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Morinville actor hitting the stage in Fringe Festival production

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(Last Updated On: Aug 13, 2019)

From left: Playwright Matthew ‘Gus’ Gusul, actors Prudence Olenik, Geordie Cheeseman, Wendy Shobe, and Director Alix Reynolds. – submitted photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Morinville resident Geordie Cheeseman is one of the actors in The Anal Stage: Moments on a Toilet, a new comedy written by Matthew ‘Gus’ Gusul and directed by Alix Reynolds. The play takes place at the Telus Phone Museum until Aug. 24.

The Anal Stage: Moments on a Toilet tells the story of a mother who returns to help improve her son after death. But she can only communicate with him while he is on the toilet.

Cheeseman has been acting since 2016 when he retired from the military. The past eight months have seen the Morinville resident amplify his lifelong dream. Although he’s done a few films, commercials and television this year, he decided to expand and audition for a play.

“I wanted to expand my acting skills, so I auditioned for this play. All of my favourite actors have done some stage work, and I thought it would help my skills. Also, growing up, I had my stepfather Bill, who was deep into the theatre. I respected the guy, and it was one of his passions.”

Cheeseman said he was “pretty freaked out” when he learned he got the part in The Anal Stage. “Film acting is relatively easy. You can stop and start whenever you want to find your place, and you can have as many takes as you need, but onstage you have to be able to keep it going.”

The actor said he regards the live theatre as storytelling at its finest and something that appeals to him in a meaningful way. “Long before the written word, acting has been used to pass along history and lessons,” he said. “I greatly respected stage work.”

Matthew’ Gus’ Gusul, the playwright behind The Anal Stage, has both a Master’s and a Ph.D. in theatre. His theatre work includes working with diverse communities to help them tell their own stories.

“In Canada, I worked mostly with seniors groups, and some with Indigenous peoples. I have also worked in China and India, helping communities tell traditional stories and stories of political interest,” he said. “This first play from my imagination being staged is a new experience. I am extremely thrilled to be doing it at the Edmonton Fringe as I have been attending the festival since I was a child in the 1980s.”

The Anal Stage started its formation about ten years ago when he was simultaneously studying the theories of Sigmund Freud while attending a few Fringe Shows. The combination inspired him.

“Over the years, I have seen a lot of Fringe shows, and many of them take place in the bathroom,” he said. “While learning about the [Freudian theory of the] Anal Stage, I thought “wouldn’t it be funny to have a play about a mom who comes back from the dead and only visits while he is on the toilet because she neglected him during the anal stage. This sat in the back of my mind for years until Alix and I started talking about working on a play together.”

Director Alix Reynolds was also looking for a new project after having directed a couple plays in Newfoundland.

“Alix and I were searching for ideas, and we started storyboarding this play on a road trip to Calgary to see a punk rock show,” Gusul recalled, adding the play took on a quick life. “I have tried to make a play that would make me laugh. This play is meant for a Fringe fest in that it will be best after having a beer and should elicit some good conversation for the beer gardens afterwards.”

Director Alix Reynolds said they have been rehearsing since early June.

“It has been a great process so far,” the director said. “This is my first new-work, a goal of mine which has motivated my work for years, and inspired me to complete my theatre directing MFA.”

Reynolds went on to say it has been refreshing to collaborate with a playwright who is not only flexible with his choices and ideas but also understands the director well. This interaction has allowed communication to flow smoothly.

Cheeseman is joined on stage by two other actors – Prudence Olenik and Wendy Shobe. Reynolds said while there are challenges with a smaller cast, she sees the benefits of a small group.

“The team has so few others to pick up the slack, or compensate for missed cues/lines,” Reynolds said. “This means they must trust each other implicitly, and it forces the group to really come through for one another. In this way, we become somewhat of a family unit, and for the 12 or so weeks that we are together, that bond becomes very strong, therefore affecting the performance you see on stage.”

Reynolds went on to recommend that attendees go to the bathroom before the performance because the laughter will be non-stop.

“I expect this show will have legs far beyond the fringe grounds, and I am excited to see where it takes us in the future,” Reynolds said.

Cheeseman, who joins Reynolds and Gusel in achieving a first with The Anal Stage, is hoping Morinville and area residents will come out and see the comedy on one of its performances.

“I would encourage people to watch this play because it has a lot of deeper meanings and messages. It is not about a guy who just sits on a toilet,” he said. “All three characters struggle somewhat to find meaning in their lives. I think no two people will walk away from watching it thinking the same thing.”

Showtimes and tickets can be found at https://tickets.fringetheatre.ca/performances.php?eventId=601:3036.

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