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New St. John's theatre troupe aims to showcase youth talent

From left, Keegan Pike, Morgan Winter and Heather Power rehearse for their upcoming show, "You Know the Old Slaying," opening at the Barbara Barrett Theatre on Jan. 15. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
From left, Keegan Pike, Morgan Winter and Heather Power rehearse for their upcoming show, "You Know the Old Slaying," opening at the Barbara Barrett Theatre on Jan. 15. - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A new production company, founded by local teacher Jody Rideout, is putting on its debut show this month, bringing new youth talent to the stage.

Whadda Ya Call It Productions will perform Michigan-based playwright Michal Jacot’s “interactive mystery-comedy” titled “You Know the Old Slaying” at the Barbara Barrett Theatre.

This work has been in production for just over four months, and will hit the stage Jan. 15-18.

Rideout was inspired to establish Whadda Ya Call It Productions after hearing his students talk about their attempts to participate in theatre productions. 

“Being a substitute, working around the city with different kids in drama classes, a lot of the kids … would tell me about how they would go to auditions for local theatre companies.

Sometimes they’d get a call back, sometimes they wouldn’t,” Rideout said.

“I see the talent that’s in the drama classrooms and I’ve worked with some of the musicals that Prince of Wales Collegiate has put on. … The kids are finding it hard, being so young, to establish themselves in the local scene, so I’m trying to make a springboard for them to bridge that gap between the high school drama club and the local theatre scene,” he said.

“The focus is creating theatre mainly made by youth and young adults.”

Working within local schools, Rideout has also worked with improv groups. As an interactive show, “You Know the Old Slaying” draws on both theatre and improv when engaging the audience.

The show is centred on a theatre troupe on a Canadian tour, and their interpersonal connections. Amongst the troupe is Mark Henshaw, a temperamental prima donna who mistreats his fellow actors. After disrespecting every member of the troupe, Henshaw mysteriously dies, inspiring a classic whodunnit scenario.

This is where the crowd plays their small but pivotal role in the performance.

“The audience actually gets to vote for who they think the killer is in the show, and depending on who the audience votes for, there are five different endings,” Rideout explained.

The small cast has prepared for five different conclusions, and with four shows, they might get to have a unique experience in every one – depending on the audience.

Owen Bartlett, taking on the role of Mark Henshaw, has been acting since the age of 14.

“Around that time I was very into sports and I wanted to branch out and see what theatre was all about,” he recalled. 

“A big part of why I joined theatre was the community. So many competitive, yet supportive people,” Bartlett said. 

In his four years as an actor, he has worked with the St. John’s regional drama festival and Prince of Wales Collegiate’s productions of “Grease: The Musical” and “Mary Poppins.” More recently, he worked on “A Call To Arms” with Atlantic Light Theatre. 

“My favourite part about working on 'You Know the Old Slaying' is the atmosphere,” Bartlett said.

“Having an outlet for young actors interested in pursuing theatre is a must in St John’s. Whadda Ya Call It Productions is providing this much-needed outlet as a stepping stone into the theatre world.”

“Having an outlet for young actors interested in pursuing theatre is a must in St John’s." — Owen Bartlett

Morgan Winter, in the role of Darlene Richards, began acting in elementary school, her passion growing in her first year of high school. Theatre kind of “snuck up” on her, she said.

Inspired by a teacher, she auditioned for a role in “The Little Toy Dog” in Grade 10, later becoming involved in theatre in all three years of high school, taking on the role of Frenchy in a production of “Grease: The Musical” on the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre’s main stage.

“The entire process of reading through a piece and really getting to know your character and the characters you interact with will always be my favourite part of any show,” Winter said.

Lindsey Dalton, who plays divaesque Lisa, is a longtime lover of the performing arts, with a focus on singing and dancing. Acting is a new adventure she embarked on about five years ago.

She started out backstage in Grade 10, working with lights and sound. She later became a playwright in Grade 12, co-writing a Remembrance Day play for her theatre arts class, hitting the stage in the lead roles of both the Christmas show “The Gift Of The Magi” and the NLESD Drama Fest production “Uncool.”

“I got involved with theatre because I loved the idea of acting onstage and entertaining people. There’s no better moment than when that one joke you’ve been working on for months lands or you see audience members cry over your emotional monologue,” Dalton said.

Whadda Ya Call It Productions’ “You Know the Old Slaying” runs Jan. 15-18 at the Barbara Barrett Theatre in St. John’s.

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