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Live summer theatre returning to the Empress with production of ‘Black Comedy’

black comedy cast

The cast of Black Comedy, back row, from left: Monty Orr, Tyson Forsyth, Courtney Thomas, Gaven Moore and Hugh Hill. Front row, from left: Kate Sugden, Brad Hawkins and Chelsey Campbell.

Amberly Plourde

Amberly Plourde

maren coates

Maren Coates

Live theatre returns this summer to the stage of the Empress Theatre with the one-act production Black Comedy.
Maren Coates and Amberly Plourde, who were raised in Fort Macleod and graduated from F.P. Walshe school, are directing Black Comedy.
“We both teach drama during the year and we wanted to practice what we teach,” Coates explained. “We’d been talking about doing a show at the Empress for a couple of years and this summer things just fell into place. We had our act together enough that we were able to put together a proposal package and the Empress board seemed to think it was a good fit.”
Black Comedy takes the stage at 7 p.m. July 19-22, with a 1 p.m. matinee on July 22.
Plourde, 26, who now lives at West Jordan, Utah where she teaches elementary school drama, was planning to visit her home town this summer,
Plourde realized it was time to put into action an idea she and Coates had discussed for years.
“This summer things just kind of fell into place,” Plourde said.
Plourde’s former boss at the Teenie Weenie Theatre in Waterton introduced her to Black Comedy, written by established playwright Peter Schaffer, and she showed it to Coates.
“When we first read this play, each on separate occasions, we actually laughed out loud, which can be rare even for a comedic script,” the 27-year-old Coates said. “It was then we knew we were onto something good.”
First produced in the 1960s, Black Comedy will feature madcap characters, mistaken identities and surprises around every corner.
Black Comedy features struggling artist Brindsley and his fiance Carol who decide to host a party for a deaf millionaire in the hopes that he will buy some sculptures.
Just before the guests arrive, the main fuse blows, plunging the flat into darkness. Thanks to the reverse-lighting approach to Black Comedy, only the audience can see the action that ensues in the dark.
The two women got their start in what would become a life-long pursuit while growing up in Fort Macleod.
Coates was first influenced by an older sister who participated in the F.P. Walshe school drama club.
“I remember very vividly, the summer before I moved to F P Walshe, feeling that drama club was going to be exactly where I belonged,” Coates said. “I was right. The people there were my kind of people, they had this charming sense of optimism and a very real drive and ambition that was appealing to me. Being on stage felt so comfortable.”
Plourde had an earlier start in theatre.
“I think the first pull was wanting to wear a costume,” Plourde said. “My favourite childhood game was dress-up and in theatre it seemed you got to do a lot of dressing-up. But mostly I think it was good feeling I got watching a play at the high school or a performance downtown at the Empress. I remember feeling like theatre was a special place where everyone could just sit down together for a few hours, laugh, and forget about everything else. It’s the first place I can remember getting a deep sense of community.”
Once they got to F.P. Walshe school, both women enjoyed strong support from teacher Courtney (Wehlage) Thomas.
“She was really the one who helped me find the courage to pursue theatre after high school,” Plourde said. “She helped me prepare for some auditions which led to some great acting experiences, and was crazy enough to allow Maren and I to write the school play Dumped Inc., which eventually led to some playwriting awards in university.”
Coates agreed.
“She was tirelessly supportive and patient with a large group of over-ambitious high school drama kids,” Coates said, noting Thomas helped her get Drama 30 credits when there wasn’t enough room for the course in her Grade 12 schedule. “She talked to me plainly about what a theatre education degree would look like at university and encouraged me to apply. To this day she continues to be supportive.”
In an interesting turn, Thomas is part of the cast of Black Comedy. Her former students admit to some nervous moments.
“It’s actually really exciting, and nerve-wracking, coming home and directing my own teacher in a play,” Plourde said with a laugh.
Plourde added that the summer drama camps at the Empress Theatre were also influential.
“I loved those camps and the people so much growing up,” said Plourde, who in 2013 was on the Empress summer staff.
Coates, who graduated from F.P. Walshe in 2008, and Plourde, who graduated in 2009, followed their passion with the Fort Museum Players, Carriage House Theatre in Cardston and the Teenie Weenie Theatre in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Plourde studied at Brigham Young University and Coates earned a Bachelor of Dramatic Fine Arts/Education from the University of Lethbridge and now works as a substitute while living in the city.
Coates and Plourde are excited to be returning to the stage in their home town.
“I was just saying to Maren the other day that I am so excited to come back and share everything I’ve learned about producing theatre and give back to the community that watched over me for so many years.” Plourde said. “I think my favourite thing in the whole world is having a good hard laugh and I don’t know a better way to share my love with people than helping them have a good laugh too.”
If there is strong response to Black Comedy, the women will consider a return to the Empress Theatre stage in future.
“I would certainly love to,” Coates said. “Heaven knows I have a show or two in the back of my head that I think are fantastic and the Empress, without question, is definitely the right type of venue for those particular shows. The reception we got for our play proposal was fantastic, full of energy and ideas.”