PTE tour bringing world of Munsch to Winkler

Amanda Shymko, Spenser Payne and Gwendolyn Collins star in Munschtopia, which is coming to Winkler Feb. 8. (LEIF NORMAN)

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The stories of Robert Munsch are coming to Winkler in February as part of Prairie Theatre Exchange’s live theatre tour.

PTE has been running a show based on Robert Munsch’s books for around 30 years now, and Debbie Patterson has been adapting the show for the stage for the last 13 years.

This year, Munschtopia features five Munsch stories: Put Me in a Book!, Pyjama Day!, Jonathan Cleaned Up – Then He Heard a Sound, Wait and See, and Murmel, Murmel, Murmel.

The show features Winnipeg actors Gwendolyn Collins, Spenser Payne and Amanda Shymko.

Payne plays a high school student named Tyler who arrives at a bus stop occupied by a very serious business woman (Shymko). When a mysterious woman named Jeannie (Collins) pops out of a bin, shenanigans ensue and the three tell Munsch stories together while they wait for the bus.

This is Payne’s third time starring in one of PTE’s Munsch shows. “I feel really lucky to have such a fun winter job,” she said. “My entire childhood is Robert Munsch. It’s cool now that I’m an adult, and we start to take ourselves way too seriously and we start doing adult things, that I can kind of remind myself of the creative, impulsive and imaginary child in me.”

“There’s nothing cooler than 300 kids screaming at you on a daily basis,” she added. “It’s the closest you get to feeling like a rock star.”

Payne said kids are unafraid to talk and participate in the show, which makes it a different experience than performing for adults. “They know the stories with us, so they’re unashamed to correct us when we’re wrong and to participate with us,” she said. “That’s something adults don’t ever do in the theatre, so it’s really fun that we get an audience that we actually encourage and allow to participate with us.”

Payne said she grew up reading Robert Munsch stories with her parents, and had the chance to perform Jonathan Cleaned Up – Then He Heard a Sound at PTE’s theatre school as a kid. She said her favourite story is Good Families Don’t, which tells the story of Carmen, a girl whose family is terrorized by a giant fart. A close second for Payne is Murmel, Murmel, Murmel, where a girl named Robin finds a baby in a hole in her sandbox and must try to figure out how to take care of it.

The three actors play multiple characters on top of their roles as they act out Munsch’s stories. “We each play at least seven characters,” Payne said. “At one point Amanda [Shymko] plays two characters at the same time, mom and dad in one scene. What a treat it is as an actor to get to play two people at the same time.”

Payne said preparing for these multiple roles can be more difficult than getting ready for a standard play. “We’re only given ten days of rehearsal time, so everything is really fast,” she said. “We have to make smart choices on the fly. Our director encouraged us to play and to have fun.”

“It’s nice now that we’ve done the show 30-ish times,” she added. “In that time we’ve been able to finesse and keep going with the moments. Our director inspired us to have as much fun as possible when we’re on stage because we have to do it for three months, so we might as well have fun at the same time.”

Munschtopia, like the Munsch shows before it, is a mixture of older stories and new, which makes it the perfect combination for both kids and their parents.

The actors are now touring with the show and bringing it to communities all across the province. This year, they will be going as far north as Lynn Lake and as far south as Sprague.

“It’s really fun that this is a piece of theatre that can travel,” Payne said. “You get that opportunity to see what different communities think is funny compared to the other ones.”

Munschtopia comes to the P.W. Enns Centennial Concert Hall on February 8 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $11 and are available through eventbrite.ca by searching Munschtopia.

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