going to be some challenges with the set,” Seders said. “They had a woman urinating up the wall, they had a man hanging himself, and then six men stripping on stage.
“Then you go, ‘Oh my goodness, are people even going to come out and audition?’ and ‘Who’s going to be brave enough to do this?'
“Then as soon as you put the tickets up for sale, I was like, ‘We’re in Okotoks, it’s a pretty conservative community; are people even going to come to the show?' And they did, in droves.”
On Dewdney’s playbill for the first time ever was Wayne Arsenault, who played laid off crane operator Dave.
“When we had our first rehearsal, where we had to get down to our underwear, it was just our choreographer (Claire Hoyer) and our director,” Arsenault said. “It was funny, because at the time we were sort of still getting to know each other we were uncomfortable just doing that, in front of each other, in front of these two people, but once we’d done that, we just got more and more comfortable as rehearsals went on.
“By the time the show came we were ready and we were comfortable – like every actor we love the attention, so the hollering and stuff just makes it more fun and entertaining.
“You forget all the negative stuff and you just have fun with it.”
His character isn’t just struggling with joblessness, but body image issues that men are often expected to just get over, issues Arsenault himself has dealt with.
“I just kind of put that into the character and went with that,” he said. “Dave is very similar to who I am; he likes to be the jokester, but he’s also very insecure with himself, because that’s who I am in real life.”
This wasn’t Arsenault’s first time on stage, with over a decade of credits, most recently in Beauty and the Beast, produced by Painted Fish Performing Arts Society in Calgary.
“I’ve been acting with my daughter for the last 10 years, and we’ve done a lot of shows together,” Arsenault said, adding The Full Monty was only the second show he had ever done without her.
With the show wrapping up, he’s moving right on to playing in The Sound of Music with Painted Fish, but hopes to be back on Dewdney's stage.
“I’m really happy for these guys, and I really look forward to doing a lot more stuff with them,” Arsenault said, expressing his gratitude for Matt and Sherene Seders, the producer and director of the play, respectively.
For Dewdney regular Dave Elder, who played queer pretty-boy Guy, The Full Monty was nothing short of a miracle from a technical perspective.
“It’s a bit of a whirlwind, and it's really no different from any play; at first you have some high hopes and you can’t conceive or conceptualize how it’s going to play out,” Elder said.
"The early steps of rehearsing a play its completely unformed, just this amorphous idea of what might happen, but you leave it in the background going ‘Oh it’ll probably come together.’
"Then as it gets close to performance day, there’s always this rise in tension about a month prior where you can't imagine it being ready, and especially a show like this that has a lot of moving parts, and a lot of details that have to go off correctly, or you could be in a lot of trouble.”
Some of the realities and technical demands of the show only manifest in those final days as the show sets up in the theatre.
“Some of those strange details that have to be left until the very end of the rehearsal process; you don’t always have the costumes, you aren’t on your completed set,” Elder said.
“When you’re in the process of finalizing, you’re in the theatre at last, there’s so much that has to fall into place and everybody is frantically running around remembering ‘Okay I have to go out here and come in here, how is that going to happen, and how much time do I have to get changed?’
“But that it came so tight in the end was just a testament to the sheer willpower and amount of rehearsal and practice that everyone both on-stage and off took so seriously.”
As the show came together, so did the cast, and Elder had to be vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, finding himself cheeks to the wind more than once in the play.
“Something that a lot of the actors in this play had to do was put themselves in a different state, emotionally, sometimes sexually,” Elder said. “And it’s never easy but when the responsibility is on you to represent something that is of a serious nature, it’s something you can’t take lightly.
As the title implies, the ‘Monty Men’ go all the way in the story, but in reality, they wore a ‘modesty sock’, a specialized theatre garment that encloses the actor’s anatomy – barely – so they are never completely revealed.
“It’s the Full Monty, so absolutely there are situations where we are naked on stage, or very, very close to, and when something like that is happening, you have to all trust each other," Elder said.
“Going into it with an ensemble cast, I think that was one of the biggest things we came away with, that at the end of that show, we had such a profound trust with every other player on stage that helped us through that, gave us that courage to be these characters, be vulnerable both as these characters and be ourselves in these more sensitive situations.”
“Coming away from it I don’t think we could have possibly tackled it without that camaraderie and trust we built as a team,” Elder said.
“And make sure your modesty sock is real secure.”
Bums in seats weren't the only measure of success for the play, as the ‘Monty Men’ also produced a calendar with photos shot by Seders, sold to raise funds for men’s mental health programs provided by the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (Alberta) and Wild Rose Community Connections.
“So far we’ve collected over $1,000 for each of our charities,” Seders said.
This isn’t the first time the Players have played with the idea of a motley crew of middle-agers bearing it all, with the 2015 production of Calendar Girls, also directed by Sherene Seders (then Sherene Schmidtler), which also broke Dewdney's record for sales before The Full Monty.
The story of Calendar Girls centered on a woman who had lost her husband in hospice, and following his death rallied friends to raise funds to buy the hospice a settee (a type of couch) to improve comfort for those that came after her.
“They each kind of needed to come out of their own shell and live their truth and be brave,” Seders said.
It was fitting then that the calendar Dewdney produced with the cast for Calendar Girls raised approximately $5,000 for the Foothills Country Hospice.
The play was also a major success from the Town of Okotoks’ perspective, said Andrea Spiers with Culture & Heritage Services.
“We’ve had so many sold-out shows it’s been unbelievable,” Spiers said. “This is probably the best we’ve had in our entire run here at the RPAC.”
Even just since the RPAC resumed programming this fall, shows have consistently sold out.
“Rocky Horror and the Ennis Sisters sold out for us too,” Spiers said. “So we just want this momentum to keep going, because I think people just want to come out and have fun, and this show has proven that everybody is having a good time.”
The audience has left pleased each night, Spiers added.
“I haven’t heard one bad thing, not one negative comment,” she said. “Everybody leaves clapping – it's been wonderful.”
For information about future Dewdney productions, visit dewdneyplayers.com.
To learn more about upcoming entertainment at the RPAC, visit okotoksculture.ca.