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Red Deer's Central Alberta Theatre is dropping its dinners to re-group

For the first time in decades, dinner theatre will not be offered
Central Alberta Theatre is dropping its dinner theatres for the upcoming fall and winter season to re-group and offer a more diverse variety of plays in the Studio Theatre, upstairs at the Memorial Centre in Red Deer. (Contributed photo).

Central Alberta Theatre will be serving up a different kind of season this fall and winter in Red Deer.

For the first time in decades, dinner theatre will not be offered.

Instead, CAT will be mounting five productions — ranging from comedies to the dramatic and thrilling — in the more intimate 45-seat Studio Theatre (formerly Nickle Studio), upstairs at the Memorial Centre.

This decision was made after the CAT board did some number-crunching and realized that continuing to have dinner theatre productions at Festival Hall was simply not viable, said board president Cynthia Edwards. "It was purely a budgetary decision (based on) the challenge of doing dinner theatre in a third-party venue."

Continuing to pay for catered meals on top of rent for the venue, at a time when theatre crowds have not yet returned to pre-COVID numbers was found to be not feasible, Edwards explained.

CAT will take a year to re-group by presenting five diverse plays and the one-act festival in the Studio theatre. Edwards said the situation will be re-assessed at the end of the season to see whether dinner theatres can be resumed.

CAT is Red Deer's oldest theatre organization, formed in 1970. The group primarily presented musicals at the Memorial Centre in the early years, introducing dinner theatre at the Black Knight Inn sometime in the 1990s. Edwards recalled audiences had built up and became quite dependable.

Then the hotel was shut down during COVID, and later demolished. Board member Suzanne Hermary said the former Black Knight Inn could offer meals at a better rate since it already prepared kitchen meals for the hotel restaurant and pub. CAT's dinner theatre was, in a sense, subsidized by these other hotel operations.

During the last few years, more people were opting to attend CAT's show-only theatre nights, anyway. Hermary sees the change in store for next season as a chance for CAT to re-examine operations and become better at entertaining central Alberta audiences. "We are taking this as an opportunity."

Instead of having to fill the large Festival Hall stage with lot of theatrical sets and lose intimacy with the audience because of the hall's cavernous interior, the Studio Theatre "offers us a chance to get more up-close and personal with our shows," she said.

A 2024-25 season will go beyond the more standard farces and comedies that CAT has staged. "Since October is scary season," Hermary said the things will kick off with Dracula: Mina's Quest, by Steven Dietz, directed by Lacey Oleson-Rinehart. The action focuses on Dracula's intended bride in this tense thriller, based on the novel by Bram Stoker.

The Christmas show will be Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, to be directed by Wanda Oler. Is the middle Bennet sister, Mary, as hopeless and untalented as readers are led to believe in Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice? "Maybe she's just misunderstood," suggested Hermary, who thinks this yuletide romance is a perfect fit since 2024 is the Year of Jane Austen.

The New Year, 2025, will begin with the Alberta thriller Any Night, by Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn, and directed by Ronen Eagles. "It's a little harder material than we usually do," said Hermary, but she thinks this paranoid two-actor psychological drama will enthrall audiences. 

Next up will be the comedy Pouf! by Lou Clyde, directed by Glorene Ellis. This comedy is about an unfulfilled 1950s housewife who sets up a secret in-house hair salon to thwart her husband's objections to her getting a job. She changes lives through pouffing up her neighbours' hair.

The last full-length show of the next season will be Opal's Million Dollar Duck, by John Patrick (director TBA). A competition ensues after two customers suspect a junk shop owner has a missing million-dollar Old Master's painting amid her clutter.

Edwards said a One-Act Play Festival will close out the season.

A preview of the 2024-'25 season will be presented at CATena on Sept. 28 at the Memorial Centre. For more information, please visit 








Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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