Pugwash, a play by Vern Thiessen, will open Ship’s Company Theatre’s 2017 mainstage season, artistic producer Natasha MacLellan announced last week.
The play tells the story of the original Pugwash peace conference, which will mark its 60th anniversary this year. Thiessen was commissioned by the Ensemble Theatre Company of New York to write the play, but Ship’s Company will give it its world premiere in July.
MacLellan and Thiessen are friends, and she learned about five years ago that he was working on the play.
“He was doing some research on the play, and contacted me because he knew I worked all the time in rural Nova Scotia,” she recalled. “At that time I had been offered the job at the Ship but it hadn’t been announced yet… so I was talking to Vern, telling him it would be a perfect Ship’s Company play. He was saying, ‘Who knows who they’re going to hire and if they will even like it?’”
MacLellan, of course, loved it.
“He’s been finishing it for the last couple of years, working with the company in New York that has the rights to it, and it’s ready to go now,” she said. “We were chomping at the bit because it’s a local Cumberland County story, so we got it.”
While the play will tell the historical story of Cyrus Eaton and how the peace conference came together, it also features fictional characters to help tell the story and condense it into two hours. MacLellan described it s a drama, but with humourous elements.
A Governor-General Award winner, Thiessen works out of Workshop West Theatre in Edmonton, and is one of Canada’s leading playwrights. While Pugwash will be playing in Parrsboro this summer, another one of his plays, Of Human Bondage, will be paying on Broadway.
“I laugh when I tell people he’s playing Broadway and Main Street,” said MacLellan.
Following Pugwash on the mainstage will be The Mystery Play by Josh MacDonald, following up the mystery trilogy that began with Habit of Murder in 2015. Joanne Miller wrote the first installment, and the second will be in a completely different style, according to MacLellan.
“When we commissioned writers to write the trilogy, we went with people who wrote in very different styles so we could explore the mystery genre and take this overarching arc of the sleuth character we invented but also play with what a mystery is,” she explained. “Joanne’s was more of a sketch comedy slapstick, like Murder She Wrote or Scooby-Doo, but Josh’s is more like Sherlock on the BBC, more cerebral. It’s funny but very smart, with a more serious tone.”
While casting decisions for the summer have been made, contracts have not yet been signed. However, MacLellan revealed that Mary-Colin Chisholm will return in the role of sleuthing nun Sister Vivian Salter.
Both mainstage productions should walk the line of mass appeal and artistic discovery, according to MacLellan, who will direct both shows.
“We only get two mainstages a year, and we always look for one that’s going to appeal to as many people as possible, and that often means a local story,” she said. “We try to emphasize only Canadian stories, but we always look for something a little different. You’re trying to fill the house, but you also want to show people work by different artists.”
The same line of thinking goes into the company’s annual concert series, which will once again feature an eclectic group of performers, including Jenn Grant, Reeny Smith, Port Cities, Ryan Willigar, Fiddles n’ Feet, and Laura Smith.
The second stage will feature New Waterford Boy: A Ceilidh by Richie Wilcox, while the September stage will feature Redfish by Halifax Theatre for Young People. On the kids’ stage will be Molly and the Oak Island Treasure by Maritime Marionettes.
Wrapping up the season will be “A Tribute to Great Ladies of Country Music” by Norma MacDonald.