By Zoe Adams
“Rehearsals start on Tuesday, and I’m very excited,” enthused Monica Dufault, star of the Essential Collective Theatre’s presentation of POOR.
“The show is set in present-day Vancouver. The main character, Schelly Cormorant, is extremely wealthy. She impulsively decides to find out what it’s like to be poor!” she continued, “So, Schelly pretends she’s homeless in a very Vivienne Westwood fashion. She goes out and encounters people in the poorest part of Vancouver. She gets robbed and beaten and falls in love.”
Dufault commented on the interesting challenge that director, Karen Wood, faced while working on POOR.
“POOR is a one-woman show. But, I impersonate more than 25 characters in the presentation of this story. I’m on stage the whole time! There’s no point in leaving it,” laughed Monica.
Dufault also addressed the challenges of presenting so many characters on stage.
“A one-woman show with 25 plus characters could become overwhelming. But, from my perspective as the actor, I’m really just playing Schelly. It’s she who tells the audience what happened – sometimes with the perspective of the people she meets. You kind of adopt that character for a moment or two. Otherwise it would be extremely hard to follow along with the changes,” she said.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some comical roadblocks along the way.
“We have a couple of fight scene…” Monica paused for some time, then smiled. “Without giving it away, I’ll be fighting with myself.”
POOR is a dark comedy that focuses on homelessness, mental health, and domestic abuse.
“Ultimately, Schelly’s journey turns her life upside down. We approach her with a kind of in-your-face humour. Schelly has lived with a great deal of ignorance. She is sheltered and privileged. It will be interesting to see how the audience reacts,” she said.
“We have already started working on design concepts. Peter Dillman designed with the Shaw Festival, and we are very lucky to have him on our team. Roberta Doyle is working on the costuming, which is another important aspect of this production.”
The Essential Collective Theatre [ECT] enjoyed support from fellow companies in the Niagara Region.
“ECT is fortunate to have connections,” said Dufault. “The Shaw has been very generous, so has Brock University and Carousel Players. ECT would have a much harder time at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre without the support of larger companies in the region.”
There was another reason that ECT chose POOR.
“I saw an early version of POOR by first-time playwright Suzanne Ristic at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival in 2013,” said Dufault. “I was looking for a piece to perform, and POOR was a good fit for both St. Catharines and me. It addresses issues relevant to this community in a humorous and compelling way.”
An afternoon symposium on poverty in Niagara, at the Silver Spire Church on St. Paul Street will follow POOR’s final show.
“What is one small thing that each of us can do to end poverty? The point of the afternoon is to start a dialogue about reducing poverty, connecting the art to city, and helping the well-intentioned people of St. Catharines find a way to make a difference,” concluded Dufault.
The interactive workshop will run on Tuesday, February 23. It is free to the public and funded by the Niagara Community Foundation.
POOR runs at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from February 18,-28. Tuesdays-Sundays performances are at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.