Performers Burning Rubber

Actors rehearse a scene from the play Burn Rubber, Dolly by Swift Current playwright Wendy Lockman. From left to right, Gordon McCall, Amy Couzens, Zac Oliver, and Lauren Allen.

The second season of the Lyric Theatre’s Sparks in the Dark play series will end on a high note with the world premiere of a new play by Swift Current playwright Wendy Lockman.

Burn Rubber, Dolly is a coming-of-age story of two sisters set on a farm in rural Saskatchewan during the 1950s. Their love for each other guide them through trying times of dealing with an obstinate father, broken dreams, and dangerous encounters.

The play is directed and designed by Gordon McCall, the Lyric Theatre's artistic and executive director.

“I have had the privilege of doing many world premieres in previous parts of my career and I can tell you that I would have put this play on at Centaur Theatre in Montreal,” he said. “I just think it's so well written and Wendy is a real talent. We've worked together on it for the last few months and it's been a pleasure.”

They did readings of different drafts of the play and he acted as the dramaturge, which is similar to the role of an editor.

“I pointed out some things of context, cultural history, historical circumstance, structure and things like that,” he explained. “There was a major shift in the writing of the play a few months ago in terms of location. That was a big moment and it really, really paid off in the writing, and even the title. We had a lot of fun with the title.”

The title of a play is important, because it is the first thing that people will hear about a play and it will have an impact. According to McCall there are two types of titles. A comfort title will give an indication of what an audience can expect, but provocative or intriguing titles will attract people’s attention and interest to see it.

“So Burn Rubber, Dolly has answered that need in this play, because this is a provocative, but extremely well written family drama that takes place in the 1950s in rural Saskatchewan,” he said. “It's fictional of course, but it's inspired by all sorts of events. Every playwright is inspired by their imagination, by observation, by personal history, and Wendy is extremely good at drawing all those things together.”

Lockman started writing plays in 2009 and her previous works have been performed by theatre organizations across Saskatchewan. She was unavailable for an interview for this story, but told the Prairie Post in an e-mail she is thrilled and honoured to be part of the Sparks in the Dark series at the Lyric Theatre.

“Gordon is wonderful to work with and has been so supportive of my writing,” she wrote. “The cast and crew are such a talented group of people. I can’t thank them enough for the hours they’re putting into the show. I can’t wait to see it.”

McCall met Lockman soon after he joined the Lyric Theatre’s management team in 2018 and they struck up a friendship, based on their mutual love of theatre.

“She acted for me in Motherhood Out Loud, the last play of the first season's Sparks in the Dark,” he recalled. “She's a really talented actress, and we talked about plays and her writing. She told me about this play and I said please send it, because I thought it would be a very important step for our theatre to produce a local playwright. I just knew it was going to be good before I even saw the draft, and it is.”

McCall is also acting in the play in the role of John Sutton, the obstinate patriarch of the dysfunctional family. He is an experienced actor, and he has previously performed on theatre stages across Canada and the United States. He enjoys the experience of seeing the play from both sides as an actor and director.

“An actor will immediately tell you if something is connecting or not connecting in the writing, and there's been almost nothing that didn't connect for us,” he said.

It does not present an additional challenge to him to act in the play while directing several other actors on stage.

“I have the good fortune to have done this a few times in the past,” he said. “So I've worked out a system. I have an outside observer who focuses primarily on me, because I can't be out there observing, and then when I'm not in a scene, I'm out front directing. Then finally, as you approach opening, you let all of that go and just get on stage and act and you trust what has been done. I've got a great team of people here.”

The roles of the two sisters, Lily and Rose are played by Amy Couzens and Lauren Allen respectively. Couzens acted in two previous Sparks in the Dark plays and Allen is making her debut at the Lyric Theatre.

Zac Oliver will be playing the role of Bo, a farm hand. He has become a familiar face with Sparks in the Dark audiences. He has performed in several plays as well as at last summer’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Theatre’s inaugural Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival.

Damien Oman will make his debut in a Sparks in the Dark play as Billy, a rowdy character from town who adds to the conflict in the story.

“The good thing about this play is it goes down some very tough roads, but it has a very affirmative ending,” McCall said. “It's really reflective of life in a good way, and it's a really excellent ending to the play.”

Burn Rubber, Dolly has an audience advisory for adult content, violence and profanity. There will be nine performances over a two-week period. Tickets are $22 each and available at Pharmasave. Doors will open 30 minutes before each performance. There will be 8 p.m. performances on March 19-21 and March 26-28. There will also be 2 p.m. performances on March 21, 22 and 28.

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