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Today, our Artistic Director, Ken Hildebrandt, shares some thoughts on why he selected Swallows and Amazons for our March production. This blog post is part of an on-going series called Why I Chose the Plays I Chose. We hope these blog posts serve as a great introduction to the plays in our 2012/2013 Theatre for Life! Season.


Swallows_and_AmazonsWhen I set out to plan this year's season, I had no intention of doing another musical. Not because I don't like musicals, but because we had featured The Fantasticks in our previous season, and we've been following an "every-other-year" pattern of sorts. Furthermore, musicals present numerous extra challenges in that they are more expensive to produce and demand a much larger artistic and production team to execute properly. In terms of programming, we have to balance the complexity of our productions with our limited resources.


Then I read Swallows and Amazons as adapted by Helen Edmundson. I had never heard of the title before, nor had I heard of Arthur Ransome and his classic children's stories. What I found in the script, though, was an endearing tale about a group of kids embarking on a summer adventure not to be forgotten. The show had the flavour of our recent production of Peter Pan and it celebrated youth in such a fun and charming way. I was hooked.


Essentially, the story is about a group of young people who embark on a summer wilderness adventure in their trusty rowboat, Swallow. They imagine themselves as pirates, seeking to set-up camp on a deserted island. They find, however, they are not alone on this island. There are other pirates, a band of neighbourhood kids, known as the Amazons. In the spirit of fun-loving competition, the Swallows challenge the Amazons to see who can capture the other's boat first. But evil also lurks on the lake, and the kids must team together to face the cantankerous Captain Flint and help foil an attempted robbery.


Talk about a fun adventure, perfect for kids and their families. And what better way to launch the spring season, and spring break, than with an action-packed and exciting journey that reminds us of those great summer memories from our childhood.


But Swallows and Amazons is not just a children's story, nor is it a play being performed by children. As a story, it transcends age. It encourages both young and old to re-engage their imaginations, to seek adventures that, whatever it might be, inspires life and lifts us out of the drudgery of mundane, everyday living. What a perfect fit for our theatre whose mandate is to present plays that stir the heart, stimulate the mind, and elevate the soul. And what a fun take on the theme of "being like children..."


As a production, this play presents some unique and creative challenges. Putting aside the musical elements along with the associated challenges, this production requires the free-flowing, uninhibited use of our imaginations as a foundation on which to build the entire show design & production-wise. In terms of casting, our intent is to cast adults in the roles of the children as much as possible, thus connecting the span of age with the timeless nature of the story, and making it relevant for both the young and the young at heart.


In terms of props and sets, it's nearly impossible to re-create what the script requires in terms of boats, islands and floating houses realistically. Rather, the show relies on the use of "found objects" to recreate the world of the characters. So, a feather duster might be a parrot or a paddle or a shovel or something. As a result, the audience is invited to imagine along with us as the story unfolds, making this production a truly innovative and fun theatre experience.


I'm particularly thrilled that our production will be the Canadian amateur premier of this play. This is the first time that any group of our kind has produced this play in our nation. Talk about super-cool!


I hope you will join us for this amazing adventure, a theatre experience sure to lift your spirits.


Season Passes Still Available...


You can enjoy all four productions in our our 2012/2013 Theatre for Life! Season and save up to 25% off individual tickets. The EXCLUSIVE PACKAGE allows you to go to an evening performance of each production and the MATINEE PACKAGE allows you to go to a matinee performance of each show. Check out the benefits of getting a season pass here. You won't be sorry! Order online, or visit the House of James, 2743 Emerson Street, Abbotsford, today!

430433_425962524129416_1056150345_nWe continue our blog series today with Ken Hildebrandt's thoughts on why he selected Mary's Wedding to be part of our 2012/2013 Theatre for Life! Season...If you haven't heard of this play before, you'll want to read this for sure as Ken gives some great insights in to the story...


