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Jun 2014

KitchenFest! Q+A: Bev Brett

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Beverly Brett, the writer and director of last year’s hit play “Out of Black Cove,” and the group of players she directs, the St. Ann’s Bay Players, will be bringing three plays to KitchenFest this year at the Gaelic College! Our Marketing and Design Intern Leah Noble had a chance to chat with Bev in May about the “story theatre” format, about what the Cape Breton kitchen has meant to her, and about why live theatre is so magical.

Leah: Your plays are always well-attended and so entertaining. Tell me about the plays you’re producing at the College this year!

Bev: So “Vision” was written by Alistair MacLeod, and I first produced his story in theatrical form at the Cabot Trail Writers Festival in 2012. We only did one performance then. Then I was in Waipu, New Zealand, and I saw Alistair and his wife, and he asked me, “When are you going to do that again?” We made the decision in January to take “Vision” to the stage at the Gaelic College, and then of course he sadly passed away in April. We decided to still produce the play. We feel it will be a great tribute to him.

The other two plays are based on traditional stories told on the North Shore of Cape Breton, stories that were told by Evelyn Smith and Hector Carmichael. I created plays from them for the Gaelic College a few years ago, so that they could use them in their classes in Gaelic drama.  The Company that I’ve been directing and working with for thirty-four years, the St. Ann’s Bay Players, will be performing all three plays.

Many of the cast from last year’s production — Mary Ann Wilson, Todd Hiscock, Murdena MacDonald, Yvonne LeBlanc, Frank MacKenzie, Jitka Zgola, & George Dauphney —  are returning with the addition of the great talents of Murdock MacDonald, Gary Walsh, Joey Burroughs  and Sue Browne. And I should note that although the cast are sometimes playing cats and horses, “Vision” is material for mature audiences.

Leah: What is the “Story theatre” format?

Bev: Story theatre is more like story-telling. “Vision” will be done in a more theatrical way than the other two plays, but still in the story-theatre format. So for example, in “Vision” there are 7 actors playing multiple characters and they are onstage all the time, changing costumes, becoming animals, handling puppets, as well as acting in scenes. There will be interesting visual technical effects, projected images. Story theatre is sort of the flavour of an old-time variety concert.

Leah: Was it hard to adapt the Vision story to the stage?

Bev: I’d say of all his short stories, Vision is one of the harder ones to adapt. It’s a real toughie. It’s real life, you know, it’s gritty. But it’s still really funny. Alistair had a way of writing humour in the darkness. I think of it as a dark fairy tale, you have the innocent view of the kids, telling the story.

Leah: You’ve been involved in live theatre since 1980 in Cape Breton. Why is it so important, to stage and also to attend live theatre?

Bev: Live theatre, especially in a small community, is so interesting. Anything can happen! For a story like “Vision”, you know, you can read the story on the page, by yourself at home, but with live theatre you get to hear the language, hear it and see it coming alive. The actors interact with each other, and the audience sees that interaction, and then sees a whole different side of the story. Subtle things you may not have picked up on, in the story, through gestures and reactions on stage become obvious, and really funny.

Something else that’s almost magical about live theatre is that the audience becomes part of the play. You know, leading up to the performances, the actors rehearse and rehearse, but for actors, there is nothing like performing in front of a live audience. The audience will react to parts by laughing, which in turn gives energy to the people on stage. I find live theatre is especially neat in a small community where most of the people know each other. For me, as a director, I get to sort of watch the audience react to things. And as the audience, you see people that you know up on the stage, acting… you see a side of them you didn’t know before. And the community is so close-knit that people will tell me exactly what they think… if they thought it was too long, you know, for example.

Leah: KitchenFest is celebrating the magic and community of the Cape Breton kitchen. Can you tell me a little bit about what the Cape Breton kitchen has meant to you?

Bev: When we first moved here in the 70s, there was a couple that lived near us, Dan Hector and Jessie Smith. They took us in, really adopted us. We’d visit often, especially when we were building our log cabin. We were living in a tent and we’d go over to the Smith’s for tea. You’d come in and they’d say, “Sit!” I can still remember the kitchen, there were two stoves, a table and chairs, and a daybed. There was always a pot of tea on the stove. I would say that in their kitchen, I found home. You know, KitchenFest is really showcasing the music, that happened in the kitchen, but it’s important to remember the story-telling that happened there too. Gaelic culture is really a “visiting culture,” social interaction and being curious and caring is so important.

The plays are running July 1st, 2nd and 3rd and you can get tickets by calling the Gaelic College at (902) 295-3411.

Bev Brett grew up in Boston of Irish and Maritime Canadian descent, and has lived in Cape Breton for over forty years. She has directed over sixty plays in Atlantic Canada and New Zealand.




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