Unique response to cancer battle spawns “fringe of the Fringe” experience

Old Firehall #8 in Elmwood hosts one-of-a-kind theatrical production.

Old Firehall #8 in Elmwood hosts one-of-a-kind theatrical production.

If, like me, you’re a die-hard Fringe fan suffering pangs of withdrawal now that Winnipeg’s 29th Fringe Festival is over, you might be interested in a unique stage play coming up in August.

The show, a Black Hat production presented by Winnipeg’s Prompters to Life, will be the first theatre event ever staged at the old Winnipeg Firehall #8, a building with a proud 90-year tradition at the heart of community life in Elmwood.

Beginning with the 11 horses and 16 firefighters it could house, Firehall #8 (325 Talbot Ave.) served Winnipeg for 66 years as a Fire Department station before becoming, in turn, an ambulance depot, a boxing club, and a YFC-operated youth drop-in centre, complete with an exterior climbing wall as high as the top of the tower.

Designated a historic site by the City of Winnipeg, Firehall #8 was then purchased by Riverwood Church Community, who refurbished it in a meticulous renovation that was honoured with a Winnipeg Heritage Preservation Award.

Last year, our daughter’s and son-in-law’s was the first wedding to be held in the facility. This year, at 7 p.m. on Wed. Aug. 17, a one-man stage show, Three Things: Stories about Life, opens for a five-performance run closing Sun. August 21.

Dennis Maione.

Dennis Maione.

The playwright and performer, Dennis Maione, proves the adage that you can’t keep a good man down. After having run a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce the play—but not having won a coveted slot in the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe lottery—Maione decided to find his own venue to mount the production a few weeks later in summer, “at the fringe of the Fringe.”

“I may be at the front end of a new thing here,” grins Maione. “It’s kind of like Etsy: pop-up and even more DIY than the Fringe. If you’re going to try it anywhere, Winnipeg is the place, [being] a city that loves its theatre, music, and festivals.”

In addition to providing top-notch theatrical entertainment, the play represents the second major arts endeavour to come out of Maione’s response to a battle waged with hereditary cancer over the past quarter-century.

The first project, also funded as a Kickstarter, was his bestselling volume of creative nonfiction, What I Learned from Cancer, a tale that is gritty, funny, and poignant. The engaging book has already sold more than 1,500 copies, with several book tours having taken Maione across North America, conducting readings in homes, bookstores, libraries, and other venues as far west as Salt Spring Island and Victoria, as far east as Toronto, and as far south as Georgia and North Carolina.

The third and final installment in what Maione describes as a triptych of creative explorations of lessons learned under the duress of cancer is Finding Wholeness, a book slated for publication—with the help of an upcoming Kickstarter—by early 2017.

A professional speaker and popular instructor, Maione gives keynote addresses for the Canadian Cancer Society and other groups about three main lessons he learned from cancer, lessons he likes to distill as “resist labels, embrace community, and pursue wholeness.”

Maione’s play, however, departs from the cancer narrative while still underscoring these values: the storyline is based loosely on other true events.

In standard Maione fashion, the play affords many laughs while depicting deep struggle and finding a thread of hope. In the best tradition of alternative theatre, it  also uses some unusual staging techniques.

“Folks who come to this play are going to identify with one or other of the characters, and they’re going to leave having laughed and enjoyed themselves. And challenged to reflect on human behaviour.”

The play’s director is Winnipeg’s long-time and talented thespian Rob Kwade, who has directed and acted in numerous productions with Tara Players, Postage Stamp Players, An at 8 Productions, and various Fringe productions. Highlights include this summer’s Fringe show Seducing Father Brian as well as acting and directing in the past five Master Playwright Festivals, a popular winter festival sponsored by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Tickets are, in true Fringe fashion, $10 and available at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased at DennisMaione.com/store. Maione notes that entrance is at the rear door of the Firehall, which opens 30 minutes before the show.

Evening performances are at 7:00 p.m. on the following dates:

Wed. Aug. 17
Fri. Aug. 19
Sat. Aug. 20
Sun. Aug. 21

There is one matinée performance, at 2 p.m. on Sat. Aug. 20.

After the run concludes, Maione hopes to take his show beyond Winnipeg to other venues. He also has two additional books underway, with the working titles Past Calls Future and Camino Tales.

It’s hard not to catch some of this dynamic storyteller’s broad enthusiasm and energy: “There are a lot of things I want to do. My head is full of ideas, and I’m always looking for the time to realize the next project.”

If there’s one thing Maione knows, it’s that life is to be lived.

For further information, email him at dennis@PromptersToLife.com

Listen to a full length interview with Dennis Maione on the CJNU 93.7 FM radio show, River City 360, betweeen 8:15 and 9 a.m. on Sun. Aug. 14.