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Fort McMurray sees 1st live-theatre performance in over a year

A live theatre performance debuted in Fort McMurray for the first time in over a year Thursday night.

'We didn't know whether we would actually be able to have an audience or not'

Purge, a drama produced by Theatre; Just Because, strays from the musicals and farces often shown in Fort McMurray. (Submitted by Fantasie Frei Creations)

A live theatre performance debuted in Fort McMurray for the first time in over a year Thursday night.

Purge, produced by Theatre; Just Because, has been in the works for about a year, as the COVID-19 pandemic and public health rules forced various changes in production, said director and producer Hanna Fridhed.

"We didn't know whether we would actually be able to have an audience or not," said Fridhed.

"[There were] a lot of unknowns." 

But the show did go on, holding its opening night in-person Thursday. 

Purge, a drama, strays from the big musicals and farces usually hosted in Fort McMurray.

It follows Aliide Truu, an Estonian woman living in the country, and Zara, who appears dishevelled on Truu's front yard. The story is set following two timelines: one in the 1990s, another from shortly after the Second World War.

"A project like this, where it really takes us out of our comfort zone, was something we were quite excited about," said Fridhed.

"I'm very proud of the product that came out at the end. The production is beautiful."

Fridhed was unable to host live auditions. She instead opted for video auditions, followed by virtual, backyard and, finally, in-theatre rehearsals. 

She had contingency plans for various potential scenarios, including if a cast member contracted COVID-19. This is the first year she has used understudies, because there was a risk a person wouldn't be able to perform, she said. 

Jenny Price, left, Hanna Fridhed, middle, and Devki Patel, right, get a photo together before opening night of Purge. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"I'm very proud of the work that's been put into it," said Fridhed.

"You can see the amount of passion and love for theatre that went into it, because it has been very difficult and we've had a shoe-string budget to work on, very limited time and resources."

Jenny Price, who plays the role of Truu, was rehearsing for two different productions when COVID-19 restrictions were first put in place. Both productions were halted. 

"I was devastated," Price said.

But she was "thrilled" when she saw a call for auditions for Purge, she said, adding that she hadn't realized how much she missed theatre. 

About a week after auditioning for the show, Price got a call offering her the role of Truu. 

"I couldn't say yes fast enough," Price said, adding the production has challenged her and helped her grow as an actor. 

Price playing the role of Aliide Truu, one of the lead characters. (Submitted by Fantasie Frei Creations)

Devki Patel, who plays Zara, had been attending university classes online from her basement.

She was hesitant to audition for Purge because she didn't think she would get a role, but wanted to try anyway because she was craving something to do again and something normal to experience.  

"I was just excited that there was a show," said Patel. 

"I'm just glad to be here … working with these amazing people, this amazing production team." 

Purge is being performed at Keyano College's theatre in-person at 30 per cent capacity, as well as online.

The last live performance will be Saturday, but tickets for the livestream are available until July 25.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jamie Malbeuf is a reporter with CBC News, based in Fort McMurray. She started her career with CBC in 2017, after graduating from MacEwan University with a major in journalism. She covers a range of topics including health, justice and housing. Follow her on Twitter @JamieMalbeuf or email Jamie.Malbeuf@cbc.ca with a story idea.

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