They don’t really sing, they don’t really play, but they’re really good at it. They have a lot of fun, are magnanimous with their time and talents and their popularity in Trinity South is obvious.
After only 14 shows they’ve raised $65,000 for charities.
Avalon Sleeveens Inc. is a lip-syncing theatrical group made up of 23 members that hail from Winterton to Markland.
No one is more surprised at audience reaction than cast member Andy Williams and the group’s emcee Linda Halfyard.
“It just blew us all away. We never dreamt in a million years how much it was going to be enjoyed. We haven’t had an empty seat,” Halfyard says.
Both agree, while it’s obvious they do lip sync — “none of our instruments are plugged in” — most of the members have music in their blood.
“I’d say 90 per cent of us are musically inclined (play an instrument and/or sing), but we don’t actually sing or play (for the show),” explains Williams.
The group, based out of the SUF Hall in Dildo, was founded a couple of years ago.
“We did a show for fun at Dildo Days two years ago,” Halfyard says, adding, “people can see for themselves there’s nothing plugged in, but they walk away thinking that we actually are. It’s not easy to do.”
That show went over so well, two weeks later they packed the hall with a second show at $5 a ticket.
“So in little communities like this we sold over 700 tickets, just little towns up and down the shore,” she says. “And now people come from Clarenville, Bay Roberts, Carbonear, St. John’s.”
Sinatra to Right Said Fred
Avalon Sleeveens’ regular show features a smorgasbord of singing acts, across all genres and eras, punctuated with the Sleeveens’ own brand of comedy that includes audience interaction.
“We do the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, right up to the present like Johnny Reid and Right Said Fred,” Williams says. “And there’s so much music out there that every show we’ve done we’ve changed a couple of the acts to keep it fresh. Take Johnny Cash for instance. He has so many songs, so with the different acts, there’s a whole broad way to approach this.”
Halfyard points out the group has a following of people, further incentive for changing up the acts.
“So maybe we’ll have Loretta Lynn in one show and then we’ll take her out and bring in Patsy Cline, or take out Johnny Cash and bring in Tiny Tim.”
Depending on the show, the audience might see knockoffs of Buddy Holly, Kenny Loggins, the Beatles or Bob Seger.
Group members range in age from 11 to 70. The youngest members are 11-year-old Brandon Williams; Michael Williams, 14; Bailey Williams 13 and Chaneal Reid, 12.
Elvis Presley is always a favourite with audiences and the Sleeveens offer up a younger and older version of the legendary musician. Michael does Elvis’ earlier hits like “Jail House Rock,” “Hound Dog” and “Teddy Bear,” while Andrew Pretty plays the more mature version of The King with songs like “Suspicious Minds.”
According to Williams, the nine cast members in the group cover at least 50 acts between them.
“And we always end the show with a Rita MacNeil finale,” says Halfyard, explaining MacNeil’s “Working Man” seems to stir emotions. “I’ve seen men in the audience cry.”
The group got their start with a grant through Eastern Health, which assisted with purchasing instruments and costumes.
“We also sell 50-50 tickets to help us with costs and a lot of costumes have been donated, or we’ve put them together ourselves,” says Halfyard.
With so many different acts, sometimes it takes a while to do a costume change.
To keep the audience entertained during costume changes, Halfyard began telling jokes. That led to another fundraising idea — a Sleeveens Joke Book.
“We sold over 900 at $5 a book. And we did a Christmas DVD and sold 80 of those at $20 each,” she says.
With most of the group members still in the workforce (several are retired), it can be difficult finding time to rehearse.
They meet at the hall only one night a week and will usually spend two months getting a show together. They have recently decided to cut down from eight shows a year to between four and six.
They’ve also decided, depending on the venue and the amount of money raised, that instead of gearing shows towards one particular charity, they’ll split the proceeds between two or three.
The Avalon Sleeveens have performed their regular Musical Memories show in Cavendish, Carbonear, Portugal Cove, Kelligrews, Sunnyside, Whiteway, Green’s Harbour and Blaketown.
The proceeds from those shows have gone to Wells for Africa, the Parkinson Foundation, the Little Light Anti-Bullying program (Masonic Lodge, Heart’s Content), the Children’s Wish Foundation, the Janeway, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Kidney Foundation, and Camp Douwanna — a provincial summer camp for youth living with Type 1 diabetes.
This week they performed at the SUF Hall in Dildo on Tuesday and will play again Friday.
Tuesday night’s proceeds went to Ronald MacDonald House, while proceeds from Friday night will go to help the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and other charities. Tickets are $10 each.
Because there are so many tourists and visitors this time of year, the Sleeveens have geared those two performances entirely to Newfoundland Music with songs from Eddy Coffey, Dick Nolan, Great Big Sea, Ron Hynes and the like.
“It’s a lot of work for it to fly like it has,” Halfyard acknowledges. “But their heart and soul is with it. Everyone puts their 100 per cent into it. That’s what makes it fly.”