Playsmelter highlights female voices

Sudbury Star

Eric Lapalme, left, Chloe Theriault, Darquise Lauzon, director Laurel Green, Heather Stevenson, writer Michaela Jeffery and Gabrielle Noel de Tilly read lines for WROL (Without Rule of Law) in preparation for PlaySmelter Northern New Works Theatre Festival at the Sudbury Theatre Centre on Monday. The festival is being held at the STC and runs from April 30 to May 4. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

Playsmelter, the country’s premier festival of new theatre works annually held in Sudbury, is also the homecoming for a preeminent dramaturge, director and producer.

Besides featuring homegrown writers Sarah Gartshore, Garrett Carr, Kim Fahner and Matthew Heiti — and their new works — the festival sees the return of Laurel Green, who will lead a master class on directing. Playsmelter runs Tuesday to Saturday at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, and this year, it’s all about women creators, stories and characters.

Green attended Sudbury Secondary School where she focused on theatre, before moving to Toronto to study and work in the industry. Eventually she made it to Calgary where she is now a dramaturge and director, primarily focused on new play development.

“I’m really attracted to talking to people about their ideas at a really early stage, really as a dramaturge,” Green said in Sudbury on Monday. “A big part of my job is to set up the processes by which a new idea can grow” and develop a long-term plan.

Green has been working with Calgary playwright Michaela Jeffrey for three years developing her play, WROL (Without Rule of Law). Green also directs WROL, which opens the festival 8 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) as a staged reading.

“It’s a great example of what those long-term creative relationships look like,” said Green, “and how, in my work, it’s as much about responding to ideas and bringing together resources and support for playwrights as it is for myself being a collaborator in the process, meeting the piece at all the different stages and really helping to strengthen, build and maintain the integrity of that original idea.”

Described as Judy Blume meets Rambo, WROL is a darkly comic coming-of-age story of a group of Grade 8 adolescent girls. Convinced the world can’t be trusted to adequately protect their wellbeing in the event of an apocalypse, they prepare for survival in the society they anticipate inheriting.

Jeffrey said WROL is really about “young women finding their voice.”

“We operate in a world that puts a lot of restrictions of who we can be, what we can say and where we can say it, and the weight of what we have to say.”

Jeffrey said that in theatre there are few monologues that reflect the lived experiences of women, young and old.

“I wanted to look at a play that gave literal focus, centre stage, to 13-year-old girls,” she said. “So, the central characters of this play are really unapologetically, self-assured 13-year-old girls who see what they want for this world we live in and are struggling with how to be heard. They know what that is, what they are focused on and working towards, but they have to contend with the structures that exist and have to be heard within those structures … how infuriating that is.” WROL is often used to describe the breakdown of a society caused by an emergency situation.

“What I love about the play (Jeffery) has written is that these girls are intelligent, articulate, driven, motivated and brave,” said Green. “They are everything we want our kids to be, but then from this age we start to tell them to be less of, as we as parents get tired, busy, as society starts to say, ‘tone it down, be less, you’re too loud.’ ”

Green and Jeffery want audiences to know that this isn’t a play just for 13-year-old girls. “It’s a play about really big ideas we want everyone in the audience to hear,” said Green.

Young characters propel another storyline forward in Playsmelter.

Taylor Marie Graham, a librettist from Kitchener-Waterloo, has written a children’s opera loosely inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Frog Prince. “When I first started working in theatre I didn’t expect to be working on opera because it is not my background,” she said. “But I ended up working with Tapestry Opera Works in Toronto and had a few pieces produced by them.”

One of those stories was about a drag queen who gets pregnant with the next coming of Christ. “You can do crazy things in opera,” she said.

Graham dabbled in theatre before returning to opera and collaborating with composer William Rowson, who is also the assistant conductor with the Vancouver Symphony.

She was teaching a fairy tale class at Sheridan College and found herself thinking about the original story of the Frog Prince.

“In the original story, the little girl has a frog retrieve her ball,” she explained. “The frog says she has to give him anything he wants. And so, after that point, the frog follows her home and the king lets him come into the house.”

Despite the young princess’s protests, the king, her father, allows the frog to sleep in the same bed as her.

“Finally, she picks up the frog and throws him against the wall and he turns into a man,” said Graham. “To me, that was one of the more powerful messages in the fairytales I was looking at. I had this vision of a wall of frogs singing with a young girl on a rock.”

That image “sparked” the creation of Frog Song.

“It combines that old-world magic with a contemporary storyline, of a singing camp,” said Graham. “There’s a young girl trying to find her voice both metamorphically and physically through that place. Then there’s a little boy named Wyatt who just lost his mother and dresses like a frog to protect himself. They are paired together. They both need to discover their own voice and who they are.”

Frog Song will be performed as a staged reading 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“What’s really great about a festival like this is we get to hear everything aloud,” said Graham. “We get hear where we’re at so we can keep developing and pushing.”

In the fall, Frog Song will be produced in Kitchener and then next year, with the Stratford Symphony Orchestra.

“This will help us get ready for that.”

All events take place at the Sudbury Theatre Centre. Tickets to each of the play readings are $12 each and full festival passes are $40. Tickets and the full festival schedule are available at www.playsmelter.ca.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

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