If standing apart from the usual suspects is the mark of a true artist, then Debbie Dyer has clarity of creative vision unlike her peers.
As artistic director of St. Albert Catholic High School’s advanced acting program, Dyer is keen to instil life’s lessons in her students through the creative process. Unlike every other school that features primarily frothy musicals, Dyer has always reached out to heavier, dyed-in-the-wool classics such as Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird.
This season, she’s helping her students discover the richness of character development through Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town.
“It’s become the iconic American show that represents a universal experience of being born, living life and losing life. Wilder shows us we never understand how precious life is because we’re in the middle of it,” says Dyer.
In the fictional village of Grover’s Corners, the nostalgic small town life of the 1900s is so safe people never lock their doors, and neighbours talk to each other instead of turning on the TV, as is often the case today. The doctor makes house calls, housewives chat over the fence and the milkman delivers his bottles with a trusty mare.
“It replicates life, love, laughter, sorrow and intensity,” explains Dyer. “We watch them live life. It’s very relatable and in the last act there’s a wake-up call.”
The play’s two central families, the Webbs and the Gibbs, are tied together through the marriage of their children Emily (Chelsey Trattrie) and George (Brennan St. Arnaud). Wilder introduces them as young children attending school together. An adolescent courtship and marriage follow, and finally Emily dies in childbirth.
While George perceives sorrow, Emily joins other souls that have died previously and she experiences the afterlife as a freedom. Through their enforced separation Wilder reminds us not only of the impermanence of life, but also of the power of love to transform.
Although Our Town is a period piece, Wilder’s stage directions request a minimalist set with virtually no scenery and few props. The 21 actors will mime actions and make diverse sounds such as neighing horses, chickens clucking and milk bottles clanking.
“Come see it to laugh, to think, to cry and hopefully, it will remind you how precious life is.”
Our Town<br />St. Albert Catholic High<br />Advanced Acting<br />March 4 to 6 at 7 p.m.<br />St. Albert Catholic High Performance Centre<br />33 Malmo Drive<br />Tickets: $15/adults; $10/students, seniors; $55/five-pack. Call 780-459-7781