A time for dreaming: we asked theatre artists what roles and plays they’d love to do

The Invisible – Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Catalyst Theatre. Photo by dbphotographics

Dead Centre of Town, Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

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Everything’s Coming Up Chickens, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo supplied.

Live theatre hasn’t disappeared. It’s just on hold, suspended like time and probability, until we can all be together again in person: artists and their audiences, people sharing stories in a room.

Along with the human proximity that’s built into live theatre by definition, theatre artists have lost their livelihood, their jobs, their income — all on hold. But as you can tell from the ingenious ways they’ve devised to keep connecting in this time of isolation, you can’t stop creativity. And it’s artists who will eventually help us understand the experience and its weird sense of unreality. 

Meanwhile, maybe it’s a time for dreaming. We asked theatre artists —  actors and directors and producers — about the roles and the plays they dream of doing.    

Kendra Connor in Skirts On Fire, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

KENDRA CONNOR (actor, Teatro La Quindicina and Plain Jane star, Skirts on Fire, Everything’s Coming Up Chickens):

I have always had a soft spot for the older musicals. When I was a kid, I had a VHS tape of My Fair Lady that i watched over and over. I adored that musical and still do. I even sang Wouldn’t It Be Loverly in the Kiwanis Festival when I was in Grade 8, in a costume that my brilliant mother had cobbled together with a bunch of finds from Value Village. The part of Eliza Doolittle has been on my bucket list forever.

Also on my bucket list: I desperately want to play Amalia in She Loves Me again. I played that part opposite Farren Timoteo with Leave It to Jane years ago. We were just baby actors out of theatre school; Tim Ryan directed. It’s one of my all-time favourites. Would love to dig into it now that I’m a bit older. I’d also love to play Mrs Lovett in Sweeney ToddReally, I’d love to play anything in any Sondheim musical! 

For plays, I’d love to take a stab at something by Noel Coward — Private Lives maybe? Blithe Spirit?

Belinda Cornish, Christine Nguyen, Nadien Chu, Sheldon Elter in The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography

BELINDA CORNISH, actor, playwright, director, improviser, producer, artistic director of Bright Young Things (her new play The Garneau Block was to have opened at the Citadel this season, postponed along with Peter Pan Goes Wrong):

“Plays I want to do, roles I’d love to play:

Joan Scott-Fowler in After The Dance by Terence Rattigan. It’s a beautifully bitter, big-cast comedy drama about the Lost Generation crumbling into liver failure in the ’30s. Like Noel Coward on a knife edge.

Gibbs (written as a male) in The Hothouse by Harold Pinter. Funny funny funny black comedy of menace set in a mysterious institution. Brilliantly reflects on authoritarian paranoia, and the brutal absurdities of bureaucracy.

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth. This is, in my opinion, one of the most incredible plays ever written, savagely funny, epic and wild. I think it resonates most deeply with Brits…. “There’s a bass note that rings through it that sings, for good and ill, with the voice of the dark old gods of England.

Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. I played her 10 years ago with the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, directed by Marianne Copithorne, and had a glorious time. It’s just one of those roles I’d love to take another crack at!

Scandalabra by Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s utterly bananas, and I’m not totally sure it makes sense. Which is probably why its inaugural production back in the 30s tanked and, as far as I know, was never done again. But I love her, her stage directions are exquisitely funny, and it features an invisible leprechaun … so, what’s not to love??

Mathew Hulshof and Chris Pereira in Bed and Breakfast, Theatre Network. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

MATHEW HULSHOF,  actor (Happy Birthday Baby J, The Finest of Strangers, Skirts On Fire, Bed and Breakfast, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley): 

“My big dream show would be Angels in America. I have been obsessed with it since I was a teen.  I think I’d make a pretty good Louis. sI can relate to him because he also never stops talking. I also love how unlikeable he is and it’s very fun to play people like that. 

Dream big, right? 

Dave Horak’s production of The Skin Of Our Teeth, with Vincent Forcier, Stephanie Wolfe, Jeff Haslam, Lauren Hughes in The Skin Of Our Teeth, Bright Young Things. Photo by Mat Busby.

