Theatre New Brunswick’s new season begins this week with the world premiere production of, A Sunday Affair.
After almost 50 years of staging professional theatre within the province, it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that Theatre New Brunswick has yet to do it all. While the company’s long list of accomplishments includes many firsts for New Brunswick theatre, a new direction first introduced last season with the appointment of Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones, has brought a renewed energy and a renewed sense of purpose to the province’s longest running Anglophone theatre company, and together with TNB General Manager Susan Ready, the two are helping introduce a refreshing new approach to producing theatre for New Brunswick audiences.
Last season saw the introduction of the company’s own theatre, the recently named Open Space Theatre, an intimate 98 seat performance space located at 55 Whiting Road, and a return to more extensive provincial touring. But what may be the most exciting aspect of the company’s new found energy is its willingness to break from tradition and, at least once or twice a season, challenge NB audiences to rethink their interpretation of what theatre is and what it can be.
This idea was first introduced with the 2015 production You Play Beautifully, a one-actor play that paired first class sound and lighting design to create the energy of an enormous ensemble, while the production’s minimalist approach to set and delivery left equal room for imagination.
As the company prepares to open its first production of the 2016-2017 season later this week, the cast and creative team behind A Sunday Affair have now completed their second and final two-week rehearsal period that has seen this play develop from a simple love story to become what may be considered one of the company’s most daring and engaging works to date. With a visually stunning set and light design by Toronto-based designer Kaitlin Hickey and an equally moving score by Moncton composer Jean-François Mallet, the season opening production will surely set the bar high for the season to follow.
“The idea for A Sunday Affair started about four years ago,” said Jones, who wrote the script with Gabrielle Houle and Richard Lee, and will also direct the world premiere production for the company. “I was listening to The Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby which is all about a lonely priest and a lonely woman in a small town and I thought, ‘wow, what a beautiful, small and intimate little tale’. The play isn’t based on The Beatles song but inspired by it.”
Jones also credits the 2001 Jean-Pierre Jeunet film Amélie and the work of Charlie Chaplin for inspiring the physical aspects of the play’s delivery.
“I knew I wanted to tell the story through physical theatre or silent performance and I also knew I needed collaborators,” he said. “I had this story idea but felt it really important to write it with other people so I got in touch Gabrielle Houle who has her doctorate in theatre with a special focus in comedia del arte and is an amazing physical theatre performer, and Richard Lee who is a great actor, a brilliant sound designer and all around incredible man of the theatre.”
The play’s development took place over the course of three years with all three writers coming together whenever possible to further explore the story. With the help of the Ontario Arts Council’s Theatre Creator’s Reserve Fund and additional support and resources offered by Ontario’s Blyth Festival Theatre, a final draft of the story was completed in 2013.
“The play wasn’t written in language,” said Jones. “It was written by actors playing the characters on stage with me giving them ideas and so the script is a representation of three years of play.”
A year later when Jones found himself in New Brunswick after taking on the role of Artistic Director in 2014, he thought the play would be a perfect opportunity to explore a co-production with one of the province’s Francophone theatre companies.
“I took this script to Maurice Arsenault at Théâtre populaire d’Acadie and proposed the idea of doing it both in English and in French and he agreed. Now we have this incredible story that’s being told in two languages and physical theatre coming to the stage for the first time.”
Through this historic co-production partnership, Theatre New Brunswick and Théâtre populaire d’Acadie (TPA) will both have the opportunity to present the play as part of their respected seasons, serving both of the province’s official language communities. A Sunday Affair will be performed in French for Fredericton audiences on October 12, 7:30 p.m. at the Open Space Theatre.
Steeped in physicality, A Sunday Affair is a told through a highly choreographed performance that is both humourous and heartfelt. Canadian actors Mathieu Chouinard and Miriam Fernandes, both graduates of the acclaimed L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris (a school dedicated to the study of physical theatre), skillfully bring the characters of Father Tom and Josephine to life.
“This play, for me, is a burst of pure happiness,” said Jones. “We rehearsed for two weeks in Caraquet this summer to create the specific physicality of the play and so that the composer could create alongside the actors. During that entire process, we all marveled at how much joy there was in this story, and also in the spirit we were all bringing to making the play.”
Jones’ ability to completely wrap an audience within the fabric of a story without having to rely on elaborate sets, multiple costume changes and enormous castings has helped broaden the company’s audience interpretation and perception of theatre, and maybe more importantly, has helped encourage many first-time theatre goers to take a chance on theatre.
And now on the eve of his second season as Artistic Director, A Sunday Affair will no doubt continue to carry forward the contagiously enthusiasm that Jones brings to the company and the audience both at home in Fredericton and throughout the province.
“It is two actors with no props and little set – only their bodies, mime, movement, text, music and facial expressions to tell the story,” he said. “Rather than feeling empty, the theatre feels full, full to bursting with the energy of these two remarkable performers. I absolutely cannot wait to share it with audiences.”
Theatre New Brunswick will present all English Language performances:
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 13-23, 2016 | Open Space Theatre | 7:30 p.m. | Fredericton, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 25, 2016 | Arena Complex Theatre | 7:30 p.m. | St. Andrews, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 26, 2016 | McAdam Train Station | 7:30 p.m. | McAdam, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 27, 2016 | Woodstock High School Theatre | 7:30 p.m. | Woodstock, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 28, 2016 | Vogue Theatre| 7:30 p.m. | Miramichi, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 30, 2016 | École Secondaire Népisiguit | 2:00 p.m. | Bathurst, NB
Tickets for all English language performances available at tnb.nb.ca
Théâtre populaire d’Acadie will present all French Language performances:
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 12, 2016 | Open Space Theatre | 7:30 p.m. | Fredericton, NB
- A Sunday Affair | Oct. 29, 2016 | École Secondaire Népisiguit | 7:30 p.m. | Bathurst, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 1, 2016 | Centre culturel Aberdeen | 7:30 p.m. | Moncton, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 2, 2016 | Neguac Community Learning Centre | 7:30 p.m. | Neguac, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 3, 2016 | Centre culturel de Caraquet | 7:30 p.m. | Caraquet, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 4, 2016 | Polyvalente W.-A.-Losier | 7:30 p.m. | Tracadie, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 5, 2016 | École Marie-Esther | 7:30 p.m. | Shippagan, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 9, 2016 | Amphithéâtre de L’UMCE | 7:30 p.m. | Edmundston, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 10, 2016 | Polyvalente A.-J. Savoie | 7:30 p.m. | Saint-Quentin, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 11, 2016 | École L.E.R. | 7:30 p.m. | Dalhousie, NB
- A Sunday Affair | November 12, 2016 | Polyvalente Louis-J.-Robichaud | 7:30 p.m. | Shediac, NB
Tickets for all French language performances available at www.tpacadie.ca