If we build it, they will come: The building of a Dickens Show

Submitted by Michele Amy

“But the band gets paid, right?” asked Laurie Fornwald.  She and I were sitting in the new Kozina’s restaurant on Main Street, enjoying Pork adobo and chatting about the upcoming Cornerstone Production for the Dickens Festival in Carlyle. “It’s my favorite part of acting in a Cornerstone show, getting to sing with a live band.”

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“Nope,” I replied.  “All volunteer.”  Now this is pretty impressive when we look at the quality of the musicians in the pit band. But then again, none of the actors are paid either. Nor are the writers and the choreographers or the set designers or sound engineers.  Everyone contributes their time and talent. For free.  For fun.  Mostly.

“So, where does the money from the shows go?” is a common question.  To put things in perspective, this is a pretty good question.  The Cornerstone Theatre production pretty much sells out 3 full showings each year.  Considering that is over 200 seats at $20 a pop, that would seem to be a lot of money. According to my calculator, at least $12,000. Wow. Seems like a lot!

First of all, there are some costs involved in staging a high-quality production.  Microphones, sound equipment, lighting, projectors, equipment to build sets and to replace props, just to name a few.  And then there are things like programs.

But Cornerstone Theatre is pretty frugal, and we have talented people on board. Folks like Paul Twietmeyer, who volunteers countless hours building sets from scratch, repairing anything which breaks and creatively solving complex issues without going to “buy new stuff”.  People like Don Carter who maintains and builds the web page and organized the program printing.

But let’s start at the beginning.  How does this all get put together?

The Dickens show usually stars in July, or May. Or February. When one of the theatre gang is brave enough to ask the question, “So, what are we going to do for Dickens THIS year?” 

To be fair, Cornerstone Theatre (led by Dianne and Paul Twietmeyer) has been re-inventing the Christmas Carol storyline for 15 years. The first few years were easy! Lots of plays have been written, and there were many to choose from. But then, they ran out.  

Some plays have been written while on group holidays in Mexico. Some have been written at Rider’s games, others have been adapted from versions we have admired. Doug Waldner has written several, as have Dianne and Samantha Twietmeyer

This latest production involved Dianne Twietmeyer getting the idea that we should have a fully “from scratch” production, which was original and addressed what we have often discussed over . . . let’s say . . . beverages of our choice. By now, we all have a deep familiarity with the original Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. 

And the more familiar you become with something, the more nuances become visible, which make for some good “discussions.’

So Dianne set out to write a completely different version, including all brand new music. What a treat! (We really like NEW)

Sometime in September, the cast is assembled, and somebody has to volunteer to direct.

Dianne in particular makes herculean efforts to search out new talent within the community, and to invite them to join the Cornerstone group. 

Which is really just a club of people who happen to like theatre, music, each other, hanging out, good food, great conversations. (not in any particular order). 

The group of likely suspects gets together, and auditions for roles they might like to play this year. 

Whoever is directing this year (in 2018 it’s Dianne and Jesse Twietmeyer) makes up a production schedule and we get into rehearsals. 

The show needs to be cast, people need to learn their lines, to become familiar with the music and work on choreography.  Blocking needs to occur. Props need to be assembled and costuming created.

The band leader and practice musician (often Michele Amy) comes along to each rehearsal and gets the music organized, chooses keys, figures out cues and works with the actors and directors.

This goes on from September to November, twice weekly, and countless hours of rehearsals, until about a month out of performance, when the band comes into play.

And that means that the sound man needs to be on board (usually Will Elliott) as the band needs full sound set up to work with the actors.

By now, the choreography has been worked out, and the actors hopefully know their songs, music rehearsals are scheduled, and full production work goes ahead.

Paul gets artists like Marylin Carter and Marion Biram on board to come and build and to paint the sets. This is a big job, as the sets he designs are works of art, both elaborate and complex. 

Jesse usually gets the filming work completed and edited,and starts working on sound recording and light cues used in the production.

Somewhere in there, programs are designed and sent to printers, Don Carter gets all the ticket sales underway. 

The theatre gets cleaned. Stuff gets fixed. 

Theatre members hang out in the green room after rehearsals and have a bunch of good laughs. 

We create some programming for the Lions’ Provincial assembly. Fun is had.  Tickets are sold. Almost always the tickets are sold out.

But the band does not get paid; and neither does anybody else.

Cornerstone is a non-profit, so each year at our meeting we decide where our funds are going to be spent. 

This year, the group decided that a percentage of all ticket sales would be donated to the local food bank.

Then after Dickens, we decide upon what repairs and renovations to the Memorial Hall and Theatre facility might be practical.

In the past, funds have gone towards:  the projector, the seats in the hall, new bathroom renovations, the new flooring in the Hall, the bar renovation, the kitchen renovation, new bathrooms in the Hall, the new furnace, air conditioner, ductwork. 

But each project involves another bunch of volunteer hours.  And the cycle goes around again.

So why do it at all?

Some people play hockey. Some people play golf.  Some people curl. Some people make theatre.  Some people make music!

Community members volunteer in their own ways at the schools, the hockey rink, the golf course, the curling rink, the pool, in service clubs like the Lions who maintain the ball diamonds (etc) on The Dickens Committee, and in the Memorial Hall and Theatre and in so many other places around town.

It’s part of what makes living in a community so awesome.   And part of what makes the Carlyle Dickens Village festival is watching all of these volunteers and organizations come together to create something unique each December.


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