Being Frank about Shelly

Before we even closed The Conspiracy of Michael at the Hamilton Fringe in 2014, Stephen wanted to write and perform a one man show, Finding Mr. Wright. Aaron was to direct and I was to be there not only to support the production but assist in the dramaturgical process. I was perfectly happy to have a bit of a break during the next Fringe Festival but then, a few months ago, Stephen’s one-man show was no more and the play became a two person drama called Finding Mr. Right. Stephen asked me to co-star with him to portray the character of Shelly who, although fictional, is inspired by a real-life political figure.

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In rehearsal… talking politics with director Aaron Joel Craig

It’s been a few years since I’ve had to memorize more than a few pages of dialogue for a show but I was excited for the opportunity to be one of two performers onstage. But then it dawned on me this is a show about Canadian politics. I always vote, but I will admit, it is something I am not overly knowledgeable about or particularly interested in (I do have guilt about this… that counts for something right?). I agreed to do the show and to learn as I go. All the while Stephen and Aaron explained more about the people in Canadian politics and the details of the Senate scandal upon which the show is based. Of course I did my own Google searches, read articles, and looked up the definitions of some of the political lingo. I learned a few new things about Canadian politics, true, but that doesn’t mean I found a passion I never knew I had for politics. Admittedly, I would still rather search online for new knitting patterns than articles about people in Ottawa.

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Frank Underwood from House of Cards

So how did I become personally invested in the script? Well, I may not be a fan of politics, in general, but I am a fan of House of Cards. Like big time. I’ve watched Season One probably three times. And it’s not the politics that keep me going back for more. It’s the characters. Frank Underwood is probably one of my favourite characters in TV. And Shelly has a fair amount in common with Frank. She has a need for power and desperation to come out on top at any cost. But what does that look like for Shelly? That’s what I had to ask myself when preparing for this role. And for me that is interesting work.

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Shelly Dunn, the (fictional) Director of Party Operations…

I love watching confrontation on stage. The struggle of a character to survive is what I’ve always found engaging in theatre. And I love being a part of creating that type of conflict on-stage. And it’s exciting and challenging to work through what Shelly’s struggle to win looks like, and how that affects her approach to the character of Nathan (played by Stephen). Will she win, and what does winning even mean for her? Politics is important to the show and to the process because they help to understand what’s at stake for Shelly. But I think, ultimately, it’s not just about politics; it’s about her career, her status, her power, and her sacrifice. And we can all relate to those things.

When approaching a play or a character I think you have to approach it as life or death. This is all we see of these characters and their lives, and if the stakes aren’t life or death then why bother? Finding Mr. Right is definitely life or death for Shelly and Nathan. The politics are the background but the characters are front and centre.

~Lauren Repei

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