WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND
Alberta Theatre Projects
Starring: Chris Austman, Caden Douglas and Jarvis Hall
Directed by: Bob White
Runs from November 18 to December 22
Martha Cohen Theatre
Its one of Canadas favourite coming-of-age stories and a universal celebration of small-town Prairie life. W.O. Mitchells Who Has Seen the Wind is a true Canadian classic, and at Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) theyre getting ready to present it onstage for the first time ever in Calgary.
"Itll be so great for people who have read the book and love the book to see this world and these characters come to life on stage," says actor Joel Smith.
Smith will be playing the lead role of Brian OConnal in this production, which hits the Martha Cohen Theatre just in time for the Christmas season.
"It really has that magical touch to it."
A recent graduate of the Mount Royal College Theatre Arts Program, Smith has experienced a fair bit of magic himself this year. The 23-year-old actor spent the summer performing with Shakespeare in the Park and just finished playing Nicholas Beckett in What the Butler Saw at Theatre Junction. This time out he has a considerable challenge before him. The story revolves around his character, so hell be onstage every night for almost the entire show.
"There are 45 scenes in the play. I think Im in 41 of those scenes," he explains.
Considering the size and scope of Who Has Seen the Wind, with several characters, locations and activity spanning seven years, its no surprise that a stage-worthy adaptation of the novel hasnt appeared earlier. The script by Lee McDougall is almost cinematic as it moves from scene to scene, faithfully recreating the novel in a free-flowing imaginative style emphasized by director Bob White.
"Its a minimalist approach that Bobs taken with it," says Smith. "One of the first lines in the book is, The prairie the skeleton requirements simply, of land and sky. So Bob chose to do it on a very simple set. We bring our own chairs on, that sort of thing. Or we create our own world through the characters journeys. And it works really well."
The lighting design by Brian Pincott will help to establish a sense of place that is such an important part of the novel. Its an aspect of the show that will be picked up on by a Calgary audience.
"We were talking about that
in rehearsal, how W.O. describes the sky and the prairie," says Smith. "Unless youre from this part of the world, from Alberta or from Saskatchewan, you dont really know what thats like. Its something special to people who are natives of the Prairies. I saw the sky this morning around seven oclock. The Chinook arch was just drawn across the sky like a pencil line and then just above it there was this fuchsia boa thing right above it. It was just the most incredible kind of sky. That was what W.O. was talking about."
For the past few years, ATP has been staging family fare for the Christmas season. They couldnt have made a better choice than Who Has Seen the Wind. Set in a fictional version of Mitchells hometown of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, its essentially a light-hearted story about a young Brians Depression-era experiences with family and friends. Although some serious obstacles are thrown at him, including a death in the family, the play is an upbeat holiday show.
"They go to the dark place several times in this play," observes Smith. "Brian wants to figure out all of this stuff around him. How is he connected to all of it? What is life? What is death? Eventually it enables him to understand how all of that works. Its not a bad thing, its uplifting really. People of all ages will look at that and say Ive been there."