A perennial performer with the Charlottetown Festival, Glenda Landry is enjoying a whole new theatrical experience this winter.
She’s the newest member in Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors, a theatre group that is producing Extraordinary: The Extraordinary Life Of An Ordinary Woman.
“The rehearsal process has been great. We’ve shared lots of laughs. (Co-star) April Cook is a wonderful person to work with. I am thankful I am having this opportunity,” says Landry, after her performance at the Garden Home in Charlottetown last week.
However, even veteran theatre performers must learn to adjust. For Landry, the place to start was the stage.
Unlike performing in the expansive Homburg Theatre of the Confederation Centre of the Arts that has a traditional seating location in front of the performers, cast members in this show have been bringing their characters to life on small everyday stages of cafeterias, activity rooms in nursing homes and community halls where the boundary lines between the players and audience can sometimes be blurred.
“It’s been quite the journey for me. The first time we walked into a place to do a show, the performance area, which had people in beds, was as big as my kitchen. So I looked at stage management with my sunglasses on and said, ‘OK, you’re joking, right?’ He said, ‘Uh, no, this is it.’”
So, she adjusted herself accordingly.
“I’m not used to having people so close to me. So it’s been a period of growth. I am thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to learn this,” says Landry who, along with fellow cast member Cook and accompanist Sean Ferris, will give a public performance of the show at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside on March 16 at 2 p.m.
Landry has also learned to adapt to disturbances in the show.
“I’m used to people not talking or snoring when I perform but paying riveted attention as I make sure they’re entertained. Whereas anything can happen in this situation,” she says.
For example, last week in the middle of her monologue a lady wanted her purse.
“(After the disruption) of course, I go blank and I miss my lines, so I start moving ahead to move the story ahead. But (later, after the show), I have to cry to relieve my stress because I know I didn’t do my best. I have to be proud of myself at the end of the show. I have to be proud that I’ve delivered the best work. And I couldn’t because I was so distracted. But it’s my journey. It’s something I’m learning to live with,” says Landry who co-starred in Kitchen Witches and played Mrs. Pye in Anne of Green Gables – The Musical at the Charlottetown Festival last season.
The adjustment is necessary for the theatre company to achieve its mandate — enriching the lives of seniors — especially those in long-term care facilities.
“Because it’s a touring show and the space they play in varies, actors have to think on the fly, adapt their blocking and be aware that the audience is often two feet in front of them. They’re right there. So there may even be some interaction. But it’s something the actors are ready for and ready to work with,” says director Catherine O’Brien.
It’s a style of theatre that Cook is well versed in.
“Every time you do a show, it’s different. Every venue is different. Every time you perform you have a different group of people. As actors, we constantly have to get our bearings and keep from getting distracted.
“It’s like improv. Anything can happen. So it’s a great skill to have,” says Cook who is back for her second year after performing in the company’s production of Canada In Love, as well as the Confederation Centre’s production of The Wizard of Oz last year.
As with all theatre, the rewards are the same.
After the performance, resident Kay McDermid sits in her wheelchair, waiting to meet the stars of the show.
“I remember seeing Glenda play in Anne of Green Gables – The Musical, so it was so beautiful to see her perform today. It was a fantastic experience,” says the resident, reaching out to shake the actor’s hand.
Landry is moved by the woman’s response.
“She got something out of it. But isn’t that what theatre is all about? It’s about touching people .... That’s the most important thing. And that’s why Young at Heart Theatre is so important to seniors who can’t go out. It brings theatre to them,” she says.
AT A GLANCE
If you are going
What: Extraordinary: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Woman.
When: March 16, 2 p.m.
Starring: Glenda Landry, April Cook.
Where: Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside
Plot: It’s the story of a woman who decides to mark her 90th birthday in an unusual way. She invites her 18-year-old self to her birthday party. The story unfolds through music and memories as the dreams of the 18-year-old contrast with the realities of the same person’s life, seen in retrospect, 72 years later.
Creative team: Jim Betts, writer; Catherine O’Brien, director, Sean Ferris, musical director.
Produced by: Young At Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors