Those who can, teach: a new theatre company debuts at the Fringe

Almost, Maine. The Vanguard at Edmonton Fringe 2019.

By Liz Nicholls,

Those who can, do. Those who aren’t afraid to, teach…. And then they get up onstage at the Fringe.

The production of Almost, Maine that opens Friday at the Fringe (BYOV Stage 25) introduces a new theatre company in town. The Vanguard is made up entirely of valiant artists who have the chutzpah to put their money where their mouths are, in a particularly dramatic and tangible way. They’re all high school drama teachers, from eight or nine schools across the city. And they’re ready to practise what they preach, onstage, in public.

“Scary!” laughs actor/ director Neil Kuefler, a founding member of Thou Art Here! (specializing in “site-sympathetic” Shakespeare) and a theatre department teacher at Victoria School of the Arts. “The vision was all about collaboration, professional development, creating opportunities for educators to practice their skills, learn new ones,  hone their theatre craft.” The beneficiaries, in the end, will be the kids, who return to class, and rehearsals, this fall.

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“Immersive and hands-on,” says producer Jake Tkaczyk of the new venture, which he hopes will lead to further productions throughout the year. They’re thinking Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd

The Vanguard picked Almost, Maine, a quirky and  much-produced 2004 romantic comedy by the New York actor John Cariani, mainly because it’s constructed of nine 10-minute vignettes of love and loss — “a lot of heart, not overly dark,” says Kuefler — in a mythical Maine town near the Canadian border. So the vignettes can be rehearsed separately, with nine directors: great scene study practice. Of the Vanguard team, “everyone acts in two pieces and directs one,” says Kuefler. 

Since it’s the Fringe, versatility is at a premium. And the Vanguard cast brings “a wide diversity of experience” to the enterprise, as Kuefler says. “Hey, I can design the poster. Mark (Mark Vetsch) is great with lighting. Scott (Scott Shpeley, actor/ rock musician/ composer) can do the sound board….” It’s the teacher version of “hey, my uncle’s got a barn. Let’s put on a show.”

“We’re doing theatre on the front line,” says Kuefler. “After all, we’re teaching the next generation of theatre-makers.”

Almost, Maine runs at Strathcona High School Friday through Aug. 23. 

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