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Sylvan Lake talent was a big winner at the Heartland One Act Festival

A Plant Called Kyle McKinney written by local Aaron Vanderweg was chosen as the nights winner
Sylvan Lake local Zoe Smibert (left), and Red Deer Polytechnic graduate Casey Powlick (right) practice their performance during the dress rehearsal of Aaron Vanderweg’s play A Plant Called Kyle McKinney . (Photo submitted by Aaron Vanderweg.)

Local Sylvan Lake playwright and actor Aaron Vanderweg was a big winner at the regional Heartland One Act Festival on April 22.

Taking home awards for best new play and an acting award for his performance in Reception Vanderweg told Sylvan Lake News winning the awards was a validation.

“Working on the play, it’s a comedy, and the premise of it seems a little goofy on paper. ‘A young woman wakes up one day to find her boyfriend has become a houseplant’,” he said.

”But I felt like I knew that story. We’ve all had that friend in a relationship that could be better. And I think we’ve all wondered about our own relationships from time to time. So to know that people really enjoyed that story, that people let themselves get invested in a literal houseplant, that was just amazing. That’s the magic of theatre.”

The play, A Plant Called Kyle McKinney is inspired by individuals coming out of the lockdowns over the past few years.

“The two characters each have something that was “good enough for now” to get them through-one has the world’s most “good enough” boyfriend, and the other has the world’s most “good enough” apartment,” Vanderweg said.

“You know, the cupboard doors are falling off and half the lights don’t work. But it was survivable. Now that things are open again, we get to ask, ‘do I deserve a little more than this? Do I deserve a life that is more than survivable?’”

Becoming a playwright as well as an actor brought forward the opportunity to tell more stories about relatable people.

“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of roles for people like me,” he explained.

“The stories were largely told by very established playwrights: You know, people late in their career, who maybe had some financial stability and success under their belt. They didn’t tell stories that felt real to me. I grew up in a small town, people are so unique here. People are poor, people are odd, people love each other. I wanted to write stories about that.”

Since the play was chosen as the night’s winner it will now be advancing the provincial festival in Lethbridge on May 26 and 27 where the awards will be covering many different categories in theatre including technical merit, lights, sound, acting, directing and script writing.

Being able to represent Sylvan Lake on a provincial level is exciting, Vanderweg said.

“Myself and Zoe [one of the two actresses] grew up here. We debuted our acting character on the “main-stage” at Ecole H. J. Cody high school. It would be amazing to take home a provincial level award for performance, or for the script as “Best New Original Work”. We want the whole province to know how much talent Sylvan Lake has.”

Apart from his play Vanderweg took home a best actor award for his role in Reception.

Reception tells the story of a young actor who keeps getting offered parts that aren’t as important or as serious as they know they could do which was interesting, Vanderweg said, they want to play the gun-slinging cowboy but get offered the part of the eye candy side character.

“It’s hard to get taken seriously in this industry sometimes,” he said.

“Especially going from your early twenties into your “real career”. I think people in any industry know what that feels like; waiting for your job to pay you what you’re worth, to give you some real responsibility, to feel rewarding. I feel like that’s where I’m at now as an artist. So I let myself share that frustration with the audience.”

Apart from now having the opportunity to work with a professional playwright, there are also many other exciting projects Vanderweg is working on.

“I’m hoping to write a full-length play this time to take it to the Edmonton Fringe festival. I’m also going to be starting a play-writing circle here in town with Sylvan Lake Theatre which will be open to everybody and more details for that will be coming soon.”

Members from Sylvan Lake Theatre who were nominated and performed at the awards included:

  • Aaron Vaderweg - playwright and director of A Plant Called Kyle McKinney, actor for Reception (Sylvan Lake)
  • Zoe Smibert - actor in A Plant Called Kyle McKinney (Sylvan Lake)
  • Sarain Soonias - playwright and the lead actor for Reception (Sylvan Lake)
  • Jeremy Brooks - director for Reception (Sylvan Lake)
  • Everett Dool - actor (Lacombe)
  • Casey Pwlik - actor (Red Deer)
  • Vahn James McCagg - actor (Red Deer)



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Sarah Baker

About the Author: Sarah Baker

I joined Black Press in March 2023 and am looking forward to sharing stories about the local communities.
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