MacKinnon, Smith Making Contact with new Ship’s Company play

Andrew Wagstaff
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Rhindress work explores human relationships, possibility of alien life

Wally MacKinnon and Sherry Smith star in Making Contact, a new play from Charlie Rhindress, now playing at Ship's Company Theatre in Parrsboro.

PARRSBORO – Wally MacKinnon and Sherry Smith were natural for the roles of Bobby and Shirley in Making Contact, Ship’s Company Theatre’s newest mainstage play. So natural, in fact, that playwright Charlie Rhindress wrote the roles specifically for them.

The pair was performing in last year’s hit production of Rhindress’s The Maritime Way of Life when inspiration struck.

“It was opening night, and we were all on the deck here,” recalled Smith. “We said to Charlie, ‘We’ve had such a great time on this play, why don’t you write us a show?’ (Former artistic producer) Matthew Tiffin was there, and he told Charlie, ‘You write the play and we’ll put it on.’ And boom, that was it.”

Tiffin asked Rhindress if he could have it ready for the 2013 season and the playwright agreed, not really believing he could pull it off.

“But I started thinking about possible storylines,” said Rhindress, an Amherst native. “Within a few weeks Matthew wrote to see what I might be thinking of.  I sent four possible play ideas to him, Wally and Sherry. They all liked the idea of this woman who hires a local man to build a UFO landing pad in her backyard.  Over the next six months, with input from Matthew, Wally and Sherry, I ended up writing Making Contact for those two actors.” 

The result was a comedy about two very different people who find out they are not so different after all. Set in Amherst, the story involves Shirley, a NASA astrophysicist, moving home to build the landing pad. MacKinnon’s character Bobby is reluctant to get involved.

“The original idea came from something I had heard years ago about there being a woman near Parrsboro who had a UFO landing pad in her backyard,” said Rhindress. “I have no idea if that was true or not, but it became the inspiration for the play, which eventually took on a life of its own.”

Having a part tailor-made for you was a tremendous gift, according to Smith.

“He’s captured our voices and rhythms and humour, stuff like that,” she said. “I think that makes it so easy to learn and play it, because we’re not having to stretch a great deal to find the heart of our characters.”

She admitted that playing an astrophysicist was quite a stretch, considering she had never taken anything like that in school, but that the play did have odd personal connections for her that were pure coincidence. For example, she had taken an interest in alien intervention when it was popular during the 1980s, and she had even shared a house with someone who believed he was an alien.

Even MacKinnon, who said he had never given much thought to the possibility of alien life, said he too has observed strange coincidences while working on the play. Just last week, for example, he read about reported UFO sightings in Amherst, where the play is set.

“There’s been a lot of that in this play,” he said. “Things come up and you go, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ Just crazy things. We did a show Sunday afternoon, then I got in my truck and ‘Space Trucking’ was playing. It’s just weird. I bought a book just to have something to read, and it has connections to this play.”

Directed by Natasha MacLellan, the 90-minute show has no intermission. It runs at Ship’s Company Theatre until Sept. 1.

Twitter: @ADNandrew

Organizations: NASA

Geographic location: PARRSBORO, Amherst

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