Playwright David King started it last year – a series of plays called Off the Page read by local actors before a live audience with no costumes or stage sets but with theatrical skill. This year when King wanted to focus on his own work rather than organizing more successful play readings, singer Wanda Nowicki and actor Janet Hodgkinson decided to help the shows to continue.
“We really wanted to carry on the series that he’d originated,” Hodgkinson said, “because there are so many benefits to everyone involved – playwrights, actors, audience members, and the theatre. For the playwrights, the audience feedback is valuable,” she continued. “Their work is heard by others, and they get to hear the work themselves, read by skilled actors.” The assembled cast are all local actors who get a chance to practice their craft and explore a character.
“We bring people into the Heritage Playhouse, which is such a gem,” Hodgkinson said.
Everyone’s a critic, they say, but some of the comments from the audience after past shows have been thoughtful and constructive. In fact, that’s the best part: instant feedback.
The opening session on Sept. 23 is Relax, Gilgamesh by David King. It’s his stage adaptation of the Legend of Gilgamesh which is considered the very first epic poem predating the Iliad by more than a thousand years. Gilgamesh, a Sumerian king, abdicated his throne in the City State of Uruk in order to become a god. Much of the action takes place in a seaside tavern owned by Siduri, the Goddess of Wisdom and Beer, who helps Gilgamesh come to terms with being human. Featured readers are Wanda Nowicki, Steve Schwabl, Dave Hurtubise, Boyd Norman – all familiar names from other productions on the theatre and concert stage.
King has written extensively for the stage as well as for radio, television and film. Among his many works are Jessie Award-winning plays, Life Skills and Garage Sale. His National Film Board film script, For Gentlemen Only, earned him a Genie Award. His screenplay for the feature film Harmony Cats was nominated for a Genie Award.
The series continues on Oct. 28 with Driving Me Crazy by Linda A. Carson and Suzanne Ristic. Inspired by true stories from three generations, the play is about a family and their relationship with themselves, each other and the vehicles that move them around. They negotiate the highways of life: youths’ first experience of independence and freedom, middle-aged drivers stuck in gridlock, and seniors who face losing their licences and independence. Featured readers are Colleen Elson, Karen Webb, Kevin Crofton, Pat Dorval, Varya Rubin, and Nathan Barrett.
The two playwrights have been professional theatre artists for over 70 combined years, but this is the first time they have worked together to write a play. Ristic’s writing credits include: Famous Dead Stories We Just Made Up, (Angry Actors, co-wrote) My Mother’s Story (contributing writer for Norry/Griffen concept), and her one person show, Poor. Carson’s writing credits include, Dying To Be Thin, Mom’s the Word (co-wrote, Jessie Award) and Jack and the Bean. They are very pleased that they didn’t drive each other crazy during this writing process and that their 25-year friendship stayed firmly intact.
The next play in the series is The Dissociates on Nov. 18 by Dorothy Dittrich which takes a darkly comic look at life and death, memory and healing. It is the story of Alex, a 50ish lesbian who finds herself dealing with the aftermath of a recent crisis. Dec. 9 is Comfort and Joy by King.
All readings will be presented at 1 p.m. at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons. Admission is by donation.