by Angelika Dawson
When Beth Gasser was asked to direct Gallery 7 Theatre’s production of Little Women even while realizing the level of expectation, she jumped at the chance.
“Taking on a classic tale that is so well loved comes with a lot of pressure but I believe strongly that the literature we read in our youth impacts us for the rest of our lives,” Gasser says. “I think that Little Women endures as a classic because Louisa May Alcott’s characters are universal and still have lessons to teach us.”
Little Women follows the lives of the March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Set during the American Civil War, it is a coming of age story that explores large life themes like loyalty, independence, the role of women in society and more. Each sister is unique: Meg is the traditional woman, the beauty of the family, who marries for love, not money or status. Jo the main character of the story is the spirited tomboy who tries to control her hot temper and rebels against traditional expectations of women, pursuing a career in literature and resisting romantic entanglements. Beth is the sweet sister, whose ill health gives her opportunity to observe those around her and offer wisdom. Amy, the youngest, is the spoiled little sister who lives out society’s expectations of a woman, being trained in the arts and marrying well. It is very much a story about choices and how these impact one’s future.
“This is a play whose characters deliberately make choices to be kind, to forgive, to love, to form friendships, to go against the societal norms that reflect ignorance, intolerance, commercialism, and consumerism,” Gasser reflects. “I think these lessons prevail today and I really wanted to make the show about those little lessons, those choices we make every day that transform us and define us.”
Shannon Tauber plays Jo, the strong-willed, intensely creative second daughter. A recent graduate from the theatre program at Douglas College in New Westminster, Tauber came to auditions not knowing what to expect. She was thrilled to be called back to play Jo, since she feels the character is an excellent role model for girls today.
“Jo’s fiery spirit and passion for life and her family and friends, makes her incredibly fun to play,” Tauber says. “In a world where we still feel the need to fit into society’s social norms, it’s a nice contrast to be able to play someone who tries so desperately to break free of what society expects of her.”
For those who have read the book or seen movie versions of Little Women, Gasser says they’ll experience all the comfort of seeing a favourite story unfold before them. But she also says that audiences will be surprised by what they see.
“It’s like when someone shares your enthusiasm for a favourite book but points out things you may have never noticed before,” she says. “I think audiences will leave our production of Little Women thinking about it in a new way or wanting to go back and read the book again. For fans of the story and those new to the story, I think our show will surprise.” Tauber agrees. “I can’t help but want to share this show with everyone and anyone I know,” she says.
Gallery 7’s production of Little Women runs from November 11 to 19 at the Abby Arts Centre, 2329 Crescent Way, Abbotsford. For tickets and more information, visit gallery7theatre.com.
by Marion Van Driel
A group of students, passionate about inspiring change, have created the world premiere production disPLACE: Refugee Stories in their Own Words, opening in the School of Arts, Media and Culture (SAMC) theatre at TWU later this month. The theatre artists present an expanded view of the refugee problem, while the stories reveal true-to-life details.
“One of the things we wanted to do is dispel the myth that the Syrian refugees are the only refugees and that the only refugee problem in the world is the current problem in Iraq and Syria,” explains Angela Konrad, the show’s director and Chair of the SAMC theatre. Konrad agrees that while raised awareness of the refugee plight is wonderful, this production reveals that the situation is not isolated to the time and place we’re hearing about in the media today. People the world over have overcome immense obstacles in order to protect their families and build a hopeful future.
“Our goal is to increase understanding of a very complex issue,” Konrad points out, “with the ultimate goal of making Canada a more welcoming new home.”
The script is authentic, made up of interviews by cast members with refugees whose stories span a period of decades and a variety of countries. The narrative really hit home with one of the students as she transcribed an interview into script. “I’ve seen stuff like this on TV, but knowing that a living person actually witnessed something like that – hearing it from her own lips – that’s something else altogether,” she said.
For those whose own journey involves displacement, there seems to be a universal theme that making their story known contains elements of healing – even if seeing the production may be difficult, perhaps resonating with their trauma.
The production highlights music and lyrics inspired by the interviews and written by the cast. Each of the five actors plays their own instrument and sings the music they have created. “There’s a lot of music in the show – partly because music is emotional, and transports us in ways that nothing else does,” Konrad explains, “and partly because we wanted to acknowledge and respect some of the cultural musical traditions of the people we’re representing in the show.”
disPLACE represents the inaugural production of a new theatre company, Dark Glass Theatre, an initiative of the Humanitas Anabaptist Mennonite Centre, in partnership with SAMC. The goal of Dark Glass Theatre is “to tell stories that allow us to see face-to-face people we might not otherwise normally meet, thereby fostering compassion, decreasing judgment and engendering empathy,” reveals Konrad, whose feet are firmly planted within both theatre groups.
disPLACE is onstage November 22 – December 3 and offers an informative talkback period following each performance. The November 30 performance also includes an educational event for high school students, parents, and teachers.
Konrad and her crew hope that as audiences follow the journey of refugees weaving through cultures, geography and time, their new understanding will be translated into compassion and action. Further information and tickets are available at twu.ca/theatre.