ORANGEVILLE—Glenda and Suzanne are sisters who are enjoying a quiet retirement on Manitoulin Island, complete with all the hawberry jam one could ever want, when Suzanne’s grown daughter Beth decides to pay them a visit that changes their lives forever.
That’s the premise of a brand-new play titled ‘Where You Are’ that will have its world premiere at Theatre Orangeville in May 2019.
“It’s a comedy but there’s certainly a dramatic vein to the story,” says playwright Kristen Da Silva.
All the characters have secrets they haven’t been sharing with one another, and the big secret that drives the plot is that—spoiler alert!—Glenda is sick.
“It’s a story that came from my personal life. I lost an aunt to pancreatic cancer two Decembers ago,” says Ms. Da Silva. “It came from watching my mom go through losing her sister and knowing she was going to die. They’ve been very close ever since my aunt was born.”
She says her mom and aunt lived in close quarters growing up, moved away during their lives and retired together in the same part of Ontario. A few years later, her aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had a year and a half to say goodbye to her friends and family and cope with her impending fate.
“I was inspired by my own grieving process to write the story, the main theme being what it would be like to know that you didn’t have as much time left as you thought. The idea of what that would feel like as a person dying, but also how it would change the relationships with the people you’re closest to,” says Ms. Da Silva.
The play’s setting on Manitoulin Island is an integral part of the story. She says she knew it needed to be on an island because Beth needs to decide whether she stays or goes.
“If it was set somewhere remote and difficult to get to, the decision to stay home or get treatment gets taken away,” says Ms. Da Silva. Her first thought had been to set the play on Cape Breton, but decided on Manitoulin to make the story closer to home and more authentic to her experience.
She had been acting in a feature film that happened to be filming in Sudbury last summer. She had a few days off and visited Manitoulin for the first time.
“It was great, lovely to see and neat to be able to go around and look at what the local architecture is like, what the homes look like, what kind of stores and restaurants are there. I got a sense of the feeling of the Island and the culture of it, well, as much as you can glean as an outsider looking in,” says Ms. Da Silva.
She says even the swing bridge fit perfectly into her story line.
“I loved the concept of this bridge that swings once per hour and the road is out. So I wove that into the story and with that element the Island almost becomes a character itself,” she says.
Manitoulin had been Glenda’s late husband Mark’s childhood home; when they married, he had strongly believed in staying where his loved ones were.
In addition to producing her own plays and teaching a high school class on playwriting, Ms. Da Silva serves as Theatre Orangeville’s playwright-in-residence. The theatre’s artistic director David Nairn says the theatre already hosted another of her plays, ‘Sugar Road,’ and he has nothing but praise for Ms. Da Silva.
“She’s probably one of the most talented up-and-coming new writers on the scene. She’s amazing, her work is top-notch.”
Mr. Nairn says a long-time Theatre Orangeville supporter is from Little Current and his wife is from Manitowaning. He says the couple has spoken with him several times and they are convinced it will be a hit.
“It’s very funny but it’s going to pull at some heartstrings a bit,” says Mr. Nairn. “People are seeing very real battles that they’re going to understand.”
Ms. Da Silva says she began writing ‘Where You Are’ in winter of 2017 but only had about two scenes completed by August when she visited the Island for the first time. Between August and December of that year, she wrote the rest of the play.
“I hope I’ve done justice to the lifestyle there. I hope they have positive feelings about the play. A lot of the themes around the location certainly give honour to how much people love the place they live,” says Ms. Da Silva.
For Islanders who want to see the production’s run, Ms. Da Silva says she hopes to get the play in other theatres after its first run, and adds that Theatre Sudbury would be a fitting place for it.
“I’d love to meet some of the folks from Manitoulin and get their thoughts on it. That’d be a neat experience,” she says.
Theatre Orangeville will host the world premiere of ‘Where You Are’ from May 2 to 19, 2019. The theatre’s mandate is to showcase Canadian work, with few exceptions. Tickets are already available for the play’s world premiere at TheatreOrangeville.ca.