Life lessons and collective differences take centre stage in NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s Acting Out series.
NotaBle Acts have been having a banger of a year. After a season that included very few opportunities to experience theatre live and in-person, it would appear Fredericton audiences are now eager to make up for lost time. Last week the festival’s MainStage production was treated to a sold out run of performances at TNB’s Open Space Theatre and the trend continued last night with the opening of this year’s Acting Out series of one-act plays. By mid-afternoon organizers shared the news – opening night had sold out.
This year’s Acting Out series includes two very different New Brunswick stories – one a period piece set in turn-of-the-century St. Andrews, and the other set in Fredericton during the initial pandemic lockdown of 2020.
Last night’s performance opened with Ron Kelly Spurles’ MAD About Van Horne, a play about a play. It’s a story about local theatre and the different ways theatre can offer purpose and meaning to life in a small town. In the story, four characters from four different walks of life are all interested in being part of an upcoming local play about William Van Horne, the railway baron who built his summer home on nearby Minister’s Island. Two of the characters (played by Dani Brun and Scott Harris) have experience with theatre, one (played by Brenna Gauthier) is new and overly excited about it all, and the fourth (played by Josef Addleman) is simply curious to see if acting is something they are capable of.
Using theatre as a fitting scenario, Spurles’ play provides audiences with an outsider’s view of what it means to be part of a community. The theme fits just about every possible situation. Its universality is strong. MAD About Van Horne could just as easily be a play about organizing a music festival, a local talent show or even a bake sale. When you bring a group of people together with a common goal in mind, everyone who chooses to be involved does so because they want something in return, and those reasons are often as diverse as any community make up could be.
The second play of the evening’s double bill was Muriel Flakenstein’s Life Goes On. Set in the early onset of COVID-19, the play explores the experience from the perspective of a group of high school students, each battling their own set of struggles in dealing with the pandemic. As friends, budding relationships and familiar routines meet head-on with growing sense of life in the wider world, each character in the play is forced to come to terms with life outside of the environment they have existed in since they were kids.
The young cast featuring Nicole Zacharuk, Alex Dawson, Reinaldo Cascante, and Megan Murphy offer surprisingly strong performances with Julianne Richard’s direction providing occasional surprises in a performance that is mostly monologue in format.
Falkenstein’s writing is incredibly powerful and will force audiences to think twice about how they interpret teenage emotion. Through the mix of scenarios presented in Life Goes On, we come to understand how the many actions and reactions often dismissed as teen angst are in fact just the result of facing regular human cognitive processes for the first time.
Though contrasting in many ways, MAD About Van Horne and Life Goes On have a lot in common. They are both plays about our collective differences, full of life lessons and learning, perfectly cast and directed.
By design, NotaBle Acts is a celebration of New Brunswick theatre and serves as a major catalyst for new and emerging playwrights from the province. By providing a variety of opportunities and stages to have their work performed by a cast of actors, directors and designers, each new season of NotaBle Acts is a celebration of all things local. Both plays in this year’s Acting Out series perfectly embody the spirit of the festival and should not be missed. Here’s hoping for two more well-deserved full houses!
Life Goes On and MAD About Van Horne are presented as a series of twin bill evening performances until July 31. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall, UNB. Tickets should be available at the door, but based on the popularity of these shows, seating will no doubt be limited. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve tickets.