What started out as part of the local entertainment at the annual Dildo Days celebrations in July of 2010 has blossomed into a two-year run of box-office success for an amateur theatre/musical group, who are now in demand all over the Avalon Peninsula.
Calling themselves The Avalon Sleeveens, they actually began rehearsing in 2009 and practiced for a solid year before getting their act together and setting foot on stage before a live audience.
Their colourful name alone was intriguing enough to attract the curious who wanted to find out what this crowd would be up to on stage.
The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines the word sleeveen as a "sly deceitful man, a mean fellow, rascal or mischievous child," among others.
But none of those words could be used to describe the cast of 10 characters and seven crewmembers who make up the Avalon Sleeveens. They are just a fun-loving bunch of folk who love nothing more than to entertain their audiences and make them laugh, and maybe sometimes cry.
Two of their leading members, Linda Halfyard and Sue Clements, sat down with The Compass at Linda's home in Dildo last week to talk about the group and their work.
Clements produces their show, while Halfyard acts as MC.
"It's work, but it's still a lot of fun," says Halfyard. "I think that's what makes it fly. We enjoy doing it and we all get along fairly well."
Attired in costumes, hair and make-up to make them look as authentic as possible, the performers lip sync to the recorded vocals and strum along with the recorded instrumentals played by some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
If "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," the stars themselves should be flattered.
"We try and get our performers as close to the real characters as possible," says Halfyard. "But we are a lip sync group. The music is recorded and they are lip-syncing to it. And they do it so well that we've heard people in the front row arguing with each other and saying, 'I think they're really singing the song.' And they think the drums and base guitar are actually being played.
"In fact, the instruments are not even plugged in and the cords are hanging down from the mikes, not plugged into anything," adds Clements. "We don't try and hide the fact this is a lip-sync. We don't want anyone thinking they (performers) are really doing the singing."
Since they started performing, The Sleeveens have lip synched to some of the biggest names in the history of popular entertainment, from the fabulous 50s right up into the 21st century.
Bill Haley and The Comets, Dean Martin, Buddy Holly, Cher, Tiny Tim, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Susan Boyle, Johnny Reid and Rita McNeill are among the popular entertainers they have taken off. McNeill is an audience favourite, who always draws a standing ovation, they say.
The show has become so popular that Halfyard points out they could be performing somewhere every week. "But we're trying to limit ourselves. Last year we did four shows in one month, and that proved to be far too much. So we cut back and are hoping to limit it to four shows a year. Practicing and getting ready is a lot of work. We punch in at least six hours on Sunday nights and are going full tilt as we get closer to showtime."
While the performers are front and center stage, Clements says what keeps the show running smoothly are the people behind the scenes — people like Ira Halfyard, who handles all the stage, lighting and props, etc., and makes sure everyone is on cue.
Clements does double duty as producer and on-stage performer, while Andrew Pretty acts as director.
During costume changes, Linda, in her role as MC, keeps her audience entertained with jokes. "That really gets the crowd going, and they don't really have time to get bored. There's never a dull moment," she says.
Clements says she got the idea for the show from a group in Cambridge, Ontario, where she lived before moving to Newfoundland in 2009. They were called the Musical Legends and they did their first show to help raise funds for her daughter, who had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.
Helping worthy causes
While taking their show on the road to entertain audiences around the Avalon Peninsula, The Avalon Sleeveens have also been raising some big bucks for worthy causes.
They did a show in Kellegrews, the proceeds from which went to help send a person to Halifax for a kidney transplant. They also performed in Cavendish, raising funds for Alzheimer's, and another in Dildo for the Dr. Charles A. Janeway Child Health Centre.
"So far we've raise approximately $16,000 for worthy causes," says Halfyard.
"That's not bad for charity," Clements adds.
Pleasantly surprised by their success to date, Halfyard recalls, "we started off just doing this for Dildo Days, just thinking it would be something different."
The Sleeveens are currently rehearsing, and preparing for their next big show. They are also looking forward to it.
This weekend — Saturday, April 28 — they will be at the Whiteway Memorial Centre, where they will perform for a dinner theatre being organized and catered to by Brown's Restaurant, across the street from the centre.
Proceeds from the show will go to Camp Douwanna (Newfoundland and Labrador). Located at the Max Simms Memorial Camp near Bishop's Falls, Camp Douwanna is a camp for children 9-16 years-of-age living with Type 1 diabetes.
The cause is one especially close to the heart of Barb Brown, who has two diabetic grandchildren. Brown is owner of Brown's Restaurant.
Aside from raising funds, it's hoped the venture will help focus some public attention on a cause that doesn't always get the attention it deserves.
Although Brown has never seen the Sleeveens perform, she has heard a lot of good reviews from those who have. So she invited them to perform at the dinner theatre.
When she first approached them, Brown told The Compass last week, "they came on board right away and we've been planning for it ever since. I know what they do and I'm sure they do it well."
Confident in their ability to draw a crowd, Brown said, "they've drawn good crowds in the past, so hopefully they'll do the same now. They've raised a lot of money for charity, as have we here at the restaurant. We're always doing fundraisers and this is just one of them."
Between 150 and 170 tickets are being sold for the dinner theatre, at $35 each. The meal starts at 6:30 p.m. and showtime is 8 p.m.