While it’s difficult to predict what magic will unfurl upon a theatre stage, one thing that's certain is actor Ben Maifredi will likely be up there helping make it happen.
The North Vancouver resident just wrapped up his 25th season acting in Deep Cove Stage Society’s annual pantomime.
Approximately one hour before having to step onstage for the group’s final panto performance of their recent two-week run, Maifredi, donning an impressive faux moustache and sporting the charisma and energy that only actors ever seem to possess, talks about his life and how he ended up become a fixture of community theatre.
“Actually, it’s a very funny story of how I got into it,” he says.
A quarter-century ago Maifredi was invited to a barbecue where one guest was talking about the Stage Society’s annual pantomime, a type of British musical stage production which relies on comedy, farce, and fairy tale to tell a delightful story, and how they were looking for more bodies for an upcoming production.
Intrigued by the concept, Maifredi eventually summoned the courage to call up the individual involved with the production to see about getting involved. He was shocked to learn that auditions happened to be taking place for The Grand Old Duke of York in 30 minutes. He rushed over to Deep Cove Shaw Theatre to audition and ended up landing a part.
“I was an English ‘Bobby’ cop,” he says. “That’s how I got my start.”
Maifredi has chased the high of the stage every year thereafter, with no signs he wants to quit doing costume changes or memorizing lines any time soon.
“I’ve played a woman a couple of times,” he jests. “I’ve played the Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. I have played R2-D2 in a pantomime we did based on Star Wars. I played Rumpelstiltskin in Rumpelstiltskin.”
Originally from Townsville, Australia, Maifredi, now 45, was drawn to the theatre at a young age. As a student at Windsor Secondary, and then at Sutherland, he was encouraged to take to the stage and found solace in performing in high school drama classes and clubs, where he contributed to numerous productions.
“I’ve acted ever since high school. I’m also a little bit learning disabled, so back in high school I was very miserable and my mind kept on trying to give me thoughts about committing suicide quite a bit. The theatre was one thing that helped me get through it,” says Maifredi.
Toph Whitmore, who wrote this year’s pantomime in addition to acting in it, says he’s in awe of the sheer number of productions Maifredi has been a part of year after year, and notes the high number of costume changes and varied roles Maifredi takes up in this year’s show, The (Musical) Beast of Mt. Seymour.
“He has the funniest line in the show. It wasn’t written for him or anything, he just took it and ran with it,” says Whitmore. “I like to joke: it’s Ben’s play – we’re lucky to be a part of it.”
This premise of this year’s pantomime centres on a boy band heading to Deep Cove for a concert. After members of the band start mysteriously disappearing, a cast of colourful characters wonders if the Sasquatch beast of Mt. Seymour could be behind it.
Maifredi plays an ensemble part this year – he portrays a Mountie one minute, and the next he’s playing one of the many villagers in the show.
“Nobody understands panto better than Ben,” says Angie McLeod, director of The (Musical) Beast of Mt. Seymour, who has directed Maifredi in five other local pantomime productions over the years.
While Maifredi says he has faced difficulties living with a disability and other health challenges in his life, he says that everything about the stage – the people he works with, portraying diverse characters, and the ever magical energy of the theatre –keeps him coming back year after year.
“This is my happy place,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to continue doing this and I find most people with learning disabilities don’t really get the chance to continue on. … You’ve just got to keep on doing what you enjoy doing.”