What’s a playwright to do when all the actors in town can’t find time to rehearse, because the town’s so expensive they all need to work full-time side gigs to afford a place to live?
If you’re Melanie DesRoches, the artistic director and founder of Theatre Canmore, you turn your play into a web series.
That’s roughly the origin story of Canmoretown, which had its world premiere Tuesday night in Canmore, before going worldwide on YouTube.
“Canmoretown is about a town very similar to Canmore,” DesRoches said in an interview with The Homestretch. “But it’s not exactly Canmore. It’s a bit of a dark place.
“The idea was that I wanted to show the life of the people living in a resort town that the regular tourist or weekenders don’t see.”
Started as a play
If Canmoretown had come to life the way DesRoches originally envisioned it, it would have been on a stage, performed live, before an audience.
“I originally wrote it as a stage play but what happened was that a lot of the people involved in Theatre Canmore work full time and [as a result], they [can] only act part time,” she said.
“One of the actors, Craig — who plays Craig in Canmoretown — suggested we do it as a web series. That way we’d have more flexibility with people’s schedules and I thought, why not?”
Instead of a limited run stage play, Canmoretown became an unlimited running 17 episode web series that features nine local actors, playing characters who must live together in order to keep costs down — think Coronation Street, with the Rocky Mountains as set decorations and no British accents.
And denim jackets.
First time working on web
Neither DesRoches nor the cast or crew had ever shot a web series before.
“We’ve kind of been learning as we’ve gone along. We have lots of talent and experience in the cast and crew,” she said.
“So we kind of pulled together all our various experiences and hoped for the best.”
A casting call posted on Facebook produced a great response, but — just like in the show — the high cost of housing resulted in a cast change, DesRoches said.
“Our person who played Glen the Plumber and was great — he ended up having to move away, because his house came up for rent.”
“We had to decide what to do so we thought well since Canmoretown is like Canmore, why don’t we put in another character like Glen — and it will be like art reflecting life?”
Transition to digital
While the 17 episodes were culled from DesRoches’ original script, it was necessary, by changing media, to change the way the story was told — both physically and as it turns out, verbally.
“I wrote it but did leave it to the cast to make the language their own,” she said. “They had to stick to the script as far as things lead through the plot line that had to be retained — but they were pretty much themselves as far as the way they spoke — so all that colourful language, I didn’t actually write.
“That’s just the way they talk. There was a bit of improvisation as far as the staging, as well … to create a lot of energy in the filming and really make it much more active than a stage play would be.”
The pilot and first episode were screened Tuesday night at the Drake Pub in Canmore which was also a location that was frequently used in the web series.
And while there were no paydays involved in the making of Canmoretown to help defray the cost of Canmore housing, the show, as things turned out, did produce some value-added experiences, DesRoches said.
“When we cast people, a lot of them didn’t know each other. They met as we were auditioning — and it ended up that there were two sets of characters ended up dating and are now romantically involved — so that was a nice thing to happen.”
With files from The Homestretch
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.