By Zoe Adams
“Extraordinary things happen to ordinary nondescript people every day,” Monica Dufault began as she pushed aside her coffee mug. “That is a major reason I chose this play,” she smiled. “I was looking for an Ontario playwright. Also, the play had to be meaningful and connect well to the community. Falling: A Wake covers a wide swath of people, which made it a perfect choice.”
Monica Dufault, the artistic director and head of St.Catharines’ Essential Collective Theatre sat down with The Sound to discuss her upcoming show opening at the Performing Arts Centre (PAC). The show, Falling: A Wake is a contemporary play written by playwright Gary Kirkham. Dufault spoke about Essential Collective Theatre (ECT) and shed some light on why Falling: A Wake fits their mission statement.
“The company is 15-years-old. I took over as artistic director in 2014. The company’s goal is to continue to produce contemporary work and foster playwriting… and this extends all through the Niagara region. We want to expand the company to reach rural communities.
“We have local artists in mind all the time. ECT is driven to keep a regional company. We make local connections and strive to generate local interest in theatre. This is our community!”
With such strong ties to the community, it makes sense that Dufault and the ECT would choose Falling: A Wake to start off the season.
“There are important stories being created today, right now. We need to pay attention to them. This script is very traditional, and it brings us into the characters. It is written beautifully.” Dufault paused for a moment. “Gary Kirkham doesn’t overwrite. He is able to tell a story without being preachy or unnatural. This work is full of surprises and a sense of wonder about life, and the unusual experiences that are had throughout it.
“Without giving too much away, the show explores coping with and overcoming grief. The couple shows that, you know, circumstances can be horrific and yet you can still find a way to poke fun at each other and be positive… which is really important.”
Audience members may see more than one familiar face in this production. Each actor is from the Niagara region. One of them, Robert Herr, is a Dramatic Arts student at Brock University. Two of the actors, Patricia La Riviere and Alex Guard, who play Elsie and Harold, are actually married in real life.
“The cast is comprised of three main characters. Elsie and Harold hear a loud noise outside. They check it out and find a crashed airplane. Debris starts falling from the sky. Amongst this debris is Robert Herr’s character, the man who fell from the sky.”
The show is set to premiere November 19 at the Robertson Theatre in the Performing Arts Centre. Just short of three weeks from opening day, Monica Dufault and the rest of the Essential Collective Theatre company has hard work ahead of them.
“The costumes, as well as the set are very natural. All the technicians and set designers are local. We are able to work with a very large space, which is perfect for the illusion we are creating. The large stage, along with the simple set allows us to evoke a feeling of outdoor space.”
This production is coming together with the help of another local theatre company based in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“We are also lucky The Shaw is loaning us a start drop that is fantastic. Along with that, we have an ambient soundscape that will be played throughout the show to really make you feel like you are outside. Working in a large new space can be difficult, but the ECT team has a plan to create an intimate setting for our viewing pleasure.
“The space is going to be kept very intimate, with limited seating. It’s a very immediate experience. We are interested in providing the audience with a true theatre experience. We are not trying to be a cinema. This is very in-the-moment, the actors are in reach. This is live theatre, which in itself is very community building.”
Dufault also commented on the challenges of working in a brand new, untested space.
“And being in the new Performing Arts Centre downtown, we are kind of like guinea pigs. We get to find out if everything is working as it’s supposed to. Our technicians are working with the PAC crew to troubleshoot any issues that may pop up. We’re all working out the kinks of a new space.”
The Performing Arts Centre is breathing new life into performers, students, and theatre goers in St. Catharines.
“When we went to film the promo, we intentionally kept the actors out until the very last minute. When they finally walked in and saw the space, they were all like WOW!” Monica laughed, “And that’s how we’re all feeling, I think. The space gives local theatre artists pride and confidence, along with a sense of professionalism that really shines through.”
Falling: A Wake opens November 19 and runs until November 29 at the Robertson Theatre.