Stephen Massicotte is one of Canada's hottest playwrights right now, partly because of his very moving, and popular, play, Mary's Wedding. Remember a couple of blogs ago I mentioned that a "must-do" play sometimes has to wait a couple of years because of timing? Mary's Wedding is such an example. I was introduced to this play a few years back by our Front of House Manager, Corry Vandermeer, who had seen the show at Theatre Calgary. I obliged a reading, perhaps with a touch of skepticism, but immediately fell in love with it.


Mary's Wedding takes place in Saskatchewan between 1910 and 1912. It starts on the eve of Mary's wedding, a night filled with dreams, even nightmares, as she reflects back on her first love, Charlie. The two met accidentally in a barn while escaping a prairie thunderstorm and an innocent love affair blossoms. Their burgeoning romance soon faces challenges as Charlie's thoughts turn to serving in the cavalry to fight the Germans overseas. From the front, Charlie sends Mary love letters, sharing with her the atrocities of the war experience while expressing his love and concern to and for her. As the war carries on, Mary must face the reality that she may never see her Charlie again, and a story of love, loss, innocence, healing and even heroism emerges as both must face their destiny.


Massicotte has masterfully crafted an intimate story of innocent love set against an epic back-drop of the Great War. The writing is so poetic, so beautiful, and the story so touching and moving that it's almost difficult to describe. It can only be experienced for ones' self. I fell in love with the sincere characters whose circumstances have been upset both by world events and by personal choice. Though my life experience was different from theirs, I could relate to them, identify with them and empathize with their plight. Both Mary and Charlie were every-day people caught up, and affected by, world events and that made them even more relatable.


As a stage experience, I was immediately caught up in the play's kind of play. Though the story is grounded in reality and is even based on some real-world characters, it is very stylistic in its execution. The story seamlessly transitions from the Saskatchewan prairie to the mud-pits of the battle field as Charlie sends Mary love letters from the front. Scene changes are non-existent and the audience is asked to actively use their imagination as the story unfolds. The actor playing Mary also plays a military sergeant in Charlie's regiment, a convention that further underscores the stylistic nature of the piece. There's even a horse-back ride that requires imagination and ingenuity on the part of the production team, and when done simply and effectively, will be a very exciting moment for audiences.


I think Mary's Wedding is a timely piece, both on individual and global levels. I think we can all relate to the experience of having fallen in and out of love, of facing loss in the wake of tragedy, and of having to pick up the pieces of our lives and move forward. On a global front, conflict continues to surface around the world, and we are faced with deciding what is right and wrong, truth and false as battle lines are drawn. We are faced with the question of what heroism truly is as families continue to be ripped apart by the horrors of war.


Now that all sounds quite heavy, and it is, but don't let that scare you away from what I think is going to be an amazing theatre experience for all the reasons I described above. I fell in love with this play on first reading, and I think you're going to fall in love with it too.

benjamin_wert-0996-smYou will remember Ben Wert for his appearances in productions of Quiet in the Land and last season's Robinson Crusoe here at Gallery 7 Theatre. Over the last while, he's been touring an original show called Gadfly and it is now playing as part of this year's Vancouver Fringe Festival. In today's blog, he shares a bit about his journey as a theatre artist, and about this most recent production that's been getting great reviews...


Ben: Some of you may know me from when I acted in a couple Gallery 7 plays. A year and a half ago I auditioned for a Gallery 7 play for kicks and ended up playing Yock Bauman in Quiet in the Land. That started a crazy journey of acting and traveling that hasn't stopped yet.


Most recently, I've become part of a traveling theatre troupe called 'Theatre of the Beat'. We travel the country putting on original plays that ask questions about peace and justice from a Mennonite perspective.


We started off putting on these plays for Mennonite audiences in Ontario and Manitoba, and were pleased to discover that they liked us. They liked us a lot. We then moved on to Fringe Festivals, away from the safe and comfortable bubble we'd been performing in and put our main show on in Montreal. We were very pleased and surprised to discover that they liked us a lot too. And now, here we are on the West Coast on the eve of the Vancouver Fringe Festival hoping that they'll like us too.


