BWW Interview: Alberta Theatre Project's Darcy Evans Talks About The New Canadian Curling Club
In anticipation of the opening night of The New Canadian Curling Club by Mark Crawford at Alberta Theatre Projects, I sat down with director Darcy Evans to talk about the show, Canada, and the importance of community.
Darcy Evans has been the Executive & Artistic Director of Alberta Theatre Projects since May 2018. He has directed at theatres across Canada from Vancouver Island to Prince Edward Island. In the US he has directed Off-Broadway, in regional theatres, and served as Associate Director on Broadway and for US National tours. He also spent nine seasons as an actor and associate director for The Stratford Festival.
The New Canadian Curling Club tells the story of a Chinese physician, a Jamaican Tim Horton's manager, a South Asian father, and a 17-year old Syrian refugee who live in a rural Albertan town. In an effort to welcome newcomers to Canada, the community decides to offer a free, "Learn to Curl" program. But when its organizer slips on the ice and breaks her hip, the rink's ice custodian and former champion curler Stuart MacPhail is forced to step in as head coach. Trouble is, Stuart has some strong opinions about immigrants - opinions he has trouble keeping to himself. What follows is the hilarious and inspiring story of a group of unlikely athletes who face off against local prejudice and become a true team.
The cast stars five actors from across Canada who lend their talent and experience to this show:
"[In this show] we have someone who's been here for 27 years and someone who's only been here a few months and they represent four very distinct cultures... it's a story about how people come together despite their difference, to work as a team and, through friendship and comradery, have a better sense of understanding."
Mark Crawford's latest work wasn't initially part of Alberta Theatre Projects' season but it was added over the summer.
"I'm really fascinated by stories that are about the intersection of culture," said Evans. "I also think it shines a light in a very positive and comedic way, about all of the inherent bias and prejudice that we all share; regardless of our race, or the colour of our skin, or our gender, or our sexual orientation."
As the show takes place in a curling club with a full rink and a bar, there was also an opportunity to bring the community up on stage. The set will include a functioning rink that the actors can throw rocks across, and a bar will be open on the stage preshow. Local curling clubs will also be onsite throughout the run of the show offering demonstrations, and audiences are invited to come up to watch, and drink, and feel a part of the show.
Not only did they reach out to local curling clubs who even lent equipment and education throughout the rehearsal process, Alberta Theatre Projects also collaborated with various communities represented in the play.
"One of the first things that [ATP Producer] Dianne Goodman and I did was go to the Centre for New Comers and we met with their executive director Anila [Lee Yuen]. One of the things that they're doing right now is a series of videos from ten famous Canadians about their immigrant story and we thought that was very fascinating. The first one they rolled out was about Cheryl Cohen who is the daughter of Martha Cohen, which is the theatre [namesake] that ATP presents its work in.
"Basically, the Centre for New Comers is saying we're all immigrants unless you're an indigenous person. At some point we were all immigrants or we have an immigrant story; whether we're fifth, fourth, first generation. ...We've also been doing some great work with the Asian Heritage Foundation, they've been so helpful with all of the shows we've been doing this season like Café Daughter. They've really helped us get the word out to their community and we're hoping to work with them during Asian Heritage month (May)...and we partnered with them on their Building Bridges Through the Arts Project that they did last August so that has been an incredible way to have a solid beginning to those cross-pollination conversations about how we can help support other groups' work."
Major subject matter in the show deals with small town racism, prejudice, and immigration - subjects that are on a lot of Calgarian's minds at the moment as we deal with the local and international political climates. One of the actors Sepidar Yeganeh Farid, playing the young newcomer Fatima Al-Sayed, has a close relation to her character's story; having come from Iran via Turkey and then moving to Montreal as a child, she shared with her cast the story of coming to Montreal in winter and the people who welcomed her and her family.
"We have four people who have encountered a lot of [racism] in their experience. I can't speak to that myself; my only point of reference to being an outsider is being a young gay kid from a small town who was a figure skater; and I was bullied and ridiculed because of that. I feel that my role is just to listen and to guide the conversation...We've also had some cultural consultants working with us which has been really beneficial in terms of language and in terms of customs, accent - we're really lucky, we've had an army of people advising us."
According to Evans, something the show strives to do is shine a light on the goodness in people despite it all. "And especially in a place like Calgary, where there are people from all over the world who have moved here and are learning to understand each other...the play, I think, shines a light on that but even more, the fact that there are still people among us who don't accept people who are different...Somehow it's still funny but you really get a sense that we still have work to do."
Ultimately, this show is about the people and the message they try to give to the audience.
"The character of Fatima, she says at the end of the play: 'Canada is a good place'. [Calgary] is a great place to live and I think that there's something about this play that shines a light on a community group that is actively raising money to bring people who are at risk to their community. And yes, they're going to face challenges once they're here but that outreach and that extension of good will, I think, is the message of the play... It's a really poignant play. It's a beautiful play and you will laugh your butt off."
The New Canadian Curling Club will begin performances on Tuesday March 5th and will run until March 23rd. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 403 294 7402.