Randy (haha) Apostle
This is one of a series of more-or-less-monthly interviews with some of the movers and shakers in the Calgary musical theatre scene, which is interesting, since he lives in Winnipeg. Randy Apostle is the Artistic Director of Jubilations Dinner Theatres in Calgary and Edmonton and Celebrations Dinner Theatre in Winnipeg (all under the umbrella of “Wow! Hospitality Concepts”). He also writes most of the scripts for their productions (70/110 of the shows he’s worked on, to be precise) . He responded to my questions in writing.
What’s your background and how did you get involved with Wow! Hospitality Concepts?
I was born and raised in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and I attended the University of Regina Drama department, with the assistance of a scholarship and student loans…lol. My mother encouraged me to also get training for a ‘real job’ so I studied and became a Registered Psychiatric Nurse. I practised for a few years in both Saskatchewan and Alberta and then I began acting in a few shows here and there. Before I knew it, I was taking a leave of absence and soon after that, was back into show biz full-time. I worked in quite a few different theatres as an actor and stage manager and learned more about stage craft all along the way. I first began writing scripts with comedy troupes and moved into tackling full plays from there. I started performing with this type of theatre in Regina where the model was brought from the many dinner theatres on the east coast. At one point I was asked to direct a show out in Winnipeg. During that production the existing artistic team parted ways with their producer and there I was putting up my first show… After that there were a few years of craziness with different owners and locations…the usual small theatre growing pains. Regina was on their own and Winnipeg and Edmonton had venues needing shows…At that time I was living down in Los Angeles and flying up to direct…not a very cost-effective idea…It was at this time I began writing scripts for the shows. Then around 1993, our present producers took the helm and with their background being in the restaurant business, it was a good marriage of skills. Since that time we have moved both the Winnipeg and Edmonton venues and opened a third in Calgary.
How does one of your shows get developed and produced?
The process is pretty straight ahead. As artistic director I assemble show ideas - either my own or pitches from other writers. We do many spoofs on pop culture, television, films and even musicals. I present them to the producers who narrow it down to ones they believe have the best marketing possibilities. Next I put together longer treatments of each idea. I meet with the producers again and get feedback from the three theatres on their opinions and put together a show list. From that I plan out the pre-production, bring in guest directors sometimes, put that together and off we go. First off, of course, is the script. Depending on who is writing – me or someone else – we may work on drafts for a year. Next I look into casting… again, the earlier the better! Another challenge with doing spoofs is trying to loosely match the “look” of the show you are sending up while also needing performers who are triple threats (singers, dancers, actors). Next, I meet with our department heads and they put together the set and costume design, the music producer and I consult on the music and he puts together musicians to record our music. We have a 2-1/2 week rehearsal period and open our shows in Winnipeg, after which they move to Edmonton and Calgary in succession. I have been known to change things right up until closing week in Calgary whether that be rewrites or even changing up songs. The show may also change when a different actor comes in and a new dynamic is introduced. One advantage to creating our own works is the freedom to alter and tweak each and every production.
Do you use the same cast and creative team in all locations?
I have been blessed to have all of the production team intact for around 20 years! So our comfort and trust level is very high, yet open to challenges and growing all the time. A big challenge over the years was making the move from small rooms and small capacity to larger venues that made them a more attractive business opportunity for investors. The entire concept had to evolve. In the early days the cast took part in the service and would be on-stage belting out a tune one minute and serving you your cocktail the next. Of course this was all about making a small company fly and we learned a lot about interactive dinner theatre and engaging your audience while immersing them in the concept. To this day we have our cast out in the house during the breaks maintaining that one-on-one experience, but they don’t serve food. Our servers are always in character and we have character building and improvisation workshops to encourage everyone in the room to become part of the show! I still very much love this concept! Although I oversee productions for all three theatres, it is not a tour, as the theatres are three separate entities and each issues their own contracts. Some of the actors move to other venues, but it is really up to them. The production crew has some folks who travel along with crew members hired in each city. The servers and crews all come from in town.
How do you decide on what shows to mock and what music to go with them? More importantly, how do you get away with it?
Spoofs and parodies have been around forever. The important thing is to never claim to be anything other than that. We are doing a send-up of a popular show, not claiming to be associated to it in any way, nor hoping to fool anyone into believing we are … just as Carol Burnett and so many other comedy shows do …Saturday Night Live is still doing it today… We are paying homage to shows we all share in our culture. Music is chosen in many different ways. The idea is pretty much the same as picking shows. We look for tunes that are familiar to a very wide spectrum of people. SOCAN rights are paid to use the songs.
Because of your 20-year run with Wow! your shows have probably been seen by more Canadians than those of any other the playwright, Norm Foster included, and yet you’re still relatively unknown. What do you say to that?
Ha. Ha. Well, to tell you the truth I have been so busy for so long I never really have given it much thought. I know I feel blessed to have had this gig and to work with so many talented people. I realize that ours is a rather odd entity in the theatre world today with one team supplying shows to three different theatres. I have not had to search out places to present my works. I am grateful to the many people who have attended so many of my shows and I do hear from quite a few, which is nice. I guess because of the nature of spoofs and parodies, many folks don’t look at the plays as original works. I can understand this, although many of our musicals over the years have not been based on particular shows or works but rather on genres. At the end of the day I have always believed that theatre is for the audience. I want to give them shows they enjoy and want to see. I do not have a burning desire to alter anyone’s views about life but I do like to make them laugh! Once in a while we create those touching moments and the power of music on emotions is of course huge, but the underlying goal is and always has been a fun night to share with family and friends and no matter what we are sending up we must never lose sight of that.
Do you write any plays other than those produced by Wow!?
Yes, over the years I have written shows for some other theatres and adapted shows from the 3 act dinner theatre format to 2 acts to present in non-dinner theatre settings. I have written for the Fringe, directed an improv soap opera and directed for other theatres. I also still pursue film and television acting, having just last week worked on a TV movie starring Rob Lowe.
Your next musical at Jubilations Dinner Theatre in Calgary is Two and Two Thirds Men. I’m sure fans of the TV show Two and a Half Men will flock to it, but what can you say that would convince someone like me who hates the original TV show to want to go (other than that neither Charlie Sheen nor Ashton Kutcher are in it, which is definitely a plus, for me, at least)?
Ha, ha. Well, as with all our spoofs it is important that we tell a story with our show that stands alone so people who have not seen the TV show (yes, there are some) can still understand and enjoy the show. Plus the music is a blast – ’70’s hits delivered by some really great singers! The interaction with all the cast and staff is aimed at you having a good time! No, I probably can’t make you a fan of a show you don’t fancy, but you may appreciate how we send up the characters and what we choose for them to sing!
Now, the one question I’ve been dying to ask after seeing two shows at Jubilations. Do ALL of your plays make reference to your hometown of Moose Jaw?
Yes, that is my little trademark…Most guest writers work it in as well, as our season ticket holders and regulars have come to expect and look forward to where it is going to show up. My Mom is still living there and I have to admit it was a good place to grow up.
Two and Two Thirds Men is playing from June 29 to September 2. For more information on this or previous shows, go to Jubilations Dinner Theatre.