The University of Lethbridge drama department decided to help celebrate the university‘s 50th birthday by commissioning a play — a cautionary tale from Vancouver/Ottawa-based playwright/actor Sean Devine.
“When There’s Nothing Left To Burn” won the U of L’s Fiction at Fifty Playwriting Competition out of more than 75 entries. It will be on stage at the University Theatre, Nov. 7-11.
Devine, who is on the hit TV show “The Disappearance,” was excited to work with the faculty, staff and students of the University of Lethbridge, to bring his one-page proposal to life.
“The play has evolved quite a lot. When I first started it, it was a one-page proposal,” observed Devine from Ottawa, taking a break from his day job with the Canadian Arts Council. He visited the University of Lethbridge to workshop the play and get it ready for stage with the help of the students and staff of the university and director Gail Hanrahan. He noted this process is how most plays get to the stage today.
“I always need a little feedback from a lot of different people. it was very interesting having these conversations with the staff and students. University students don’t often get the opportunity to have that kind of workshopping experience,” he said, noting this will be the fourth play he has had staged since he started writing professionally in 2011.
“I wrote a lot of plays in my 20s that never saw the light of day,” he said. He noted he enjoyed several things about working on this play.
“Number one, as a playwright, it is rare to write for a larger cast of 10 or 12 performers because usually you can’t have that many due to budgetary constraints. It was also exciting to write for a younger cast, because usually you are writing for people in their mid 20s and early 30s,” he observed.
“And universities usually don’t usually do political plays,” he said.
He said he was inspired to write the script four or five years ago by the invasion of Kiev in the Ukraine.
“And then Russia invaded Crimea,” he continued.
“It’s about two sides of a city in the midst of a political rebellion. One side is members of a political regime and the other side is opposing it,” he said, noting the play is a snapshot of some of the many individuals involved with all sides of the situation, including media personalities, political candidates, singers and more.
Devine has two other plays in production — “Daisy,” which is being produced in Houston, Texas and “Re:Union” which was done in October by the Yale Cabaret at Yale University.
The cast has been working on the play since April, which was originally supposed to take place in Europe, but evolved to take place in an anonymous North American city.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Sean, who helped us flush it out,” said actor Braedan Pettigrew, who plays the Candidate and several other characters.
“When we started it was version 5.0, now it’s version 7.5,” said Sharayah Paulson, who, among her many characters, plays the Interviewer.
“It’s about these people living in a crazy political climate,” Poulsen said, after acting in one of the scenes she is in, interviewing an extreme right-wing candidate, played by Pettigrew.
He noted his character of the candidate is part of a party using the tragedy for its own ends.
“That was the third scene between the interviewer and the candidate. They are arguing back and forth, but it takes place before the big event of the play,” Poulson said.
“We all play five or seven different characters. I also play a police officer who goes to a protest and things get out of hand and she kills one of the protesters, but it is determined it is self defence,” she said.
Director Gail Hanrahan is glad to be part of the play.
“It is part of the University of Lethbridge’s ‘Fiction at Fifty’ Playwright competition supported by Terry Whitehead. We asked playwrights to submit proposals. three of those were chosen,” Hanrahan said.
After Devine’s proposal was chosen and commissioned, he visited the university for two workshops with the students and staff.
She noted she offered to direct the play because of the script and the opportunity to work with a large cast.
“It has changed quite a bit. It was originally to take place in Europe, but now it could take place in any city, any Canadian city, it could be a bomb on a bus in Toronto or Calgary.
“The play is fiction and takes place in an unnamed city, but at the moment it feels very possible,” Hanrahan said.
“It’s a city in chaos. People are fearing for their safety and the authorities are trying to keep control. But the problem is you can’t trust anybody. Just because they look like a cop, they might not be a cop,” she continued.
“It is about people trying to go about their daily lives in this situation,” she added.
“When There’s Nothing Left To Burn,” runs at University Theatre at 7:30 each night, Nov. 7-11 at University Theatre. Tickets are $28 regular, $13 seniors and alumni and $12 for students.