A photo of cast members of a SaskExpress production in costuming, on stage.

SaskExpress offers theatre training, opportunities and lasting friendships

By: Katie Doke Sawatzky March, 2024

When Matthew Schermann was around eight, he saw an older youth from his hometown of Strasbourg, perform in a SaskExpress show. He knew immediately that he wanted to be part of this experience.  

“I saw him and I said, ‘I want to do that’,” he says. “That performance solidified my wanting to become an artist.”  

Now 18, Schermann has five musical theatre shows under his belt with SaskExpress and has joined two of its summer tours, travelling and performing in cities, towns and provincial parks across Saskatchewan. “I’ve had such amazing opportunities.”  

While SaskExpress has been in existence for 40-plus years, it wasn’t until 2017 when Danny Balkwill came on as Artistic Director and CEO, that the company embraced story-based theatre, as part of both its touring and theatre shows.  

“I wanted to make some changes to keep SaskExpress fresh and relevant,” Balkwill says. With his experience in musical theatre in New York, in film and television, and as a musician, Balkwill shifted the company’s long-time tradition of musical reviews to producing well-known shows, such as Seussical and White Christmas, as well as jukebox musicals, such as We Will Rock You. In addition, Balkwill writes original shows for the summer tours.  

Schermann, who grew up attending SaskExpress’ musical theatre studio, says, he’s not only learned singing, acting and dancing, but generally how to be an all-around good person. As part of this musical theatre group, “You’re learning to make friends, make connections and to be kind to everyone,” he says.  

Schermann most recently played the role of Buddy Holly in We Will Rock You, alongside Actor Cailin Stadnyck, who is a former member of SaskExpress. Stadnyck, now a seasoned professional, was recently part of the North American tour of the Broadway hit Come From Away, before coming back to Regina to star in the role of the “Killer Queen”. “It was incredible to work with her,” says Schermann. “It opens opportunities because the arts is all about the connections you have.”  

Balkwill strives to provide youth top-notch training, but says SaskExpress also creates a place of belonging and community for young people. “One thing any parent will tell you right now, is the struggle of how to help kids feel like all their friendships are not solely online. SaskExpress actually gives kids physical, in-person support with like-minded people. Ninety-five per cent of our casts say to me, ‘I’ve made friends for life.’”  

Spending weeks at a time on the tour bus, chatting with castmates, while eating Mr. Noodles in hotels, Schermann created many friendships. “Those summers have been some of the best in my life,” he says. Schermann will pursue theatre school in Toronto in the coming year, hoping to join some of his castmates who have already made the move.  

Balkwill says, the SaskExpress theatre model is unique, because it showcases Saskatchewan performers who go on to become “celebrities in their own hometown”. While some move away, SaskExpress allows them to come back, such as Stadnyck, to perform with young people who are passionate about the arts. “To me, it just shows the power of people who love what they do.”  

SaskExpress receives Annual Global Funding from Sask Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.