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Homegrown plays at Fraser Valley Zone Festival

New guild member Trevor Thornley plays protagonist John in Norm Foster’s The Death of Me, across from veteran guild member Joan Hogan who takes the stage as the Angel of Death.  - Dessa Bayrock
New guild member Trevor Thornley plays protagonist John in Norm Foster’s The Death of Me, across from veteran guild member Joan Hogan who takes the stage as the Angel of Death.
— image credit: Dessa Bayrock

How do you become an organizer for a Fraser Valley-wide theatre festival?

If you’re Patti Lawn of the Chilliwack Players Guild, the answer is simple.

“I turned to my friend Debra Archer and I said, ‘I’ll do it if you’ll do it!’” she says with a laugh.

Over the last year the pair has been the organizing force behind the Fraser Valley Zone Festival, which will host eight plays at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre from May 18 to 23. Lawn and Archer have been at work in the background to get everything from volunteers to trophies salted away in preparation.

“The biggest challenge, I would say, is getting sponsorships,” Lawn explains. “The Zone Festival is different than players guild plays—it’s unfamiliar to our community.”

With troupes travelling in from Surrey, Langley and beyond, audiences never know exactly what they’ll get in their week’s worth of theatre.

But Lawn says no matter what, it’s bound to be good—perfect for theatre buffs looking to fit as many plays into a week as they can.

“It’s just always wonderful to be the host of an event like this,” she says. “We get very caught up in what we do as a players guild, but it’s nice to sit back and watch the work of others and connect with people who share our love of theatre.”

Two of the shows hitting the stage next week spring from local Players Guild talent. Caliban: House-sitter (written and directed by Rick Mawson) and The Death of Me (written by Norm Foster and directed by Malcolm Mincher) will be paired together on Sunday, April 18.

This is the first Zone Festival show for both directors, although both are seasoned theatre community members.

This is the third time that Mawson will direct Caliban in a theatre festival; it appeared in both the UFV Directors’ Festival and the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2000.

Mawson first started writing the show as part of a writers’ group, and read the first scene at Harrison Festival of the Arts.

“I wrote it because it came into my head and it kind of dared me to write it,” Mawson says. “I put it aside for a year, maybe more. And then one summer I had some time on my hands and I took it out again.”

He promises a combination of mystery, humour, and seriousness—themes echoed in the other Players’ Guild show.

Combining Norm Foster’s clever dialogue with a sprinkling of local jokes and a few seasoned actors has been a recipe for success, held together by a few serious underlying questions in the short comedy—what should we strive to accomplish while we’re alive? And does anyone have the power to change their own destiny?

Director Malcolm Mincher has stood at the helm of shows before, but he says this one has a distinct flavour.

“It’s a 45-minute show, so it’s quite different than directing … a couple of the other things that I’ve done—like A Christmas Story, which is two-and-a-half hours,” he says. “This is a lot simpler to put together.”

With a great script and a great cast, he says the biggest problem they’ll deal with is just that: keeping it simple.

Zone Festival shows only have three hours in the theatre before showtime, during which they’ll have to organize set, lights, and sound.

“That’s going to be quite fascinating,” he says, eyes twinkling.

Mincher and Mawson have worked together to ensure things will go as smoothly as possible for their shows, which will play back-to-back in the festival. They’re using the same producer, and both shows took advantage of a “pre-adjudication,” during which adjudicator and director Stephen Drover watched the shows and gave advice.

“We’d barely started when he came out, so it was really interesting to get his perspective,” Mincher says. “He’s a seasoned director himself; he’s been all over the place.”

The next hurdle is the performance itself, after which the cast and crew of both shows will sit down for a one-hour critique.

And with a little luck, they might even make it into the next round: Theatre BC’s Mainstage Festival in Kamloops later this summer.

“It’s a very good possibility,” Mincher says. “Rick’s a very good writer, and his show is very interesting. And this one—well, it’s Norm Foster. It’s quite humorous.”

• Festival passes are $90, and tickets to individual shows are $18 (with the exception of Caliban: House-sitter and The Death of Me, which are paired together). For more information or to buy tickets, contact the box office at 604-391-7469 or online at www.chilliwackculturalcentre.ca

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