Clean Sheets; Invisible Scripts

The Queer Arts Festival and the Frank Theatre Company team up with a pair of staged readings.

At some point on Monday night, five music stands with five thick wads of paper holding page after page of brilliant Deidre Walton dialogue and pink highlighted words, disappeared from the Roundhouse stage. One minute they were there accompanied by five actors from Vancouver’s only professional queer theatre company, the Frank Theatre Company, but the next, the stands and scripts had vanished. All that was left on the stage was a slightly dysfunctional but very real and endearing Jamaican-Canadian family bickering at the dinner table: arguing, joking, and obediently reciting grace for the sake of their mother, or rather, their mother’s mother (may she rest in peace).  Just seconds away from devouring another delicious “big food day” feast, the true reasons mama Gloria is so uncomfortable with her daughter’s lesbian ‘friend’, Jules, sharing their table start to surface. Clue after clue oozes to the surface like cranberry sauce sliding from an upturned jar, but, ‘there be no cranberry sauce in this Jamaican household!’ (Gloria warned us all), and the rest unfolds… Gloria, in the dining room with the Marigold.

You could almost smell the turkey. You could actually hear the swish-slice of the non-existent knife carving that invisible turkey. Suspension of disbelief: I witnessed a miracle. Or at the very least, I was able to experience a little more of the true magic that comes from combining the right script with the right actors, even if it is only, just for a staged reading. I was blown away that the actors could do so much acting while still reading. I felt like I was watching a polished play, yet there were no props or costumes or set changes. There were just people standing there with scripts on music stands, and the occasional song drifting out from the Roundhouse speakers. The music was a nice touch, although the first two times it came on in between or during scenes, I looked around the crowd scowling, trying to find that rude individual who had forgotten to turn off their cellular!

It was hard to believe that these actors had only been working on this performance for two days. The charming and witty dialogue of Diedre Walton’s script entitled Inna Di Wardrobe danced off the pages and shone through these talented performers. Conversations between siblings and relatives invited laughter, pulled sighs and even tears from the audience throughout every scene. The story, the sentiment, the characters, and the relationships were so beautiful, and realistic, and touching. The lines were delivered with true emotion and in authentic, believable Jamaican accents.

This was the fifth year of “Clean Sheets,” an event put on by the Queer Arts Festival in partnership with the Frank Theatre Company. This annual event brings readings from the best new queer plays from across Canada. The two plays that were brought to the Roundhouse stage this year on Monday July 29th were Deidre Walton’s Inna di Wardrobe and Jan Derbyshire’s All in.

All In was another highly engaging, political and informative reading. Born from a real-life scenario, Derbyshire explained that this script captures some of the struggles that ensue when you bring a group of people together from all walks of life to talk about ‘belonging’. It was inspired by many of the participant’s stories at this year’s All the World’s A Stage,  (which is the frank theatre company’s diversity-based program that builds bridges across differences through theatre arts). The six characters of All In are all from minority groups, oppressed by different barriers such as class, race, ability, sexuality, etc. but they are also all privileged in their own unique ways and by their individual circumstances. They are all living in Canada, and are united at an ironically expensive workshop on belonging.

Immigrants, queers, people with disabilities, politically conscious white-Canadian hipsters, students, church-goers: they are all here and must manage to put differences aside and figure out how to work together. They have one task only, to create or choose a fun game that can represent belonging. This task is not as easy as it sounds. The underlying racism and colonialism of typical ‘Canadian’ childhood games is exposed. As these six characters agree and disagree, argue and share histories, some of Canada’s own untold, hidden history is exposed. Dates and facts of Canadian history are stitched into the script, creative non-fiction woven into the lines of the fictional characters brilliantly. Even interesting facts about the history of the rainbow pride flag are revealed.

These two scripts were chosen as the best new queer Canadian plays for Clean Sheets 2013, and these two staged readings of Deidre Walton’s Inna di Wardrobe and Jan Derbyshire’s All In, were two of the best staged readings I’ve ever attended. I am eager to see both plays in full production mode sometime in the near future, and fortunately , it was announced at the end of the readings on Monday night, that All In will be going ‘all in’ to production mode, and hit the stage in October.