Richmond students behaving badly

Steveston secondary production of The Wars of 1812 is purposely poor

GET ready to be immersed in the world of a dodgy theatrical company, if you plan on taking in Steveston London secondary's production of The Wars of 1812.

That's because, depending on where you sit, you may just get a really up-close look at the actors taking part in this original playwithin-a-play that follows the trials and tribulations of a troupe intent on siphoning off federal grant funds to produce a poorly executed tale about the renowned conflict between the British and their colonials against the Americans.

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"The kids saw me in a show a couple of years ago and it involved a theatre company with some not very good actors and writers," said drama teacher Jean Kosar, who wrote the piece.

"And so the kids said, 'Gee, we should do a show like that.'" And that entails using more than the normal confines of the cozy theatre's stage.

"We were trying to give the audience a sense of being in the play," Kosar said. "We have actors scattered in the audience who respond to what's going on on the stage. So, we're trying to give everyone a real theatrical experience, rather than just sitting back and watching a show."

It's a style that's not entirely new to the Steveston London group, Kosar said, adding one of the aims of the program is to break down walls between the actors and audience.

"I think we always try and do that here," Kosar said. "Our last show was Midsummer Night's Dream, and we had an environmental show where the audience started out in the lobby and then brought them into the theatre where there were fairies all over the place, using the audience as characters."

BUT why focus on the War of 1812? "A couple of years ago, the federal government offered grants to theatre companies that put on work about the War of 1812," Kosar said with a smile. "That's where the idea for this came from - a pretty bad theatre company trying to get money out of the federal government."

For many of the Grade 12 students in the cast, like Paige Gelfer and Alyssa Hirose, this is their final, large-scale production before they graduate, and they wanted something significant to mark their sendoff.

So far, it's proving to be all that and more, while offering some unique challenges. "We're not supposed to be good actors in the play, which is a kind of shoddy production. It's fun trying to be bad intentionally," said Gelfer, who plays Claire, a young actor in the company who is very eager to please the director and everyone else around her.

"We're essentially playing two characters - the one in the play, and the one you're supposed to be playing within the play," said Hirose who assumes the character of Vanessa, an older actor who thinks very highly of herself and is the lead in the play, which is punctuated with overacted, boisterous scenes as plans for war take shape - on and off the stage.

"And you have to make it clear you're not playing that character very well."

The Wars of 1812 runs April 29, 30, and May 1-2 at Steveston London Secondary.

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