Theatre making a difference
Regional library, mental health group to benefit from production
A Shakespeare in the Park production made its way to the Northside Guest Home a few years ago with some success.
“After the show, one of the organizers came up to me and explained that (an) audience member was a former English professor who was now confined to a wheelchair,” said stage director Bonnie MacLeod. “Their mind was as sharp as ever, but physically they hadn’t been able to go the theatre in years. The thought of making an impact, even for one person, really stayed with me.”
With that proof of the effect theatre can have, MacLeod, the artistic director of Her Voice Theatre is bringing a stage production of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” to the McConnell Library.
The production is being held in partnership with the Cape Breton Regional Library and the local chapter of the Oxford ReLit Foundation. The three performances are slated for Nov. 24-26, 7 p.m. each night, as a fundraiser for the two groups.
“I have done other mental health advocacy work in the community — such as organizing the Freakshow Variety Show which raised funds for Pathways to Employment and Crossroads Clubhouse,” MacLeod explains.
“I came up with the idea for this project when working with Dr. Julie Sutherland on another bibliotherapy initiative helping to distribute copies of ReLit’s poetry anthology to mental health organizations and health-care providers.
“I approached Rosalie Gillis and Lindsay Thompson about involving the (regional library) and they were very enthusiastic,” MacLeod recalls. “Bibliotherapy in a nutshell is ‘reading for well-being,’ so coming up with a project that would support the work of our regional library seemed like a no-brainer.”
MacLeod notes libraries support individuals living with mental illness in many ways, “They provide free access to self-help resources, community programming, computers and internet; because a lot of information is only available on the internet and not everybody has their own cellphone or computer to access it.
“I also wanted to support senior mental health in our community. So for this project I approached the Northside Guest Home again, and also the MacGillivray Guest Home, where my own grandmother is a resident. The recreation coordinators from both facilities have been a huge support to the project,” MacLeod said.
“We also received support from Communities, Culture and Heritage Nova Scotia. Bringing all the moving parts together and especially performing the show at the nursing homes wouldn’t have been possible without that.
“I chose ‘Sense and Sensibility’ because it is a text used in bibliotherapy courses,” MacLeod says about the play. “The two main characters are sisters who handle their emotions very differently. Elinor pushes hers down, locks them away so she can focus on the practical things she needs to do for her family. Marianne is the opposite and lives to feel, even if sometimes it overwhelms her.”
MacLeod says the adaptation by Kate Hamill they are using highlights the humour and action in the story but remains faithful to the heart of text as well as featuring strong and diverse roles for women.
The cast features Lindsay Thompson and Gena Diflavio as Elinor and Marianne with Sandy Anthony, Nicole MacDougall, Josie Sobol, Maura Lea Morykot, Shealyn Varnes, Bob Lewandowski, JonJon Collins, Wayne McKay, Adam
Young and Philip Boudreau.
“We’ve been rehearsing since August. It’s been a very collaborative process, with everyone pitching in to help with the production side of things. It’s been really positive, lots of laughs — I think everyone is enjoying the fact that it is for a good cause,” MacLeod observes.
“Doing theatre in an alternative space like the library or a nursing home always presents some challenges — where does the ‘stage’ begin and end, how do we come up with a set that functions but can also come apart and go in the back of car. But challenges are what force us to be creative. I love that.”
As a final thought, MacLeod said, “Seeing the arts community, the library, the mental health and the senior care communities all come together is inspiring. Sometimes when we are facing challenges — like looking at a 13-month wait time to access mental health resources — we get discouraged and overwhelmed. So taking some action, getting involved and being around other people who are willing to try to make a change, make something happen — it’s really good for the spirit, it makes me more hopeful.”
Lindsay Thompson copes with the many emotional dramas of her character in Her Voice Theatre Company’s production of Jane Austen’s “Sense And Sensibility,” a fundraiser for the Cape Breton Regional Library and the ReLit Foundation. The production can be seen at the McConnell Library, Nov. 24-26.