The play is called Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft. It's the true story of an American Mennonite dodging the draft and coming to Canada. I'm proud of the play, and of what we've accomplished, but I don't want you to take my word for it.


Bryan Moyer Suderman, composer of God's Love is for Everybody and founder of Small Tall Music confirmed one of our biggest hopes for the play:


"Part of the genius of "Gadfly" is that it is obviously and unapologetically a "Mennonite" story of a particular era that speaks so effectively (truthfully, challengingly, inspiringly) to those with Mennonite background and experience and formation... and yet it resonates so deeply and profoundly with a broader audience, and speaks so effectively (truthfully, challengingly, inspiringly) to people who have never heard of Mennonites. Imagine an experience that you can unhesitatingly invite your Mennonite congregation to attend - an experience that will lead them to deepen (and deeply grapple with) their faith - that is also an experience that you can enthusiastically invite your un-churched (post-churched, anti-churched, whatever) friends and neighbours and co-workers to attend - an experience that will meet THEM "where they're at" as well. I know - it's hard to imagine. It's a rare and precious thing indeed. Gadfly by Theatre of the Beat, is just that kind of experience."


We've also gotten unanimously positive reviews as well as a nomination for "Best English Script" at the Montreal Fringe Festival.


12NMR2The accolades have been nice, but what has been most rewarding about putting on this play has been the reactions from draft dodgers and veterans and people who lived through the events we're depicting. These people that we consider heroes of the faith, who inspire and motivate us are in turn inspired by the fact that we young whippersnappers still find their stories worth telling and learning from.


I hope you'll be able to make the journey from Abbotsford to come see our show. If you can't, fear not. We'll be back with a new play within the year, and hopefully we'll be performing it in Abbotsford itself.


Gadfly is being presented as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival on Granville Island from September 7th to 15th. For showtimes and ticket information please go to

We continue our series, "Why I Chose the Plays I Chose" as Gallery 7's Artistic Director, Ken Hildebrandt, shares why our theme this year is "Theatre for Life!" and why he selected Sense and Sensibility as the opening production of our 2012/2013 season...


ken_hildebrandt0650_-_smBefore I get to talking about why I selected Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility for our opening production in November, I thought I'd share just a bit about why this year's theme is "Theatre for Life!"


If you think about it, this year's theme has a double meaning. On the one hand, Gallery 7 is in the business of producing "live" theatre. There's nothing quite like the live theatre experience: it's immediate, it's organic, and the experience changes with every performance. It is a communal event that lives, breathes and changes as a direct result of the connection between performer and audience member alike.


On the other hand, we produce plays that we trust are "life-giving" to our audiences. If people are entertained, if we connect with their emotions, their intellect, their spirits, and if they are encouraged to think or be challenged to talk about some of the themes explored, we achieve a "life" experience that elevates the soul and stretches towards that which is eternal! Now that really is "theatre for life!"


Now, on to why I chose Sense and Sensibility. I like to start off the season with a well-known production in order to generate some big excitement about the coming season. With the success of our production of Pride and Prejudice two years ago, and with their being a strong Jane Austen fan-base in our area, it seemed only fitting and logical that Sense and Sensibility be selected as one of our "anchor" shows for the year.


Sense and Sensibility also explores themes that I think are important to us as a faith-based theatre. Love, relationships, trust, family, coping with loss and rejection...these are all realities we face in the course of our human experience. With Jane Austen's story, we're forced to face these themes head on, to explore and evaluate them, and hopefully in the end, be inspired and challenged. And, as these themes unfold, we're taken on an emotional and intellectual rollercoaster ride complete with highs and lows, the very stuff of great, entertaining theatre.


