I’m sitting at the back of the PCVS auditorium talking with Jen and Greg Nugent, who have invited me to have a sneak peek at Enter Stage Right’s new show After the Battle that opens on Wednesday, April 25th.
As I start my recorder, we are interrupted by a girl dressed up in yellow and green spandex.
“We need your help,” says the girl to Jen, the show’s director.
“What’s wrong?” asks Jen.
“Amy’s costume,” says the girl vaguely.
“What’s wrong with Amy’s costume exactly?” Jen pushes.
“Everything. It’s not fitting right.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jen says.
These interactions are the reason I always cherish the time I spend with the cast and company of Enter Stage Right each year.
Now in its fifth year of operation, Enter Stage Right is a not-for-profit theatre company run by Jen and Greg Nugent — a sister-and-brother team who were former theatre kids and are now working as teachers.
When the duo realized that most area high schools no longer had the support to do theatrical performances, the pair created their own theatre company so that the area high school students slipping through the cracks can have their opportunity to be hands on in creating an original show.
Soon after I begin my recorder again, a tall girl wearing an awkwardly fitting blue spandex costume walks along the stage.
“Amy! Your costume is probably difficult because you put it on backwards,” Jen yells at the girl on the stage. “The zipper goes up the front.”
I never know just what’s going to happen when I come to visit, but I know that it’s always going to be a lot of fun.
Following up their production of Everybody Loves Archie last year, this year Enter Stage Right returns to comic books for inspiration with Greg’s original play After the Battle, which he first mentioned to me nearly three years ago.
After the Battle takes the audience into a world of colourful heroes and inept villains.
“The premise is about what a superhero does after there are no more battles left to fight,” Greg explains. “But it also looking at the idea of purpose — all the characters are looking for their role in the world. A lot of them have chosen a path that they thought at one time was the right one for them, but now they are trying to discern whether they should stay on it or take a different path.
“Sometimes we get caught in specific roles in life. We continue doing things that we don’t enjoy because that’s our role. A lot of the show is about characters looking at if they should break out of that mold and if they should take a different path, and the difficulty in doing that when you’ve put so much in that role. It’s hidden in there, with all the puns and songs and slapstick, but we manage to pull it all together with a wonderful cast that is really talented at what they do.”
When a meteor crashes into a high school in an unnamed metropolis, all the students are given super powers by the space rock. Some choose to be heroes, while others choose to be villains. But when the most powerful of the heroes, Captain So Much Better Than You, wipes out all the city’s crimes within a matter of days, the heroes and villains are swept into a state of banality and boredom where they don’t really know what to do with themselves.
Enter Madison Clark (played by Britney Burton), a normal girl who leaves her small town to move to the big city. While unpacking she meets inept burglar The Gooch and her canine-turned-human companion Snitchy (Jordan de Groot and Lauren Wilson, who perform as a hilarious comedy duo). Through her new unlikely friends, Madison is introduced to the community of third-tier heroes and villains that remain in the city.
“Madison Clark is our eyes and ears in meeting all the heroes and villains,” Greg says. “We get to see them through her eyes. In their eyes, the heroes think they are absolutely fantastic and key to the survival of the city, but through her eyes she sees that they are not as great as they may think.”
Although crime has been abolished in the city, one arch villain remains: Masterplan (played by a deliciously diabolical Elen Gaquollan). While the heroes tolerate her big ideas, Masterplan doesn’t seem to be able to get things to work out for her.
“Master Plan is the only super villain that has not been put in prison because she’s so bad at what she does that there is no point,” Greg says. “So she goes around with all these intricate and elaborate plans to take over the world that ultimately always blow up in her face.”
For After the Battle, Greg has created a whole world of zany and hilarious characters: The Multi-Purpose Marauder (Antje Kroes) who has 67 super powers, each more useless than the next; The Bureaucrat (Isaac Martin), who can do math equations really quickly; Appleonia (Lena Ross), who has an unlimited supply of apples, as well as apple puns; and, my personal favorite, The Wave (Taite Cullen), who is an angry homage to Aquaman.
“The Wave does not get along with people very well,” Greg says. “She’s a hero and is saving people in this town, but she really doesn’t like them.”
