by Denyse Terry
Five folks from Hopegrown Productions recently piled in to their rehearsal space to Skype-chat about their upcoming play, Around Miss Julie, and their extensive travel plans for the summer. The 45 minute show recently opened in Montreal and was nominated for Centaur Theatre’s Best Production: English Theatre Award. From Montreal they head to Ottawa, then London, Ontario; onto Burlington, Hamilton in July, and, after taking a two week break, Around Miss Julie opens in Edinburgh Scotland. What a road trip! What a summer!
Hopegrown Productions was founded last fall. Co-founders Miriam Cummings, Lindsey Huebner, Samantha Megarry, along with director Norah Paton, are all recent grads of the Theatre Performance program at Concordia University in Montreal. Having picked up a fifth, Mitchell Cohen, they all have roots in Ontario and are excited to be returning in what they call their “Hometown Tour.”
Megarry grew up in theatre in Burlington. She became familiar with the Hamilton scene as a volunteer for Theatre Aquarius.
The team has a solid sense of what they wanted their premier project to be and some strong talking points, “We want to play our own age and gender, we want to explore themes and experiences that are underrepresented in Canadian theatre, and we want to tell womenʼs stories, not menʼs stories featuring women.
“Hereʼs a dirty theatre secret: the majority of theatre school graduates are women, yet there are very few good plays full of strong roles for young female actors. We were looking for female characters that were interesting and engaging. We soon realized that finding a play with three fully-developed female characters was challenging to say the least. This was alarming to us. Why don’t women have story lines that stand alone, independent of a male protagonist? Why aren’t women portrayed as comedic, in the way that men are?”
So they went back to their Concordia professor and mentor, Harry Standjofski. Standjofski is a well-known actor, playwright, and musician and has been just as frustrated with the lack of female roles in contemporary theatre. He is known to write original works for his classes so his female students don’t have to play guy’s roles. Hopegrown commissioned him to write an original play and Around Miss Julie is it.
It’s a clever premise, starting with August Strindberg’s classic, Miss Julie, Standjofski has written another play within a play -or rather a play about putting on a play. It is a multi-layered comedy that blurs the lines between rehearsal and reality, “…the cast tangles with themselves, each other, and a …dead bird.” Yes, they laugh, there are a few surprises built into the story. “Our designer (Sonya Vallis) is going to do something very funny with that.”
Around Miss Julie looks at, “The uncertainty of being 20 something, the hilarious and sometimes manic process of putting on a play and the relationships we develop or destroy along the way.” You don’t need to be familiar with Strindberg’s Miss Julie to be in on the high jinks. That 1888 play dealt with issues of class, the sexes, power. Around Miss Julie deals with relationships and gender dynamics too. They both deal with how men and women interact within larger contexts of power and self determination.
With quite a bit of profanity, three out of four of the emerging actors play emerging actors with lots of emerging emotions. Mitchell Cohen plays Lyle who plays John who is a real rhymes with stick. Watching them all go through transformations and self-discovery is part of the life-imitates-art fun.
Even though they’ve known each other for the last four years at school, and three of them live together, and two of them drank a lot of beer in Ireland together, this is the first time they are all traveling together. They will all be cooking together as well – their very successful indiegogo campaign, which covers all of their Canadian traveling expenses, has them cooking thank-you dinners to various donors here.
“We have been blown away by the reactions and support we have received from the arts community in Montreal. …We hope that our project will inspire future generations of theatre school grads to take their careers into their own hands and make the art they want to make!
“As emerging artists, we strive to be a part of the movement towards making theatre a more gender-equal art form. in order to make the kind of theatre we want to make, we have to create artistic opportunities for ourselves.”
And so they did. Reviews of their first performances can be found at http://hopegrown.ca.