Jon Jory's adaptation, the script we've elected to use, captures the essence of Austen's story in a theatrical and entertaining way, yet doesn't impose heavy technical demands on our mostly volunteer team. Though Austen's story is epic, yet ironically intimate in its scope, Jory has managed to craft a theatre experience that moves quickly and deftly through the story.Sense__Sensibility


Lastly, this production provides some wonderful acting opportunities for female performers. In an industry where more characters are written for men than for women, and in an industry where fewer men audition than women, we have to work a bit harder to ensure we offer challenging opportunities for female artists. Sense and Sensibility certainly accomplishes that.


In the end, Sense and Sensibility is a play that people of all ages should enjoy, making it a great fit for our opening production of the 2012/2013 season.


Sense and Sensibility runs November 2 & 3, 8 - 10, 15 - 17 at 7:30 PM with matinees on November 3, 10 & 17 at 2:00 PM at the MEI Theatre, 4081 Clearbrook Road, Abbotsford. Individual tickets go on sale late September.

Ever wonder what goes in to planning a season of theatre at Gallery 7? Are you ever curious as to why we chose a particular play? Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Gallery 7's Artistic Director, Ken Hildebrandt, will provide some insights in to how a season is put together, and why he chose each play in our 2012/2013 Theatre for Life! Season.


ken_hildebrandt0650_-_smDeveloping a playbill for a particular season is one of the most important tasks I do as the artistic director of Gallery 7. The playbill sets the artistic tone for the entire year, and affects all aspects of the organization, from production to personnel to finances. A lot of sweat, thought and prayer go in to the planning of each and every season.


There is no one formula for selecting a single play as there are a wide variety of factors affecting the decision: Do I like the play? Does the play explore themes that are important to me as an artist and us as a theatre? Will our audiences appreciate the play and will it engage them? What technical and financial challenges does the play impose? Do we have the talent available to properly execute the production? Sometimes, people will suggest plays to me and I take a look at those too.


Each year, I read many, many plays. Some are discarded almost immediately, some are placed in a "maybe" pile and some are placed in the "must do" pile. Just because a play makes the "must do" list, doesn't mean the decision making is over. And, perhaps ironically, a 'must-do' play may have to wait for a couple of years before we produce it because it doesn't fit in the bigger plan for a particular season.


Determining the final line-up of plays is affected by a whole slew of new factors: Does a particular grouping of plays tell a meta-story thematically? Is there a good mix of more popular titles with lesser known, but equally valid and important, titles? Is there a good mix of roles available for our performers? Is there a good balance in terms of technical demands so that we don't burn out our production teams? Do we have at least one Canadian work in the mix, along with at least one play that more directly deals with faith issues? Is there a good mix of comedy and the more serious drama?


As scientific as this process may sound, in the end, the decision to go with a particular line-up just has to feel right.


The process of planning the 2012/2013 season began before I can remember in some ways. I keep an eye out on what plays are being published and/or produced at other theatres and those that pique my interest are added to my "to read" list. Then, in January or early February, I order copies of these plays and start reading. This past year, I read well over 60 plays...which took about a month and a half to do. My final selections for the 2012/2013 season were made in mid-April. From there, I solicit the Board's support for the new season and then get to work on marketing, recruiting sponsors and signing contract artists including directors and designers. All this work gives us good lead-in time in terms of other planning and scheduling, and allows the theatre to truly "go dark" during the summer months.


Even though the work on selecting the 2012/2013 season has been complete, in the back of my mind, I'm keeping an eye out for plays to do next year, and following years. Sometimes, when planning the current season, I will put two line-ups together. The line-up not selected may then serve as the starting point for selecting the following season. This way, I know we won't be starting from scratch the following year. At any rate, selecting a season of theatre is a continual and organic process that never really ends.


Next time, I'll share a little about this year's theme, and why I selected Sense and Sensibility as the first production for our Theatre for Life 2012/2013 Season.


Season Passes On-Sale Now!


Season passes to our 2012/2013 Theatre Season are now available at discounts of up to 30% off individual ticket prices. Join us for a season of live theatre that is sure to stir your heart, stimulate your mind and elevate your soul!  Check out the details here.