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

New script

A couple of weeks ago, the creative team of Same Boat Theatre sat down for a look at the first script for production by our new company at this summer’s Hamilton Fringe Festival. A fictionalized drama inspired by the Mike Duffy-Senate scandal, Finding Mr. Right is a one-act play that has been in the works for a good long while. It was supposed to be a one-man show about my passion for politics and growing up in Ottawa. But after a lot of exploration on my part as a playwright, it became a drama onstage featuring a pair of political advisers debating how to handle a scandal that threatens to topple the Prime Minister, himself.

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“The Longer I’m Prime Minister…”

Though inspired by real-life events, the play now occupies a fictional setting with fictional characters while tackling some familiar issues and current events. But this turn away from the script’s initial premise meant that more work needed to be done in the first draft process before a finished script would be ready for the company. And some of the most important work at this stage took place during a weekend playwriting residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point. Located on Toronto Island, this residency gave me a much-needed opportunity to listen to and explore the voices of the play’s two characters in a focused environment. It was in this setting that much of the play was completed and I give kudos to my fellow playwright and performer Phil Rickaby who organized the residency as well as playwrights Michael Ripley and Rosemary Doyle who gave valuable insights into how the piece could be developed.

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Gibralter Point… the way to completing a draft

When the first draft was finally done and sent off to my director Aaron and co-star Lauren, I want to say that I felt confident but, truthfully, I was nervous as hell. Perhaps the abrupt change in style had me on edge. Perhaps it was just feeling the jitters as I always feel after finishing the first draft. Fortunately, the company’s notes made it clear the script was headed in a good direction. Like every playwright, I went away with directions on potential rewrites. But, as Aaron said to me, “it’s good to have a draft”… and to enjoy that first draft over a nice cup of coffee. Which I did.

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Coffee + script = #amplaywriting

A week later, I had the team back together for a look at a rewrite. After cutting three pages off and doing some serious restructuring, we were ready for what is possibly the most nerve-wracking part of being a playwright: the first read. Considering how long this piece has been percolating, and the ups and downs of the script’s development, it felt pretty good. And, after years of writing plays for the Fringe, I was reminded that this draft would likely see more changes with even minor tweaks and cuts being made up to show’s opening.

And, even as I finish this blog post, I’ve revised the script a third time (you knew that was coming, right?). There will likely be a fourth and fifth and and and. I mean, let’s face it, no script ever survives rehearsals intact. So I’ll let you know how it goes.

~Stephen Near