DAVE HORAK, director/ actor/ artistic director of Edmonton Actors Theatre, with directing credits that include Every Brilliant Thing, The Skin Of Our Teeth, Fun Home, The Winter’s Tale, Burning Bluebeard, Terry and the Dog. His Much Ado About Nothing at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival is, as of this week, still slated to open in mid-June). 

“I was supposed to start rehearsals on the new Hannah Moscovitch play at Theatre Network, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes  (directed by Marianne Copithorne). Not surprisingly it was cancelled, but it makes the next month tough, both financially and emotionally.… At least I know I’m not alone.

One thing that having time gives me is that I’m able to catch up on reading plays and dreaming of future productions. Once this whole thing is over with, with so many actors out of work, I’d love to do a big- cast comedy! So I’m looking at those big comedies from the 30’s and 40’s: many of those comedies came out of the Depression, and I think there is always something so hopeful and optimistic in the writing.

One of my heroes is George S. Kaufman and I’ve always wanted to do You Can’t Take it With You. It’s a bucket-list play I think would speak to us now…. Did you know Kaufman’s debut was something called Someone in the House that opened on Broadway in 1918 during the Spanish flu epidemic. I guess Kaufman suggested that the best way to avoid crowds in New York City was to attend his play! 

He also wrote for the Marx Brothers and I really feel like I need some Marx Brothers right now…. On a different note, I’m just getting out of self-isolation, and I’ve been thinking of plays that capture that feeling:  Isolation, loneliness, hopelessness. No one better that Sam Beckett! And he’s pretty funny, in a really bleak way.”

Julien Arnold as Bob Cratchit. Photo supplied by Citadel Theatre.

JULIEN ARNOLD, actor/ director/ artistic director of Atlas Theatre, ( Mesa, The Finest of Strangers, Once,  A Christmas Carol, Two):

I’ve always wanted to play Dogberry (in Much Ado About Nothing), and the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, and the grave digger in Hamlet. Also, on a more ambitious note, Salieri in Amadeus. A part that I’d love to do but will probably never get the chance to: Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof!. 

MARGUERITE LAWLER, actor/ Rapid Fire Theatre improv star (The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius):

Marguerite Lawler in The Society For The Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography,

A lot of the (shows) that have been mulling around in my brain lately have been big shows, whether in theme or in spirit, which makes sense given our collective solitude…. I’m feeling the need to sing my love for someone from the rooftops or get into an elaborate fake sword fight right about now.

I would really love to play Hamlet. Specifically outside in a thunderstorm…. And I’ve even had time to pen some of my own soliloquies to throw on in there that I’m sure would fit right in.

I would love to play the girl in Once. I think the show is beautiful any time of day, but a story about music bringing people together featuring love is resonant in all new ways in the New World…. I would REALLY like to be in The Book of Mormon. I really would. I’m completely serious about this.

I think we will need to remember to laugh, so I dream of doing some really great comedies…. I want to play Pat Wallace in Punch Up! By Kat Sandler, or be in Good Mother by Damien Atkins, a play very near and dear to my heart that made me feel less alone after my own mother’s stroke. I would love to do Next to Normal, play Evan Hansen, be in Venus in Fur or The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

JOHN ULLYATT, actor, playwright, playwright, director, street performer, aerialist (Every Brilliant Thing, Matilda, A Christmas Carol): 

John Ullyatt as Miss Trunchbull, Matilda The Musical. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

“I’ve been busy working on house renos (drywall) for a replacement gig at the moment.… Working with my neighbour, learning and having a good time…. 

Really, I’ve been so lucky to play so many great roles. I’d gladly do any of them again: Frank ’n’ Furter, Biff, Brick, Emcee, Katurian Katurian Katurian, Billy Bishop, Charlotte von Marlsdorf…  But during the rehearsal for Matilda, I stopped and said I didn’t have to do anything else, because I got to do everything I’ve ever wanted and more!  Throwing a kid by their pigtails!? Being a hulking ogre who does a gymnastic ribbon sequence!?  Being terrible to children for fun!?  All there.

