Thought provoking, clever, funny, a bit dark, and perhaps cutting close enough to the bone to very nearly need a trigger warning.
This very loosely describes the latest creative product out of the South Okanagan Amateur Players Society (SOAP) which starts this weekend at Venables Theatre in Oliver, complete with a pre-show soirée.
A dark comedy written by Canadian playwright Morris Panych, 7 Stories revolves around “A Man” - nameless and universal - who spends the length of the play perched on a 7th story ledge trying to muster the courage to jump.
All about him the residents of the apartment building go about their lives, constantly interrupting his suicidal machinations. Little concerned about Man’s circumstances, they instead dwell on their own eccentricities and life dramas.
“It’s very thought-provoking, and it has some very Canadian humour to it,” says the play’s producer Jennifer Busman. “It keeps you thinking through the whole play,” she adds.
For Busman this is her first time to produce a play. “I’ve always been interested in theatre,” she says, noting that she was previously on the Venables Theatre board. Her daughter is also in the performing arts and she recollects as a child growing up in Oliver her dad always emphasized going to the theatre and the importance of experiencing different things.
That lesson clearly resonates with Busman as she’s a firm believer in the importance of supporting theatre in the community saying performing arts are important in fostering critical thinking, and freedom of expression.
“I strongly believe in small town theatre. I think it brings a lot to our communities, it brings people together and we have some really talented people in Oliver and Osoyoos. We’re very, very fortunate that we have this in our community.”
Busman notes the play is very timely because of the very important and visible mental health issues society is grappling with.
COVID 19, the toxic drug crisis, housing crisis, PTSD, grief and healing of Indigenous peoples post-residential school era, has contributed to the escalation of deteriorating mental health of Canadians.
As such the play recognizes that mental health plays a role in everyone’s life, and can impact us all in different ways.
So how did the first time producer fare in getting the play to this point? “What kind of shocked me was the ability of this group of people doing the play to work together so well,” she says.
She notes that it’s a multi-generational effort, with the youngest cast and crew members being two high school students (handling lighting and sound), who have a very special connection to local theatre - both sets of their grandparents were involved in local theatre.
She adds that this particular play has offered an opportunity to inject some new blood into the SOAP lineup, in part due to the fact the cast is so large.
At 14 cast members this is a relative behemoth in community theatre terms. Busman says cast sizes are normally in the 6-8 person size.
This meant there were opportunities for newbies to get involved both backstage and on stage because there were a number of smaller parts.
The director is also relatively new to that role, with Frances Quick having acted in various plays, but a relative newcomer to the directing realm.
Busman notes that the main character is developed very well, because “The Man” is on stage for the entirety of the play. “That has taken long time local actor Diane Gludovatz some time to get comfortable with that,” she said. Busman also credits Craig Björnson and Ryan Soren with building the unique set for the play.
One thing that is distinctly different with this production - and a first for SOAP - is the fact there is an opening night soirée on Friday, April 28 open to those who purchase advance tickets for that show.
The pre-event social will include wine tasting featuring vin Amité Cellars, beer from Firehall Brewery, canapés from Big Al’s Bakery and Johnny Carwash & the Desert Dawgz entertaining with an “unplugged” set. “It should be lots of fun!” Busman enthuses.
“I’m passionate about this because we brought some key community members together in this collaboration,” she says. These included Home Hardware in Osoyoos, vin Amite and Firehall Brewery in Oliver which participated in an “enter to win” contest.
“We were trying to generate some more awareness with our locals and more awareness with our local businesses.”
“We’re a smaller community and we’re trying to drive awareness about the theatre because not everyone knows we have this beautiful state of the art facility in our community,” she says.
“So I was just trying to create a bit of a buzz and create more information and try to get it out there in a different way. But it’s nice on a Friday night to maybe go out and have a little bit of fun and go to the theatre.”
The show will also be going to Kelowna for the annual 2023 Okanagan Zone Festival on May 28.
Five performances will be held from Friday April 28 to May 6. Adults $25 day of show and $23 in advance. For more information visit Venables Theatre online at Venablestheatre.ca.