Other characters include The Guy in the Mask, played with awkward hilarity by Joel Alexandra, and the sultry Eye Candy, played by Amy Daye, who … well, her name kind of says it all. More characters appear in the yet-to-be-revealed second act including Reverend Right Hook (Shayne Fertile), The Green Thumb (Ceilidh Peters), and The Unspeakable Horror (Katey Cliff).
VIDEO: Singing in the Stairwell Vol. 11: Amy Daye (“Eye Candy”)
Much of the play’s emotional arc seems to revolve around Masterplan’s sidekick The Get It Girl, played by Lydia Etherington. A wonderful young actress who I have seen on stage before (most notably in Ryan Kerr’s production of Voices in 2016), Lydia takes on the role of this important character after the original actress left the production three weeks ago. With Lydia’s hilariously dry delivery, I can’t imagine anybody else as The Get It Girl.
“As Masterplan’s sidekick, The Get It Girl signed up for this great plan of taking over the world, but now it’s been seven years and it’s not going well,” Greg explains. “She’s one of the smarter characters in the show and begins to realize that this plan is not going to happen. However, she’s stuck in this rut where she needs to decide if she’s going to dedicate everything to taking over this town, or move on and do something different.”
Although superheroes are big business at the box office today, Greg admits that he took his inspiration for After the Battle from the 1966 television version of Batman starring Adam West.
“I think that version of Batman was such a magnificent show because it’s not like any other television show that’s out there,” Greg explains. “You’ve got this very interesting combination of action and comedy, and it often felt like all the actors had come from different genres and were coming together to be in on a big joke.
“So I came from the idea that it was very tongue in cheek, and everybody was in on it. I began to wonder what it’d be like if it was like this, but the characters weren’t in on the joke, and what they thought they were doing was not as heroic or villainous as they thought it was.”
With the exception of Amy Daye, Antje Kroes, Isaac Martin, Lauren Wilson, and Jordan de Groot, most of the cast of After the Battle are new to Enter Stage Right. The majority of the performers that appeared in Jen and Greg’s last two productions, Welcome to Butternut Grove and Everybody Loves Archie, graduated from high school last year and have moved on to other pursuits.
Thus, for After the Battle, Jen and Greg had the difficult challenge of recruiting an entire new company of performers to create the world of After the Battle. However, like other years, I was struck by the high energy and talent of the group.
“You’re always a little bit concerned in the first rehearsal if the cast is going to mesh or not,” Jen says. “But it was pretty obvious from the get go that they cared about the show and each other and creating a good story. If they can embrace their characters from the beginning, then it gives them a chance to be able to play around with them and help develop them more.”
In promoting the company, Jen says that Enter Stage Right really depends on the kids in the company as being their best ambassadors.
“The best way we get kids out (to participate in Enter Stage Right) is by word of mouth from kids that have a positive, uplifting experience, or feel really empowered and given a leadership opportunity,” Jen says. “Greg and I can go to schools to do workshops but, although we are not unlikeable, we are still adults … so sometimes what we say is taken with a grain of salt.
“When you have a group of kids who are respected and appreciated, then they are the ones who will tell people they should get involved. When you are doing something that isn’t officially affiliated to their school, then their heart is really in the right place. They really love theatre and are doing it for the right reasons.”
As a local theatre program, Enter Stage Right is very special to me. I have a great respect for Jen and Greg, and always admire the creativity and cutting-edge humour in their scripts. As someone who attended a high school that didn’t have a lot of support for the arts, I find that I relate to the kids appearing in the production, and I am always amazed by their spirit, their energy and their creativity.
But what I find the most important is that Enter Stage Right provides a safe and inclusive environment for local teenagers to create something interesting that can be enjoyed by audiences of every age. I believe in the work that Jen and Greg and their company do every year.
After the Battle is a fast and witty show that had me laughing out loud and falling in love with each character. If you love superheroes, or have a kid who does, or you just want to support some talented kids creating some fun theatre, come and see After the Battle.
After the Battle runs from Wednesday, April 25th to Saturday, April 28th at the PCVS Auditorium (201 McDonnel St., Peterborough). The shows starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $15 at the door for adults, or $10 for students and seniors.