The Future is Wild Horse

The vintage theatre at Fort Steele reinvents its mission

Since taking over the helm at the Wild Horse Theatre at Fort Steele Heritage Town, Gordon Sheridan has been reinventing the vintage facility as a centre of classic and repertory cinema for the Cranbrook area.

Sheridan, a media teacher who moved to Cranbrook in 2017, has been at the theatre since September of last year, and has been seeing his cinematic ideas for Fort Steele taking root and taking off.

“Traditionally, the theatre has only been open in the summer, now we’re open all year round,” he said. This is just one of the many new ideas in the works.

For one thing, the theatre is showing classic cinema every afternoon, five days a week, of theme that befits the ambience of the vintage theatre — Charlie Chaplin, Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, plus great works from the Silent Era.

Sheridan explained that many of the films have entered public domain, are readily available, and easy to screen thanks to modern digital technology.

In the evenings, Sheridan organizes showings of big screen classics, like The Godfather Series,. Film festivals running over the course of several days have also been drawing crowds.

Christmas, for example, featured several classic seasonal films like White Christmas and Christmas Story. A recent Harry Potter series showed all eight Harry Potter films, plus the first Fantastic Beasts. A lot of people contacted Sheridan to say they’d missed the Quentin Tarantino festival in November, so he’s organized a screening of a Grindhouse double bill.

“I’m planning upcoming ‘cult film’ nights,” Sheridan said. “Films like Tod Browning’s Freaks (a film from the 1930s about circus sideshow freaks), or Barbarella (starring Jane Fonda).

Watch the Wild Horse Theatre Facebook page or these pages for an upcoming film trivia night, where teams can square off for a chance to win a night at the Windsor Hotel at Fort Steele, and a showing of any movie of their choice at the theatre that night.

Part of this, Sheridan says, is building an audience for cult film and repertory cinema.

“I’ve made some good friends who are cinema enthusiasts like myself. They tell me that there is definitely an audience here, it’s just a matter of getting the word out.

Casablanca is on the bill for Valentine’s Day — the event includes sleighride around the town in the dark.

“Bring out your loved one,” Sheridan says. “Wine and chocolates from Sweet Gestures will be served.”

There’s more than just cinema riches to the new Wild Horse era. Sheridan has upcoming live performance events in the works, not least the Wildhorse Talent Show.

“It will involve all talents, with the exception of bands — I’ll be doing a battle of the bands later, so I don’t want to mix the two up.

“Any talents, all ages, before a panel of local judges, over two nights. A substantial monetary prize. Auditions will be announced in February.”

Musically, Sheridan has been in discussions with local musicians, and is planning a number of unique concert events at the theatre.

Live theatre has always been at the heart of the Wild Horse. Sheridan is reviving the annual summer show.

“This year it’s called ‘Hellzapoppin’!’ It’s an adapation of a 1938 Broadway show and 1941 film. It’s vaudeville, which suits the Wild Horse. Singing, dancing, and most of all, traditional vaudeville comedy.

Unlike previous years, where there’s only been one show, this one will show twice daily. It’s actually in two part: Late morning and early afternoon, from Canada Day to Labour Day.

Sheridan is also responsible for all new street things, a key feature of Fort Steele from years past.

“They’re designed to be educational and comedic in nature. For example, the death death of Tom Walker and its grave consequences, a Victorian crime scene investigation, dances through the decades in the opera house, the young lovers’ uncertain future at the train station.

“And I’m planning on having a wandering gambler sleight of hand show.”

Sheridan will be putting out a call for auditions in February.

“I’d love to be able to cast this all locally. I don’t know if I’ll be able too — and it will be an open call, but there is a lot of talent in this area.”

Further projects include creation of a Fort Steele YouTube channel featuring videos and documentaries about the theatre and Fort Steele itself, to serve as a vehicle for publicity for the shows and the surrounding heritage buildings

Sheridan is planning a show called “the YouTube Experience — a night of viral videos and memes,” set for the spring.

The centre of all this ongoing and upcoming artistic action is, of course, the Wild Horse Theatre, which Sheridan praises for its exquisite acoustics.

“People generally don’t know this, but the theatre was actually built in the 1970s — the ‘Tink and Judy’ years,” Sheridan says, citing two notable regular performers from those years. “2022 will be the 50th anniversary of the first show.”

The theatre will mark that anniversary with some special events, including the creation of a Walk of Fame, with famous names from Fort Steele’s past engraved on the boardwalk in front of the theatre.

Stay tuned for details.

And finally, Sheridan advises that the theatre is available for corporate and personal rentals. Conferences, team-building exercises, shows and any types and birthday parties.

For more details or information, contact at Gordon Sheridan at 240-417-6000, or email wildhorsetheatre@fortsteele.bc.ca.

“All I want to do is entertain you,” Sheridan says.

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