Andrew and Renee have been set up on a blind date. Renee is ridiculously attached to social networking, while Andrew has an open disdain for it. They have been set up for what will likely prove to be a very awkward evening. And that’s just the way Alyssa Harms-Wiebe wants it.
Harms-Wiebe hates technology. She hates that people are so preoccupied with their cell phones that they’re unable to maintain a proper conversation and she’s turned her frustration into a one act play entitled, If Phones Could Talk. Starring France Maurice as Renee and Daniel Chichagov as Andrew, Harms-Wiebe hopes that audience members will leave having seen a reflection of their own cellular habits in these character portrayals.
Harms-Wiebe smiles, “Going into theatre I didn’t really want to write plays just for the sake of entertaining people or just for the sake of getting a laugh or making people go home feeling awful about themselves. I just wanted to write something that would be an enjoyable, either funny or tragic, experience but with a layer of honesty that kind of reflected back to society.”
Whether Harms-Wiebe has been successful in this remains to be seen when her play premieres at the 3rd Gala for Student Drama opening Feb. 14.
Now in its third year, the Gala for Student Drama has become an avenue for bringing together Anglophone and Francophone communities in a theatre environment. The idea is to promote an understanding of what’s going on in the theatre in both of Canada’s official languages. This objective is meant to benefit both the students of theatre in French and English universities as well as the community at large. Both groups, through this event, have the opportunity to see French and English theatre in one place, allowing for audiences and students to gain an appreciation and knowledge of both sides of Quebec theatre.
Mary Lee Maynard oversees Harms-Wiebe’s interview. A co-founder and primary backer of the Gala, Maynard is also responsible for mentoring and guiding the students in the staging of their productions. A proud mother hen, she beams along with Harms-Wiebe, whose enthusiastic responses show just how much this Gala and presentation of her play mean to her. Harms-Wiebe’s play is among four plays (two in French, two in English), which are being produced as part of the Gala. Maynard oversaw the selection of all four plays along with her husband, Ian Truman and former MainLine Theatre director, Jeremy Hechtman. Feasibility and the quality of the text and its dialogue were the main criteria for play selection.
Harms-Wiebe and her fellow Gala presenters are students from Concordia University, CEGEP de Saint-Laurent and Université du Québec à Montréal. The Gala is an opportunity for them to work in a professional environment and to get an idea of what a career in theatre would be like. “For some of the artists it’s a breaking point in their career, or it’s a reality check,” says Maynard.
Originally, it was Truman’s idea to to create this event. His background in creative writing and Maynard’s training in performance, dance and theatre gave shape to the concept which they eventually brought to Hechtman, who agreed to act as producer. They wanted to give students an opportunity to work outside of the cloistered environment of their school and experience an audience derived from more than their peers and parents.
The Gala has fostered several students who have forwarded their experiences into noteworthy appearances in the Montreal theatre community. For instance, Grace Gordon was recently picked up by the prestigious Reisler talent agency. Gordon wrote and acted in The Art of Arousal, which premiered at the first Gala and for which she was awarded the accolade of ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Production’.
Veteran of the Gala’s second year, Adam Alberts, has gone on to found his own theatre company, which is on the waiting list for the 2013 St-Ambroise Fringe Festival. Vishesh Abeyratne, who was involved in both the first and second year of the gala, was cast in a show in the 2012 St-Ambroise Fringe Festival and will be appearing as playwright, director and actor in an upcoming production for this year’s Fringe. Whether their success can be directly attributed to the workings of the Gala is indeterminate, but based on their professional profiles it has certainly played a role in the foundation of their careers.
Will Harms-Wiebe be another Gala success? As she made preparations for going into the production of her play, she took on the role of director, but was unsure if she was up to the task. Having only one previous experience of co-directing a short play, Harms-Wiebe worried she wouldn’t be able to give good feedback. Notwithstanding her trepidation of the role of director, Harms-Wiebe was prepared to see this experience as an experiment of sorts.
“I wanted to experiment throughout the Gala [with] whether or not I actually really liked directing and writing for the theatre and I figured out that I really do.”
With opening night just days away, Maynard and Harms-Wiebe agree that audiences can expect to enjoy a presentation by young artists in a professional environment. They feel that the Gala is an excellent opportunity for members of the community to see what young theatre minds are up to. Personally, Maynard feels it’s a great alternative to a traditional Valentine’s day chick flick and you should definitely bring along your special someone.
The 3rd Annual Gala for Student Drama opens Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. There will be two other evening performances Feb. 15 and 16 with a matinée at 2 p.m. on Feb 16. For more information or to reserve your tickets visit mainlinetheatre.ca or call 514-849-3778.
If Phones Could Talk – written and directed by Alyssa Harms-Harms-Wiebe. Starring Daniel Chichagov and France Maurice. Stage managed by Helena Magee. Performed in English.
Plot Summary: A critique of modern-day society’s obsession with cellular devices, If Phones Could Talk explores how disruptive cellular communication can be when social media opposed Andrew and social networking lover Renee go on a blind date.
Why you should see it: “A charming outlook on the age old problem of miscommunication that fits ring in this day and age.” – Ian Truman
Solstices– written and directed by Laurie Murphy, assisted by Florence Rainville. Starring Oliver Tardif, Jasmine Rajotte Giard, Philippe Côté-Leduc and Marianne Lapointe. Performed in French.
Plot Summary: The lives of three childhood friends, Julie, Thomas and Charles are changed beyond recognition when, at the age of twenty, Thomas leaves without notice. Two years later, Julie and Charles are still dealing with their grief in being separated from Thomas. While Charles is unable to cope with the departure of his friend, Julie locks herself in a world where Thomas has never existed. To restore their friendship, which has been shaken by the sudden departure of Thomas, they go to Tadoussac, where they plan to go whale watching. However, their trip will not take place as they hoped.
Why you should see it: “A text so sober, yet so imaginative; A work of surprising maturity.”- Ian Truman
The Carrier Pigeon Play– written by Julie Foster, directed by Michelle Soicher. Starring Samantha Bitonti, Curtis Legault, Michael Martini and Augustus Oicle. Performed in English.
Plot Summary: An absurdist comedy about a marriage proposal gone wrong, this play examines gender roles and societal obligations.
Why you should see it: “A beautifully absurd satire with the perfect twists at all the right moments.” – Ian Truman
Carrelage– written and directed by Sophie Daunais-Ouimet, assisted by Myriam Fugère. Starring Noémi Lira and Pascale Labonté. Performed in French.
Plot Summary: What does it mean to be a roommate? What responsibility do two roommates have to one another? Carrelage examines the absurdity of roommate hood through the relationship of Fanny and Mathilde.
Why you should see it: “An emotionally charged tragedy about friendship, love and loss that will leave you longing for answers.” – Ian Truman