Recently someone asked, after hearing of my latest acting adventure, “Why would you want to be someone else?” Twenty-seven years in the biz and I’ve never been asked that.
“I’m an actor; that’s the gig,” I replied. But, I wondered, why wouldn’t I?
Although acting usually involves portraying a character written by someone else, I believe that humans have acted since the beginning of time. No doubt even Eve did some acting with her Adam back in their Garden (we know the Serpent did – the first acting coach?). But one of the first to go public with their “skill” was Thespis, in ancient Greece (12 BC). Heard of actors being called thespians? Well, blame old Thespis.
I’m here to tell you that this fall there’ll be a whole lot of thespians being anything but themselves. “Over-the-top” and “out of this world” would not be understating what’s on the horizon.
Those terms describe The Addams Family, The Grand Theatre’s latest High School Project, to a ‘T’. Director Susan Ferley promises this family is “macabre, eccentric and unique!” It’s also, “very different than last season’s Legally Blonde.”
Whereas the contemporary Blonde’s costumes could be bought off the rack, Addams’ range of eras and places offer the wardrobe department a challenge.
Andrea Surich, Production Manager, told me the costumes must be built reflecting “periods that range from the cavemen to the Spanish Inquisition and Modern Times.”
In addition to the costumes students are creating everything from costumes to gravestones to instruments of torture.
Ferley reminded me that this musical is “about a unique family that loves passionately. The story is about facing the darkness of our fears and by doing so illuminating the mysterious …living life richly.”
I wonder if Morticia had that in mind when she told her husband, “Don’t torture yourself, Gomez. That’s my job.”
I can’t wait to experience this playful and witty musical.
The Addams Family, High School Project, September 16 – 27, grandtheatre.com
Next up, Rick Kish and playwright Denise Hay and have created a show that juxtaposes fiction with the very real music of Judy Garland and gay life pre-Stonewall. JUDY: Stonewalled! was my favourite experience in this past June’s London Fringe Festival and, fortunately for those who missed it, this drama with music is being remounted at the McManus Studio (UnderGrand) in October by a missing link theatre company.
I asked Kish if he was surprised at its success.
“We had no idea if anyone else would get it. We knew we liked it but you never know, right? We all chose to believe in these characters and to stay focused on the truth of each of them and see what happened. Then the audience came into the picture, and to our collective delight, they embraced it.”
I loved its raw rendering of what is considered to be the beginning of the LGBT movement – The Stonewall Riots in New York City. For the first time this scribe was even remotely able to comprehend what it must have been like to experience Stonewall — in the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of gay customers at a Greenwich Village bar took a stand against the harassment by police. When word spread quickly throughout the community a riot broke out. (New York had laws then prohibiting homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.)
Natalie Howard-Grant’s rendering of Judy Garland’s classics is not to be missed and the delivery is all the more heart-wrenching when one realizes that Garland’s death coincided with that week of riots.
I should warn you: the show contains course language, sexuality and fabulosity!
JUDY: Stonewalled! October 16-18, McManus Studio, amissinglinktheatre.ca
Another fall show actually compliments the themes of both shows above and takes this column full circle. It’s the dramedy Hosanna, a true Canadian classic by Michel Tremblay, that hasn’t been produced in London since ’89. Double D Productions (Dave Semple and yours truly), in association with London Community Players at Procunier Hall (beside the Palace Theatre on Dundas, palacetheatre.ca) will present the show during the first two weeks of November.
Hosanna is set in Montreal, about five years after Stonewall, and centres around the love story between transsexual drag queen Hosanna (played by moi) and homosexual biker Cuirette (Semple). Both characters deal with several issues including gender and sexual identity, the ignorance and acceptance of ageing, and social expressions of homosexuality.
Actors have to deal with ageism as well. Luckily for Dave and me Hosanna requires aged actors. To the question my friend raised at the outset, although it’s true that I’ve performed in drag, I do have to act. Drag is safe and distant and almost always humorous; transvestitism is a whole different culture. This play shines a light on this somewhat invisible part of our community.
Even so, is there such a thing as a drag queen who isn’t over-the-top? Hosanna is raw, tragic and outrageously funny. Of course, we’re hoping for just a fraction of the fabulosity of The Addams Family and JUDY: Stonewalled!
If plays are metaphors of theatre as an imperfect reflection of real life, perhaps we actors are really only playing different versions of ourselves.
Donald D’Haene is Editor of donaldsdish.ca. Twitter @TheDonaldNorth and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.