By Morgan MacDonald
The road to my playing a number of characters in historical period costume on the streets of Perth began when I first heard about the Classic Theatre Festival through a presentation Laurel Smith (Artistic Producer and playwright) gave in my high school drama class. She talked about the history of their theatre, the different shows they put on throughout the summer, and the Perth through the Ages historic walking tour, which is now in its second year with a new show called The Maid and the Merchant, running Wednesday to Sunday at 11 am starting at Mathseon House, 11 Gore Street East.
I was interested in a job with the theatre as acting is a hobby of mine, and it was a wonderful opportunity to turn it into a part time job. It was my good fortune to audition for and earn the position of historic animator in the walking tour, as well as in the production of the theatre’s very first Lonely Ghosts Walk (which happens every Friday at 8 pm). It has been a marvellous adventure so far.
I have the privilege to play three characters in the tours: the adventurous, Nancy Drew-inspired Nora Shaw in the Walking Tour and in the Ghost walk, Mrs. Adamson, the harsh owner of the Adamson Inn (oldest building in Perth), and Col. Roderick Matheson, one of the founding fathers of Perth.
We started rehearsals in May and I’ve had some interesting experiences since then. For example, in the opening show of the Walking Tour, the final scene is at the court house, but what we didn’t realize was that the court house is a secure location and civilians aren’t supposed to be there. As I rounded the corner I noticed there were police officers present. One of the officers approached me and asked, “Are you part of the tour, ma’am?”
Now the trouble with that was we’re not supposed to break character and interact with anyone who is not in the show, but he was a police officer, so naturally I was a little torn. I nodded my head in response, unsure of what to do. He then gestured me to come over and talk to him. I was trapped; I would be forced to break character, but thankfully a woman on the tour realized what was going on and ran over to talk to the officer. We managed to finish the final scene without being kicked out or arrested, but we weren’t allowed back again, so now we do the scene on the other side of the court house, in front of the old gaol, on Beckwith Street.
That small mishap is not the only thing that has happened on the tours; on a quite recent tour there was an older woman in the audience who was standing in front of a drawer that I had to open in order to take out a letter. This may not sound so bad, but the letter in that drawer is crucial to the plot of the play. In the opening scene, I saw her step in front of the drawer and panic ensued. The entire scene leading up to that moment I was trying to figure out how I would get her out of the way so I could get into the drawer. The moment came for me to open the drawer, but there was no way I could get past her, so with all the dignity I could muster, I did the only thing I could do: I improvised. Sitting on top of the drawer was a cloth napkin, so I picked it up, and being cloth, it folded over itself and I read the non-existent words that lay upon my flimsy “letter”!
One day during the final scene at the old gaol, there was a rather noisy garbage truck that prevented myself and the other actors from hearing each others’ cue lines, and we were forced to project our voices like never before.
During the Friday night Lonely Ghosts Walk, I change costumes in the restroom in Tim Horton’s before my next scene. During one rehearsal I emerged wearing a Jane Austen-era dress with a bonnet, cape, and gloves, only to find a woman waiting in line to use the washroom. She looked at me with some amusement and curiosity, but asked for no explanation. Embarrassed, I said, “I’m in a show,” and fled the scene.
On opening night of the Lonely Ghosts Walk, everything was running smoothly until we reached a scene in which swords are used. They are “preset” by a production assistant who left them in a specific location, but upon arriving to the scene we discovered that the swords were not there. The actors brilliantly mimed the sword fight and we were no worse for wear.
Working on these tours definitely teaches one a little something about humility, because you have to stand out on the streets in 1800s attire and weather the confused and/or amused looks of passersby. As I see the faces of the people driving by I sometimes wish I could explain myself. Some look with shock and confusion while others merely give smug looks as they drive past. Sometimes I am tempted to chase after the cars, in my tails and top hat, and shout, “I am not a crazy person! I am an actor!”
Despite some embarrassing, comical and sometimes stressful moments, I can honestly say the tours are a lot of fun and I enjoy going to work everyday. Working with the Classic Theatre Festival has not only taught me more discipline and focus as an actor. I have also learned about some of the history of Perth that I was not aware of before. I feel very privileged to be part of these wonderful shows and to work with such very talented people as part of the Festival’s youth theatre training program. I also appreciate the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, Perth Tourism, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, whose support has given such a great opportunity to me and the other youth troupe members.
When you come to the Classic Theatre Festival, I also work as Front of House staff, so while I may not be in costume, I am there to welcome you to the theatre to enjoy the actors performing mainstage shows, which include Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (running until August 2) and the thriller Wait Until Dark (August 7-30)
If you’d like to see me and other members of the troupe perform, you can get your tickets to the morning and evening tours and the Classic Theatre Festival online at classictheatre.ca or call (613) 485-6434.