That said, upon the premise that possessing elevated levels of humour and optimism in one's red blood cell count are an index by which human longevity can be predicted, it is a reasonable assumption that Neepawa's Whitemud Comedy Club director Don Walmsley may way well live long enough to see the resurgence of a new breed of wooly mammoths when the next ice age hits in the year 2148.
A prime candidate to peddle the adage 'laughter is the best medicine', Walmsley, together with his wife, first moved to Neepawa in 1982 with 27 years of prior acting experience already under his belt. Prompted by an ad in the newspaper by the VCC, which was looking for a director at the time, Walmsley soon found himself back in the theatre.
"There was an ad in the paper by the Viscount Cultural Council, looking for a director or anyone who wanted to become involved," recalled Walmsley, "Our first play was 'The Art of Dining' in 1983, performed in the gym of HMK – plays were held there for a few years, since the Roxy was at that time in no shape to be holding theatre performances. After our first play the Whitemud Comedy Club was formed.
"I grew up with a very strong belief that we don't have enough laughter in our lives," Walmsley explained, "Our lives are full of all sorts of stresses; we cope, do the best we can, but it's nice to be able to go somewhere for a couple of hours and completely forget about our own personal troubles.
"A number of people have come away and said "Wow – that was just great!" - they just laughed for two hours! - Now they go back to their lives – it gives people a break. Our root process is rehearsals and that kind of thing – we're laughing all the time; I believe that if we're not laughing, we're not doing it right. "
Becoming involved with the Association of Community Theatre in 1986, the club began using the Roxy Theatre, refurbishing the interior for stage productions. They started out doing two shows a year, one in the fall and one in April, but since a lot of farmers were involved in the productions, fall rehearsals conflicted with the bustle of harvest time, so eventually shows were streamlined to one annual spring play.
"It's very much a collaborative process – it has to be. As I said, we do a tremendous amount of laughing; as you can well imagine, when you're a group of people getting together, focused on something for a period of months, you have all sorts of running-in jokes, and so the cast party at the end of the performance run is all full of humour."
Walmsley indicated that two – three hours of rehearsal time twice a week is the normal time commitment for actors, but that there are rewards to be had.
"It's a time investment, it really is, but over the years a number of people have told me how extremely therapeutic they found it; you know, whatever they're dealing with in their own lives, they've been able to come away focused on something that's totally different, with a different set of people, working at getting response back from the people they're working with, and then finally performing in front of an audience – it's just wonderful.
"It's a stress reliever, like hunting or restoring old cars; for others, it's theatre, and the exciting thing is that we've also been able to help out. For example, all the lighting currently in the Roxy Theatre has been provided by the Whitemud Comedy Club; we fund raise, we've got grants that we researched – so that now we've got state of the art equipment, our electrical equipment is up to code...so we've been able to contribute back."
Walmsley cites a constant potential for the unexpected as also coming into play to make things interesting.
"One thing I like about theatre, is that stuff happens – you know, windows don't open when they're not supposed to, or they close when they're not supposed to. Doors get stuck; you go to reach for a prop and suddenly somebody's cleaned it off, thinking it's not supposed to be there, and it just happens to be integral to what you're supposed to be talking about - all sorts of things can happen - but you carry on - it's live theatre."
Besides an annual spring performance, every year during the first weekend of May the Whitemud Comedy Club also hosts The Act Festival, in which amateur theatre groups put on shows to be evaluated by professionals, with a windup dinner and dance at the Legion Hall.
Of the 30 - 35 local performances which Walmsley directed, he recalls 'No Sex Please, We're British', 'Lend Me A Tenor', and 'Arsenic & Old Lace' as some as his favourites, while his next endeavour 'The Odd Couple' is waiting in the wings for 2012.
"I've done the Odd Couple here before, but the female version. Now I've got enough men that we're going to do the Odd Couple; it's a classic, it's hilarious, it's one of Neil Simon's best and well known plays.
"The delightful thing about 'The Odd Couple', is that not only does it have good verbal characteristics, but it's physically vibrant as well. It's delightfully written. It's about love, it's about friendship.
"We will start official rehearsals in January, and rehearse right through until we put on our performance in April."
Tickets for the spring production of 'The Odd Couple' on April 12, 13, and 14 will be available at the VCC on Mountain Avenue in Neepawa, with all proceeds going towards the Salvation Army. Closer to the present, the comedy club will be putting on a reading of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', to be accompanied by Christmas carols at the VCC in late November or early December.