Monday, July 22, 2024

What can go wrong in a one act play?

by Glen Hartle
Jan. 4, 2024
There’s a twinkle in Greg Graham’s eye as he sips tea and reflects on the stage rehearsal just now finished at the Pontiac High School. He and his fellow Pontiac Community Players are several months into preparing for the upcoming presentation of The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong, Jan. 25, 26, 27, and today’s session was the first with the stage and all of her props at the ready.
The play has long been on Graham’s radar and when he secured the rights for a production back in October of last year, the twinkle now present took initial flight.
Graham has been with the Players pretty much since the get-go when then English teacher Joan Conrod laid the foundation for things back in 2001 and now sits as president for the not-for-profit. While his degree in philosophy from Bishop’s University or his horticulture diploma from Algonquin College don’t necessarily provide substantive backdrop for his current role as director of a community play, Graham has plenty of street cred at the ready.
Born and raised local, he has always been involved in community theatre and even penned a play based upon local lore called The Dagg Haunting. News of that play put Shawville on the map in some corners as poltergeist enthusiasts and larger news outlets descended for more details, and it provided Graham with a boost of confidence in exploring his creative side.
From there, he has acted in several of the Players’ productions and directed many others. He has even written and produced creative pieces for a comedy series on Valley Heritage Radio called Fresh Eggs which is still available via podcast. He firmly believes that, as he says, “theatre doesn’t make a healthy community but it is a sign of a healthy one.”
And when he’s not showing signs of a healthy community through theatre, Graham is absolutely additive to the health of it in various other capacities. He is the Executive Director of the Western Quebec Literacy Council, he is a council member for the Municipality of Bristol, he sits as a commissioner on the Western Québec School Board, he helps his family run local business venture Coronation Hall, and he runs his own apple orchard. Add family man to that list and you have a robust ambassador of community.
There is synchronicity with the production currently in the works as it is wholly intended to be about and for community, and is actually a play within a play, requiring both the cast and audience to embrace at least some creative gymnastics in order to keep pace. Without spoiling too much of what is to come, the title of the play offers a fair idea of the comedic tumult to ensue when a troupe of community actors portrays a troupe of community actors putting on a play for the community where pretty much everything goes awry.
Graham suggests that at least part of the allure and joy for him and the entire cast lies in the fact that all have experienced many of the play’s plot points in real life where lines have been missed, props have failed or actors were suddenly absent and improvisation had to take hold. From an audience standpoint, it makes for an entertaining romp akin to a Carol Burnett skit where Tim Conway constantly offers a side-eye to the audience inviting them in on the joke. “We’ve all been there,” says Graham, “and our guiding light is our own experiences.”
There are lots of moving parts to this production – both literal and figurative, and designer Will Bastien had to rely upon his many talents to envision and construct a worthy set that needs to function, and fail, at the correct moments. Graham indicates that the play relies heavily upon situation comedy reinforced by a well-integrated set, for which Bastien’s involvement was key because “he’s a local boy who studied this and really knows what he’s doing.”
The community will see Ken Drummond on stage, but he’s actually acting as Max who is in turn acting the part of Cecil. Deb Stephens plays Sandra who plays Florence, Gord Graham plays Chris who plays Carter, Matt Lottes plays Rob who plays Thomas, Leona Lalonde plays Dennis who plays Perkins and Neil MacIntosh comes out of acting retirement to play Jonathan who plays Charles. Lynn Spencer as Annie and Gavin Murray as Trevor round out the cast and it’s almost useful to have this information handy while watching the play as it provides ballast against understanding the hilarity on stage, and for holding onto the thread of what is real and what is not. As Graham says, “it can be very confusing and I had to tell the cast that it’s ok to overact when playing the community actor, but the main character has to be authentic. Even saying that is confusing.”
In order to help position actors and roles before the play takes to the stage, the Players have been lighting up their social media pages with faux-profiles corresponding to the community actors, but not the actor playing the community actor. Wrap your head around that! “They’ve been really quite fun and successful,” says Graham.
Bringing the Pontiac Community Players’ contributions to community full circle, Graham hopes to present the Pontiac High School with a monetary gift at the end of the production’s run. They’ve been doing this through the years and the school, in turn, has made substantial renovations to the theatre and stage including installing new seats, curtains, lights and a sound booth. “It’s the nicest stage available to us”, says Graham, “and we are glad to give back and grateful to be a part of it.”
On this rehearsal day, the 130 seats are occupied by stagehands and actors when they’re not on set and you can feel that this is fun. They’re there because they enjoy it and they hope you do too. This is, after all, their community and they’re glad of it.

The cast and part of the crew of The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong: (front, left to right) Lynn Spencer, Neil MacIntosh, Marguerite Carmichael, Leona Lalonde, Matt Lottes, and (back, left to right) Gord Graham, Greg Graham, Deb Stephens, Ken Drummond, Gavin Murray, Carole Valin, Mo Weatherall and Will Bastien.


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