CAT welcomes 40th season

Central Alberta Theatre is celebrating its 40th season with new seating in the Memorial Centre and five feel-good comedies at the Black Knight Inn.

How many of these shows have you seen? Past Central Alberta Theatre president and founding member Mary Lou Armstrong and current executive director Morgan McKee look up at the many show posters on the walls of the lobby of the Memorial Centre

Central Alberta Theatre is celebrating its 40th season with new seating in the Memorial Centre and five feel-good comedies at the Black Knight Inn.

Executive director Morgan McKee is inviting the public to preview CAT’s dinner theatre lineup at the free CATena! open house at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Memorial Centre.

Besides getting a taste of everything CAT has to offer, morsels will be provided of upcoming concerts and recitals at the Memorial Centre. Special guests will also reminisce about the 170 productions the community theatre group has staged since 1970.

McKee believes CAT has achieved “a very rare thing” in being part of this city for nearly four decades.

“It’s unusual for a community theatre group to have that kind of longevity, but I think Central Alberta Theatre has ingrained itself into the arts fabric of Red Deer.”

CAT accomplished this by being extremely adaptable to the area’s changing entertainment needs, said McKee.

In the 1970s, the group focused on staging great big splashy musicals, such as the popular The King and I, Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady. CAT also tackled weightier subject matter by putting on Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Synge’s satirical comedy, The Playboy of the Western World.

But when Red Deer College began offering a theatre program that moved into these territories, the group tried something different — serving up dinner theatre comedies and farces at the Elks Lodge, and later at the Black Knight Inn.

This concept of mixing a good meal with lighthearted entertainment was completely fresh at the time. It attracted a whole new audience, including people who had never been to the theatre before, said Mary Lou Armstrong, who’s been with the organization since it was formed by the amalgamation of the Red Deer Musical Theatre Society and Parkland Players.

“It was very, very successful,” she said, allowing CAT, which had previously just been breaking even, to put some money aside.

She believes the community theatre group was built on great team spirit “and lots of fun” ­­— both of which continue to this day. The main difference between now and then is that the board-run organization is more formally structured now, and has a permanent home — the Memorial Centre. CAT has been operating the facility on a multi-year lease since1994.

Among the best aspects of this season will be the new seats in the Memorial Centre, which McKee said are wider and more comfortable and have better sight lines to the stage. The centre’s capacity had to drop to 704 people from the previous 763 to achieve the new configuration. But McKee believes it’s totally worth it.

The CATena audience will be the first to test out the seats and see if he’s right.

The open house that aims to pull back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes world at CAT will also unveil new lighting. The many on- and off-stage roles for volunteers will be featured, and those interested can find out how to become a CAT member and how to get in on auditions and workshops.

Actors will do readings from each play to give the public a peak at the new dinner theatre season at the Black Knight Inn.

The season will open with Novel House on Oct. 2. The whimsical comedy by Jayson McDonald is about a writer who draws on his own life and his rather kooky family for his “great Canadian novel.”

David Tristram’s Forget-Me-Knot, an English comedy about amnesia and people who might not be what they seem, opens on Nov. 13.

This will be followed by two Canadian comedies by playwright Norm Foster: Outlaw, about a cattle-drive mishap that could lead to a lynching, starts on Jan. 8; and The Love List, about meeting the perfect woman, goes from Feb. 12.

Heatstroke, a thrilling farce by Eric Chappell about mistaken identities, airport mix-ups and assorted plot twists, opens on March 26 and will likely close the season. McKee said uncertainty about the timing of further renovations to the Memorial Centre might nix the end-of-season musical.

But the group is still taking proposals for a play that could run in the Nickle Studio at Christmas time.

Light refreshments will be served at CATena, and plenty of community actors, directors, and producers will be on hand to answer questions and to give facility tours.

Armstrong said she can see no reason why CAT wouldn’t continue to thrive for another 40 years. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” she added, since the theatre group is now such a part of the community.

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