A small village raises an actor: Andrew's story

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 12, 2004

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I've come to see how a village can also raise an actor – in this case, an awakening giant of Alberta theatre, Andrew MacDonald-Smith, of Ghost Lake Village.

Awakening giant? Well, entirely aside from being six-foot-four, Andrew got Cochrane-area elementary students to really look up to him last month in his role as the eight-foot giant in Alberta Opera Company's performance of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

The slim, blue-eyed 20-year-old is currently on tour with Alberta Opera to hundreds of schools throughout the province. He's been a member of the cast of this humorous adaptation of the beloved story since completing the Theatre Arts Program at Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College last year.

Audiences throughout the Bow Valley began to sense Andrew's talent several years ago in his appearances in Cochrane High School productions, such as Hello Dolly! and Seraph Theatre Company productions, including The Tempest.

These gave Andrew the opportunity to work under the direction of Merrilie Stonewall and Stacie Harrison, responsible for an ever-increasing number of Cochrane students appearing in theatre arts throughout Canada.

But it's the encouragement of a village during Andrew's youngest years, I believe, that got him off to a really good start.

Ghost Lake Village resident Mitzi Watts is one of Andrew's earliest fans. Since he was an infant, Mitzi and her family – and especially her daughter Leona – have teamed up with Andrew's super-supportive parents, Paul and Ade, to nurture his stage-friendliness.

Over coffee the other day, Mitzi shared with me her photo album of Andrew moments. There was a shot of him at six months, sitting in a high chair, sporting outrageously large dark-framed spectacles and beaming as if he already knew he held his audience in his hands. And there was a shot of him a few years later in a playschool production at the old Beaupre Hall, and another of him pretending to hold up a large leaning tree trunk.


"The Ghost Lake Kids" – Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Mandy Gibson, left, and Leona Watts, right – give their prize-winning lip-synch performance of "It's Not Unusual" at the 1999 Ghost Lake Village Regatta. MacDonald-Smith recently performed in Cochrane as part of an Alberta Opera tour. Photo by Mitzi Watts

What really caught my attention, however, were the photographs taken during Ghost Lake Village's annual Regatta and talent show. They took me back to my own August long weekends in the friendly lakeside community of 95 west of Cochrane, when Andrew's stand-up comedy and lip-synch routines – "The Streak" and "Splish Splash" were all-time favorites – attracted the whole village.

It was during these performances, he says, that he first became aware of the intoxicating dynamic that was developing between himself and his audiences. He could actually get people of all ages to "laugh out loud."

And sometimes now, he says, he's also able to bring understanding and comfort.

Following one performance of Jack and the Beanstalk earlier this year, a primary-grades girl approached Andrew and said, "My dad lives far away, too." The observation that Jack was being raised by his mother, while his father was out of the picture, had touched the little girl deeply.

Moments like this affirm for Andrew a special value of his theatrical calling: by doing well what he loves best, he can become an older brother to others in their "village," wherever and whatever their village may be.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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