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Q&A with … Morris Ertman (Rosebud Theatre)

Morris Ertman

This is one of a series of interviews with some of the movers and shakers in the Calgary area musical theatre scene. Morris Ertman is the Artistic Director of  Rosebud Theatre. He also co-wrote the award-winning musical Tent Meeting, which he is currently turning into a screenplay.

How did you get involved in theatre and make your way to Rosebud?

I grew up in Millet, Alberta, a small town near Edmonton. I was smitten by theatre as a teenager. I was involved in high school productions and even had a subscription to the Citadel Theatre, which performed out of the old Salvation Army Hall in those days. I studied theatre directing and design, as well as religion, in University and then went on to be a freelance director and theatrical designer across the country for about twenty years, including involvement with The Stratford Festival, The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, The Canadian Opera Company, and Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. About thirteen or fourteen years ago, Rosebud Theatre asked me to come direct Cotton Patch Gospel, and after directing a few other shows for them, they asked me to be Artistic Director.  I’ve been here ever since.

How is Rosebud Theatre different from other theatre companies?

As soon as you enter the Rosebud Valley, you know you’re in for something special  – there’s an ethos here of storytelling, artistic expression, beauty and intimacy that you can’t find elsewhere.  We’re about an hour northeast of Calgary. Because most people need to travel to get here, it’s almost like a pilgrimage. By the time they arrive, they are primed to open their hearts to experience and receive our productions.  They tell us they are often astonished at the quality and clarity of the storytelling.

Rosebud Theatre is one of few Canadian theatre companies with a resident company, which means the same actors work together on a number of different plays, along with our guest artists. This gives them a shorthand language that makes it easy to work the details – kind of like a band that’s used to playing together over the years. There’s also a synergy with the Rosebud School of The Arts and the town itself. Many of the people in the company work at the school, and many of the school’s students apprentice at the theatre and eventually become part of the resident company. Also most of the one hundred or so people who live in Rosebud work for the theatre, the school or both. It’s not uncommon to walk by someone’s house and see people playing music or reading scripts on the front porch. As a result, our audiences, many of whom are long-time patrons, get to know us well, and almost feel like we’re family.

It’s amazing to me that a town this small can manage to pull off something this big. How did it get started?

The Rosebud School of the Arts started about thirty years ago, as the vision of Laverne Erikson, a teacher of music and visual arts. She felt that artistic expression could be an economic driver for a dying town. The summer programme for Calgary youth she founded expanded to become the Rosebud School of the Arts and in 1983 the school decided to put on a play, Where The Sun Meets the Earth, as a fundraiser. It was so successful, they put on a show every summer and it kept growing and growing. Within ten years they were putting on three shows a year, attracting over 25,000 people a year. Now we have a fully professional dinner theatre putting on five shows year-round – including two musicals – and bringing in over 35,000 people a year from all over Alberta and beyond. [For more on the history of the school and theatre, go to Rosebud School of The Arts – History – LMC].

What do you look for when selecting a musical?

Our current show is a good example of what we’re looking for. Anne of Green Gables is a story that’s well known and loved – in fact, many people say it’s the single most important book they’ve ever read.  We’re looking for a story that’s bigger than our own humanity, one that shows the values of goodness, grace, inclusiveness and the power of redemption. We think there’s enough hardness in the world, so we choose shows with an optimistic viewpoint. While Rosebud Theatre has its roots in the Christian faith (Laverne was a youth pastor), and our shows often have a spiritual or moral lesson, you’d be hard-pressed to say the shows we do are more overtly religious than those of other theatre companies.

I also have to consider the cast I have available, particularly the leads. In this case, I knew I had a great “Anne” in Cassia Schramm in the School, and that was one of the reasons I selected it for our summer show this year.

Why should people come to see Anne of Green Gables?

We tell the story very well. People who love the story have told us that the show we have delivered to them is true to the original spirit of the book and the 1965 musical. The show is inventively staged and we have great performers.  Also, there are lots of parallels between Rosebud today and the town of Avonlea 100 years ago, where the story is set, so it’s a wonderful environment in which to see this show. It’s also a nice outing for people from the city. Many people make a weekend of it by staying at one of Rosebud’s quaint inns, B&B’s or campgrounds, doing some shopping in town or taking in the attractions of nearby Drumheller, including the Badlands and the world-famous Royal Tyrell (dinosaur) Museum.

Anne of Green Gables runs until August 25. For more information go to: Rosebud Theatre

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