Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2011 (3162 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It seemed like a small request of a prolific playwright.
Prairie Theatre Exchange was organizing the inaugural Carol Shields Festival of New Works in 2004 and commissioned local dramatist Rick Chafe to contribute a 10-minute playlet about anything. How hard could it be? Then a month, six weeks went by without inspiration.
"There is a sense of guilt because you know you should be able to whip these things off," says Chafe, with a grimace. "It should be dead easy. For me, It's not. I think in bigger stories."
With more false starts than the Blue Bombers' offensive line, Chafe was desperate as the deadline loomed. Inspiration gave way to practicality and he grasped onto something fresh out of his personal life. His Vancouver-based father Fred Chafe -- a retired Canadian Press journalist --had suffered a stroke that had short-circuited his ability to communicate, and the family was considering his long-term needs. That wasn't easy to determine based on what he was saying.
Chafe, 52, remembers being greeted by his dad with, "You've got to be the secret mask." He was perplexed, as he was again when Dad earnestly told him "to go to his square place and get his bottle shipper type."
"It was all guessing games," says Chafe, during a recent interview at PTE. "What could it all mean? The secret mask was so puzzling and could have meant so many things that it became the basis for the 10-minute play."
Actually, the former Kelvin High student could only condense his work to 20 minutes, but PTE artistic director Bob Metcalfe instructed him to make it shorter. The Secret Mask debuted at 12 minutes, just enough time to pique the interest of the audience and Metcalfe, who directed him afterwards to develop a full-length version of The Secret Mask.
"I said, 'I can't, that's the whole play,'" says Chafe, a Wolseley resident. "He said, 'Do the same thing but do it longer.'"
The fully developed The Secret Mask will premiere tonight. It took him a couple of days to write 12 minutes and seven, on-and-off, years to come up with the other 108 minutes. The first obstacle of expanding the story was to find a character with a different relationship to his father. Chafe's history with his dad did not have enough inherent conflict.
The George in the play is a middle-aged guy who has waited 40 years to meet his father, Ernie, who abandoned him as a toddler. George gets the call from a Vancouver hospital informing him that his dad had suffered a stroke and a resulting aphasia. George's long awaited confrontation with his father is sidetracked when he comes face-to-face with a man who can barely speak a sentence and has no short term memory.
If George is going to find out anything about his abandonment or family history he'll have to take part in the medical rehabilitation and recovery of a stranger.
Chafe's father, Fred, has mostly recovered from his stroke and will be in tonight's audience with Rick's four siblings, his 13-year-old daughter and his actress/wife Martine Friesen. That father is in stark contrast to the one he met post-stroke.
"I was seeing a very changed man and was really wondering did the stroke actually change his personality," Chafe says. "He was friendly and charming with completely mixed-up language. His language centre had been scrambled and you're wondering what else has been changed in there."
The Secret Mask is the follow-up to Chafe's admirable adaptation of Leon Rooke's comic novel Shakespeare's Dog which debuted at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the National Arts Centre in 2008. Last summer he debuted his take on Beowulf at the Nova Scotia theatre Two Planks and a Passion. Chafe's eventful 2011 got off to a super start last march when he was recipient of the Manitoba Art Council's $25,000 Major Arts award to finance his next play NOLA, a New Orleans-based play for two actors and a jazz trio set.
Over the last decade Chafe has focused on adaptations, including Kafka for Adhere and Deny and The Odyssey for Shakespeare in the Ruins. He had gotten away from dramatizing personal stories that underline early works such as Player Pool, Zac and Speth and The Last Man and Woman on Earth. He is now remembering how exposed he feels when working in autobiography.
"I didn't realize how personal this was going to become."
The Secret Mask
Prairie Theatre Exchange
Opens tonight, to Dec. 4
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