More than 10 years after their last performances at Argyle’s Buchanan Theatre, local actors Sam Fraser and Garth Phillips are taking to the stage again in a new production showcasing the diversity and community of theatre. 

The joy of theatre

Two local actors are hitting the stage this month in a new production called Sigma Acapella. They are part of a thriving local theatre scene that spans from Deep Cove to Hendry Hall to Granville Island and beyond. 

Garth Phillips

Garth Phillips

“If you want to participate in local theatre there is a place for you,” said Phillips. “If you go to Hendry Hall or to Deep Cove and talk with the productions going on there they will be thrilled to have you. You can volunteer your time, and use the opportunity to connect with other theatre people.”

Fraser agrees that local theatre is typically an open and welcoming environment. 

“I am someone who doesn’t get out much. I am on the autism spectrum and there is something so wonderfully freeing about going to a theatre environment where there is no judgment. Bias falls away and I can use the written script to express something, be different or try something new.”

Both actors use the word collaborative when describing the productions they are typically a part of. 

“I am a bit of a storyteller,” said Fraser, who has also published a number of written works. “Theatre is wonderfully collaborative – I love working with people to create a sort of escape for others.”

Sam Fraser in a suit with a cane.

Sam Fraser

Phillips views it as an essential part of community.  

“Theatre is bringing pieces of life together and putting them together in a new and interesting pattern, bringing them together with other people. Theatre by definition is a community thing: a community makes it, a community comes and watches it and it’s those stories from the community. I think community is the heart of theatre.”

Both Fraser and Phillips are only part-time actors, having recently completed graduate studies and pursuing training and education in animation/gaming, respectively. Like most of their theatre colleagues, they are fitting in this production amongst life’s busyness – continuing a passion that started at Argyle. 

“Garth and I actually met at Argyle. We would be in the same productions,” said Fraser.  “I had to dip in and out of theatre while I was off getting various degrees but I would do it when I could.”

The current Rushed Production musical was a reminder for Phillips too that theatre is a passion he wants to prioritize. 

“I hadn’t done a production in the longest time and going forward, I know I want to do more,” he said. “I love this. I love that as we are making this, the cast is also making each other laugh. I love the process.”

Typically Phillips would have been behind the scenes and Fraser on stage but for Sigma Acapella they are both taking on stage roles.

A musical with heart

The two local actors will take to the stage on March 18 for the original musical Sigma Acapella  by Annahis Basmadjian. 

“Basically, there is a frat house on the edge of a university campus that is on the verge of being torn down to make way for some very fancy, expensive student housing. The unofficial leader learns of a loophole in the university bylaws that says any society of the arts or humanities is going to be saved, so they have to convince the administration that instead of a rundown frat house, they are a musical theatre group. They team up with an on-the-edge-of-university fringe musical theatre group – the Nobodies,” said Fraser.

The Nobodies are marginalized people for various reasons: disability, gender, sexuality, mental illness, he said. The two groups decide to stage their own musical. 

“Think of any 90’s movie where they are trying to save the rec centre from being torn down by the evil mayor – this is a version of that,” all wrapped up in a warm, witty musical, said Fraser. 

“It’s heartfelt and silly,” said Phillips. “I think it will particularly resonate with anyone who feels they are outside of regular society. There are a lot of themes people can relate to.”

It’s the script that spoke to Fraser and his lived experience of having autism.

“I think folks who have felt at casting calls – or elsewhere in life – who feel overlooked because of societal barriers will connect with this production.” 

The 20-person cast has been working for over two and half months to get to the stage. It’s been a tight timeline. 

“It’s frantic at this stage but it’s all coming together and we are surprised by what we are accomplishing each rehearsal,” said Phillips. “It all falls into place, everyone is putting their all in.”

Sigma Acapella is written and produced by Annahis Basmadjian and composed by Sebastian Ochoa Mendoza. Fraser says Badmadijan has a way of capturing and voicing marginalized characters with empathy and authenticity. 

“She is always very conscious of those differences and she is trying to push forward marginalized groups. She is honest and respectful,” said Fraser.

The cast and crew are excited about the performances.

“This has been a lovely time,” said Phillips. “It’s a great group of people coming together.”

Sigma Acapella can be seen at the Jack and Darlene Poole Theatre, Arts Umbrella, (1400 Johnston Street, Granville Island) | Opening: March 18, 2024, with dates March 18-March 29, 2024 | March 18-20 @ 7:00 PM, March 22-24 @ 7:00 PM, March 26-March 29 @7:00PM, doors opening at 6:30 pm. Tickets are available now for $30.

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