I’d like to go back and do the first and second Dr. Grot shows. I’d love to work with Mike Kennard and John Turner. I’d love to play Richard III again, and Richard II. I’d like to play all the roles I didn’t get cast in that were real heartbreakers ( I won’t mention them). George III in Hamilton.  Hamlet (in a very re-imagined version). I’d love to work with Peter Hinton on anything. Metamorphoses? …. Dave Clarke is working on a couple of things that I would love to do….”

Coralie Cairns, Nadien Chu in The Roommate, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

CORALIE CAIRNS, actor, artistic associate and general manager of Shadow Theatre (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Roommate, most recentlyThe Children, cancelled several performances into its run). 

“Hmm, off the top of my head Mary Tyrone from Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. Love the writing and the complexity of the character. I’ve been navigating the business side of the theatre and the Varscona since we entered this strange, surreal world so will have to have a think about your question.…

MIEKO OUCHI, director/ playwright/ actor/ co-artistic of Concrete Theatre (Pia and Maria, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me, The Antyssey):

“Mine would be a strange collection (of roles) I’m afraid. Auntie Mame: I LOVE Rosalind Russell in that kooky movie. Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown: despite Roman Polanski, I so love this movie. Robert Towne’s screenplay may be the best ever. And the role of Evelyn is magnificent. Sorry, all I’m thinking of right now are movies!  I’ll keep thinking…

Jeff Haslam and Cathy Derkach in The Finest of Strangers, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby Photography.

JEFF HASLAM, actor/ director/ star and ex-artistic director of Teatro La Quindicina (Fun Home, Lend Me A Tenor, A Likely Story, The Finest of Strangers, The Bad Seed, The Skin Of Our Teeth): 

“My fave answer always used to be ‘the role that hasn’t been written yet’ because my best friend and hero is a playwright and I always did all the new plays and worked for the new play companies, and that’s sorta why I stayed here.… Think I’ll go with my original gut answer.”

Byron Martin in Macbeth, Malachite Theatre. Photo by BB Collective.

BYRON MARTIN, actor/ director/ playwright/ producer/ artistic director of Grindstone Comedy Theatre and Bistro (The 11 O’Clock Number, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Urinetown):

“Yes, it is such a strange reality right now, I feel like I’m in hibernation mode.… These days I dream more of what plays I hope to produce and direct: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Avenue Q; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; The 39 Steps: The Book of Mormon, The Rocky Horror Show, Reefer Madness; Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. A fairly obscure David Mamet, Keep Your Pantheon.

I’m also really focusing on getting ThunderCATS (an original musical) to its next stage of development….”

Get Happy! directed by Kate Ryan, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo suppied

KATE RYAN, actor/ director/ playwright/ artistic director Plain Jane Theatre Company (Fun Home, most recently creator/director of Get Happy!).

So, musicals I have been dreaming about, listening to and singing out in my living room: Gotta love Sondheim! I would love to direct or act in any of his musicals! I never tire working on his songs, such complex thoughts and feelings…. I find myself singing everything these days from Dot in Sunday in the Park with George to Mama Rose in Gypsy. Right now-our old English sheepdog Charlie is my audience, so I sing “Charlie, why can’t it be like it was?” (Merrily We Roll Along).

Mostly I’ve been working on and dreaming about the musicals I’m hoping to do some time in the near future. Teatro La Quindicina’s Everybody Goes to Mitzi’s (July) and Sondheim’s Assassins with the Citadel Theatre’s Young Company. The Citadel has enabled us to continue working on Assassins via Zoom. A company of 10, a musical director and myself: it’s a whole new rehearsing experience for all of us. We got the ‘Zoom giggles of weirdness’ out on Monday evening, and start up again tonight.”

Playwright Ellen Chorley with cast of Everybody Loves Robbie, Jayce McKenzie left and Richard Lee Hsi. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

ELLEN CHORLEY, actor/ playwright/ director/ artistic director of Send in the Girls Burlesqueand Nextfest (Everybody Loves Robbie):

“As I get older and progress in my career my dreams about the arts have changed.  I definitely graduated theatre school with a bucket list of dream roles but now my dreams for my corner of the theatre world have definitely changed…. They’re more focussed on writing, producing. As a playwright, my dream is to be produced more on a national level and have a play published.  As a producer, my dream is to make Edmonton a hotbed of innovative and exciting work, so young artists can feel as if they can create here and STAY HERE….”  

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