Cast eager to bring popular comedy to Lacombe

Walter Learning is happy to be in Lacombe and excited to get to work.

COLLECTIVE TALENT - The cast and crew of Perfect Wedding take a break during rehearsals recently. From back row left is Stage Manager Brittany Peterson

COLLECTIVE TALENT - The cast and crew of Perfect Wedding take a break during rehearsals recently. From back row left is Stage Manager Brittany Peterson

Walter Learning is happy to be in Lacombe and excited to get to work.

Learning, a longtime friend of Cow Patti Theatre Artistic Director AnnaMarie Lea, has been recruited by Cow Patti to direct Perfect Wedding, Cow Patti’s next production opening Feb. 13.

He said Perfect Wedding is a great play that he is looking forward to working on.

“It’s wonderful,” said Learning.

Perfect Wedding is a play written by Robin Hawdon. It tells the story of a young man who wakes on the morning of his wedding day to find himself in bed with a woman he doesn’t know, nor recollects meeting ever before.

Learning said it is a farce he is looking forward to directing.

He said most farces revolve around doors, with the action and comedy of the show coming from doors opening, doors closing, people coming through doors, people being chased through doors and so on. Case in point, in Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii, there is a hilarious scene where most of the cast chase each other through the set’s many doors and all end up in the closet.

However, Learning said that Perfect Wedding is different. Instead of doors, the comedy comes from language, character and very clever dialogue, added Learning.

Lea said she chose the play because it has a well-written script and excellent characters. She added that the subject matter of the play fit in well with its timeslot, as it will open the night before Valentine’s Day

“I think the audience will have fun with it,” said Lea.

Lea first met Learning in the 1980s while she was just beginning her acting career.

She did a general audition for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre company of which Learning was artistic director.

While she never got a call from Learning for a part, Lea was cast decades later in a production of Out of Order with Learning.

Learning admitted he didn’t remember Lea, but they became friends and ran into each other often throughout their careers.

Learning was actually offered a role in Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii, Cow Patti’s last production.

However, he declined in order to play Kris Kringle in a production of Miracle of 34th Street by the Theatre New Brunswick, the company Learning founded some 40 years ago in his home town.

So, now Lea has brought him on as director for Perfect Wedding.

She said she hopes this production with Cow Patti will be Learning’s “First of many.

“He is here now and I’m just absolutely thrilled,” said Lea.

Having a viable career in acting for over 60 years is impressive for anyone, but perhaps more interesting for Learning given that he has macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is a condition that leads to loss of one’s central vision. As such, Learning is not able to drive and has great difficulty reading.

Learning first became aware of his macular degeneration about six years ago when his son pointed out to him that he tended to hug the center line while driving.

Subsequently, Learning went to see his optometrist and discovered he had the beginning stages of the condition.

Years later, Learning was driving in Québec when he noticed he couldn’t quite read some of the road signs properly. He didn’t really need to, as he knew the route so well, but decided it would be safer if he stopped driving.

That was three and a half years ago, and Learning said he hasn’t driven since.

However, Learning seems to be quite light-hearted about the inconvenience and made several jokes about his condition.

“If you see me driving, get out of the way,” said Learning.

Difficulty seeing has done little to impede Learning’s career as an actor or director. He has simply found ways around obstacles like reading scripts.

At first, Learning was still able to read using powerful magnifiers and enlarged print.

As his condition progressed however, he began to experience letter fragmentation while reading.

Now, Learning uses a text to voice program on his computer to ‘read’ scripts.

When he gets a script, Learning enters it into the program and his computer will read the script to him. Also, because he can’t act and read from a script for the first few rehearsals as many actors do, Learning makes sure to memorize all his lines prior to the first rehearsal.

When it comes to directing, Learning depends a bit more on other members of cast and crew than directors with unhindered vision might.

For example, Learning said he simply has to trust lighting designers that the lighting is proper for the scene and creates the right mood.

While he doesn’t have very good central vision, Learning said he still has great peripheral vision and is able to see what actors are doing on stage without much difficulty.

He added that he doesn’t always need his sight to be able to do his job. “I can’t see well but I can still smell bad acting,” joked Learning.

Perfect Wedding plays from Feb. 13 to March 2 at the Lacombe Golf and Country Club. For tickets, call 403-782-2294 or 403-782-3956.