A New Homecoming: Alumni Return to Theatre in Changing Times
By guest blogger Lindsey Schneider (UVic ’20)
“It’s a lot of stairs,” my director Taylor warns me. We’re at the base of a charming China Town apartment façade. Taylor opens the door. Several narrow flights of stairs climb to peek over Fan Tan alley. They feel like they have secrets. “Up we go,” I say, and begin.
A third-floor walkup apartment isn’t the first location I think of when I think, “new theatre project”. But our production isn’t standard. For starters, it’s filmed on a 360-degree wooden track called a dolly track, a staple from the film industry, not theatre. Red curtains and a live audience are nowhere to be found; the shabby chic apartment hides nothing, and the audience will watch our show online.
After completing a thorough yet traditional theatre degree at UVic, it feels fresh and unconventional to make theatre this way. The pandemic (cue massive sigh of enervation) has changed everything about live theatre.
I was a 2020 graduate, as were several members of untitled theatrics’ company. Unlike current members of the University of Victoria’s theatre program, we didn’t have a chance to learn this new way in school. Our final shows were canceled, not live streamed. The pandemic started, and before our courses even had a chance to adapt, we had graduated. We stepped into a new era, armed with only tools from the old.
In this way, coming together as almost entirely Phoenix Theatre alumni and current students feels like a new sort of homecoming. Reunited after moving away, moving into new industries, and moving through life, we all came back together to make this show happen. On a micro- budget, against all odds, we’ve pulled it together. The show, a half-realist, half-abstract play about the proto-feminist playwright Aphra Behn, has united us. But it’s our shared background that gently pushed us into each other’s creative orbits.
I take another turn around the apartment. Eclectic art and peeling paint greet my eyes. An original wood floor creaks under my feet (its comforting squeak says: “Not all has been gentrified”). Impossibly, there’s a baby grand piano in the corner. An old light-up radio station sign that reads “TALK/DON’T TALK” hangs over white vinyl furniture and large tropical plants in even larger ceramic pots. There’s history here—staging a play about a woman from history in this space feels so right.
Aphra Behn was a female powerhouse before that was even an option. Widowed at an early age, Behn wrote successful plays, poetry, and the first known Western narrative to portray Black enslaved protagonists in a sympathetic light. She was a spy for King Charles II during the Dutch-Anglo war, and according to legend, even served time in prison for the debts she incurred in his service.
After her release, her star rose. In her nineteen-year playwriting career she saw 17 of her plays premiere onstage, to the acclaim of her appreciative audiences and writing peers. However, vicious critics tried to abolish her work and legacy, with a great deal of success. They despised her plays’ salacious themes like gender expression, unhappy marriages, and sexual fluidity. Behn was a bold and unapologetic writer, and that was not acceptable for a woman in the 1670s.
The play we’re producing celebrates that, and her. Written by a trio of female playwrights in Calgary in the early 1990s, it calls back to another era of Aphra-ite celebration: when women-run theatre companies were just beginning to crack through the white male shell of mainstream theatre.
Playwrights Nancy Jo Cullen, Alexandria Patience, and Rose Scollard celebrated the plays Behn actually wrote by carefully weaving scenes from them into their narrative of Behn’s final days writing her final script. By incorporating Behn’s words into the play about her, the 3 young female playwrights built beautiful layers of homage and invention straight into the text.
I turn back to the tall paned windows and smile. I think Aphra would like what we’re doing. We are all young theatre professionals, much like the artists that used to crowd around Aphra’s genius. Like them, we all admire her deeply. I think about the actors, the stage managers, the crew who brought Aphra’s (as we so affectionately call her) plays to life.
In our rehearsals, our camaraderie and jokes feel classic like theirs must have been, as if theatre has always generated situations like ours. Our company is all women or non-binary people, scrapping to make theatre in a time when that’s difficult. Aphra, who struggled to make ends meet as a playwright, would understand our micro-budget. She’d understand our Fan Tan alley walkup and our noble goals. In fact, I think she’d like it.
Aphra premieres March 30 and runs March 30-April 3. Run time, 70 minutes. Tickets are pay what you can, at this link. Watch when you want: Your ticket is valid from 6PM on the night of the show, until 5:30 PM the next day.
Lindsey Schneider is a MyUVicLife blogger alumni and 2020 UVic grad (BFA Theatre, minor in Hispanic Studies). In April 2020, she returned to her home state of Alaska to live and work as an educational aide in public schools during the pandemic. Now, with her mailed diploma in hand, she’s happy to be back in Victoria, making up for lost time and making art too. You can find her blog posts here.