An emerging local theatre company is embarking on a bold collaboration between 11 different playwrights from the Halifax theatre scene.
Forest Town is the name of the Unnatural Disaster Theatre Company’s latest production. It’s an anthology play about the long history of discrimination and mistreatment of women. The idea for the show was first planted in director Logan Robins’ mind over a year ago. At the time, he and his classmates at the Fountain School of Performing Arts at Dalhousie University were auditioning for their final show.
“We were all looking at monologues from the 1600s, and I came across this monologue from Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters,” says Robins. The maid “was telling off this young guy for mistreating her mistress, and it wraps up with her saying, ‘If I were the queen … I would make every man who was unfaithful hold a branch of a tree in his hand, and I know all the towns would look like forests.’”
Robins says as soon he read that line, he could “imagine seeing the branches in people’s hands” as if it were being performed on stage. The idea for Forest Town was born. Robins initially thought the show should be set in three different time periods, each part being written by a different playwright. But as with all first ideas, things change with time.
Bringing ideas into reality
Robins says he and Linda Meian, co-producer and stage manager of the show, were able to put Forest Town together because of the Indie Theatre Residency, created by Shakespeare by the Sea. The residency started in 2019 and allows an independent theatre company to use their venue, the Park Place Theatre, for rehearsals and production of a new project.
Getting this opportunity made Robins go back into his “idea box” and hunt for an old concept that had been sitting around for a while. With Forest Town being brought out of its storage space, Robins and Meian started thinking about how exactly they’d put the show together.
“We came to the conclusion that maybe [Forest Town] wasn’t just a three-act show written by three different people, but maybe it’s many different scenes by many different people,” says Robins.
The driving force behind this idea of having several people involved was that there are endless possible stories surrounding the theme of gender discrimination, and many different people who can tell those stories.
Four actors, four characters
While the play is a large collaboration between 11 writers, Forest Town only has four actors.
“This was one of the few conditions we placed on the playwrights,” says Robins. “We reached out to every playwright saying, ‘This is the subject, it can be set at any time, it can be any style, theatrically it can be anything you want around this theme, as long as it can be done by four actors.’”
The choice was made largely for financial reasons. The more actors they hired, the less they could give each person for pay. But it wasn’t just about money.
“We circled around the number four because you get so many different combinations with that number,” says Robins. “So, we came from necessity but we also wanted to tell the story as compact and as neatly as possible.”
“We also told the writers that they didn’t have to use all four,” Meian adds.
Throughout the play, almost every scene has a different combination of actors in it. This makes each scene refreshing for the audience and gives the actors time to change and take a breath from the stage.
An all-star team
Through the production of Forest Town, Robins and Meian have created an opportunity for themselves as emerging artists to work with established writers in the Halifax theatre community.
“We wanted to work with people who we knew. Not our friends, the people we knew in the city as artists we wanted to work with,” says Robins.
Some of those artists include Colleen MacIsaac, artistic producer of the Villains Theatre, and Garry Willams, artistic director of DaPoPo Theatre. This is what makes Forest Town unique, as it has not only brought together several individuals, but also multiple local theatre companies.
Forest Town opened on Feb. 25 with a pay-what-you-can preview. It runs until March 1 at the Park Place Theatre in Point Pleasant Park. Tickets can be bought online, and there is an option to donate to Bryony House, a women and children’s shelter in Halifax.
Disclosure: Logan Robins is the Dalhousie Gazette’s delivery driver.