Jessica Gallant, left photo, appears as Marty, one of the Pink Ladies in “Grease the Musical” at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. At right, Matthew (Hank Stinson) and Anne (Jessica Gallant), appear in a scene from the Charlottetown Festival’s 2016 production of “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical.” Submitted photo
Many former cast members admit they garnered this experience as a stepping stone towards a successful and fulfilling career
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – It can be a nerve-racking experience to take centre stage, recite lines, sing and strum the right notes, and interact in character with a live audience while serving them dinner, but this is how a script from a page is brought to life on the Feast Dinner Theatre stage.
Many former cast members admit they garnered this experience as a stepping stone towards a successful and fulfilling career.
“It taught me how to deliver a joke, and later how to write a joke and how to create a character,” remarked Mike Allison, the head writer for the past 10 years of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.”
Allison transitioned from a Feast actor to their script writer and penned “Home for the Holidays” in 2002. Since leaving the Summerside scene, Allison now a resident in Halifax, has co-written more than 40 scripts that have been staged by dinner theatre companies across the Maritimes, as well as his weekly CBC television comedy.
“As the old lyric goes, ‘there’s no business like show business’ and that’s 100 percent true,” he ringed.
“Whether you’re on Broadway or at a restaurant in Summerside, the feeling is the same when you take that bow at the end of the night. When a crowd stands up and cheers for you and then on the way out an audience member tells you that they can’t remember having a better night, that’s a great feeling.”
Jamie Bradley, who performed in the “Governor’s Feast” during the summer of 1985, says the experience broadened his talents from acting, writing and directing.
“It taught me the importance of the storyline, character, and how audiences relate to your role in the show. If they don’t believe you when you tell them who you are (in character) then you haven’t done your job. The characters’ emotions need to be real for the audience to care about them,” he said.
“When I was performing, writing or directing the shows, they were all historical settings. The Governor’s Feast was set in the mid-19th Century, the Roaring Twenties, and Second World War…” Bradley listed off dinner theatre themes that helped stage his future career.
Bradley went on to co-host “Street Cents,” a teen-themed news magazine series that originally aired on CBC television, before turning the page to historical play writing.
“One of my plays, ‘Jukie and Her Dad,’ is being produced at the Saint John Theatre Company this summer, and in October of this year is the world premiere of my new musical ‘KAMP.’ I met my composer and lyricist partner, Garry Williams, when he musically directed ‘Titanic: The Fateful Voyage.”
He acknowledged, “Garry also performed and musically directed Feasts.”
Jessica Gallant, at 18, soon discovered too that she could accomplish much through the Feast stage with her electrifying performances.
“I got to play five different instruments, sing to a sold-out crowd every night, and also had the opportunity to improvise during the show. I truly look back on those days with extreme fondness, and am so happy that Islanders have this incredible opportunity to perform at home,” she reflected.
After her time in dinner theatre, Gallant landed the main role in “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical,” at the Charlottetown Festival. She played “Sandy” in the Toronto production of “Grease the Musical” at the Winter Garden Theatre, as well as “Allie” in Neptune Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!”
“My time in Summerside definitely prepared me for my time as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables and for the rest of my career in the performing arts,” she concluded.