Studies & Facts

Friday, October 3, 2003

Arts Aid Town's Renewal

Part 1: Dancing Sky Theatre Meacham

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Part of a Series, for the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance
By Steven Ross Smith


Theatre, craftspeople, musicians arid artists are well-established or sprouting up in Meacham. Dancing Sky Theatre is just one sign of artistic activity that is fostering renewal in this rural community. A recent production, Street Wheat, is updating a new form of the twenty-five year old Saskatchewan-created musical-play Paper Wheat. Playwright Mansel Robinson spent many hours in the community around Meacham talking to residents, farmers, and business people, and over a course of two and a half years developed a play that speaks to particular and universal themes, It deals with grain prices, community, Co-ops versus corporations, stress and suicide, and inter-family conflict. But it also speaks of relationships, determination and courage, and dwells in realms of pathos and humour.

During its three-week run in May, farmers and urbanites in the audience could be seen red-eyed and weeping, or laughing heartily. June Vogelsang, the Postmaster and grocery proprietor of Meacham says "I think it's great having theatre of such quality in our town." Charlotte Skarra, the hotel-keeper said of the play, "it was real." She also marvelled that people from Toronto had come to see an earlier play, Shipbuilder and stayed in her hotel, "with just one bathroom" and later wrote to thank her profusely for her hospitality. And she also recalls listening to Meacham area residents arguing at her bar over what the best play was, they'd seen at Dancing Sky.

It is determination that brought this professional theatre to Meacham, a town whose present population of eighty is nearly half made up of artist and craftspeople and their families. Angus and Louisa Ferguson, who’d founded their theatre in 1992 in Saskatoon, were seeking a rural lifestyle, so moved to Meacham in 1993. In 1995 they did a dress rehearsal in the church hall and drew ninety five people. Today, after purchasing the Hall and establishing a permanent theatre, Angus suggests that Dancing Sky is probably the third largest business in the town. They hire local people as servers, cooks, box-office staff and bar-tenders, and they draw audiences to their often sold-out shows from an average radius of one hundred miles. Angus, a Saskatchewan native, met Louisa, a Quebecker, when both were working in theatre in Montreal. They eventually came to Saskatchewan with the idea of starting their own theatre. They have done so by throwing their hearts and souls into the project and have built the theatre from the ground up -- renovating the old church hall, and selecting plays that provide theatrical challenges but have relevance to the surrounding community. The Fergusons also write the grant applications, run the box-office, cook the food, tend the bar, design the sets, direct the plays, sew the costumes, and more. All this while raising two children. They’re a true dynamic duo. But they acknowledge that what they’ve done could not have been accomplished without the funding support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Canada Council for the Arts.

The theatre provides stimulus in the community and for Saskatchewan theatre artists. The Fergusons are committed to hiring Saskatchewan writers, actors and musicians. Accomplished and emerging actors were in the company for Street Wheat. Sharon Bakker was an original cast-member of the original Paper Wheat; Andrea Menard is a young, multi-talented actress and singer who sang for his Royal Highness Prince Charles during his 2001 visit to Saskatchewan; and Skye Brandon was acting in his first professional production since his recent graduation from University of Saskatchewan Drama Program.

Statistics Canada has documents that the arts and cultural industries are among the fastest growing in Canada. Dancing Sky Theatre is evidence of this growth, and is proof that the hard work of a dedicated few artists with a vision can effect many -- actors, theatre devotees and theatre newcomers -- and does more that its share to enrich the intellect and economy of the community of Meacham.

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Steven Ross Smith is a poet, fiction writer, reviewer living in Saskatoon.

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