Even at the height of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, finding sympathetic portrayals of single mothers on stage and screen was a rare commodity, especially in a profession where the majority of playwrights and directors were men. But Neil Simon’s comedy I Ought to Be in Pictures, opening June 24 in Perth at the Classic Theatre Festival, was one of the plays that helped break the male-focused mold.
I Ought to Be in Pictures is the story of a father and daughter reconnecting after years of separation, and will feature Festival favourites William Vickers as the writer’s block-plagued Herb, and Alison Smyth as his daughter Libby. In between the two is Steffy, a 40-something single mom who works as a makeup artist in Hollywood and who’s been in a relationship with Herb for two years. It’s played by Festival newcomer Barb Scheffler, a Toronto-based singer, playwright, and performer who has trod the boards at Ontario summer theatres from Drayton and the Huron Country Playhouse to the Thousand Islands Playhouse, all the while raising three kids with her performer husband Michael and appearing frequently in the popular Toronto Mysteriously Yours dinner theatre.
Scheffler was a very shy child and never intended to pursue a life in the theatre. It was only by happenstance that she was forced to take a theatre course in grade 9 when one of her electives fell through. “It was the best thing that could have happened,” she recalls, noting that once on stage, “it was like magic,” as she was able to overcome her timidity by inhabiting another character. She spent her high school years as a self-confessed “theatre nerd,” going on to earn an Arts Administration masters degree at York University before graduating from the Sheridan College Musical Theatre program.
She particularly enjoys writing and performing in the murder mysteries, with audience interaction that requires actors to be fast on their improvisational feet. Scheffler has played characters ranging from Joan Rivers and Brittany Spears to Vampirella, Queen of the Universe. She’s also handled roles in a wide variety of shows from the ancient Greek satire Lysistrata to the legendary 1930s musical, The Cradle Will Rock.
This summer, while she performs in Perth, one of her daughters will be making her professional debut in a children’s show Scheffler wrote for the Toronto Fringe Festival, called Pirates Don’t Babysit. “The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree,” Scheffler notes, as her kids have grown up in a house where performers are constantly coming and going, sewing costumes and building props.
This summer marks the first time Scheffler has appeared in a Neil Simon show, and while she loves the humour, as a writer herself, she also appreciates Simon’s craft. She points to how Simon’s characters interact and reveal things without telling that audience directly what is happening: instead, those viewing the scenes learn about the plot and themes organically.
After appearing at the Classic Theatre Festival, she heads back to Toronto to continue her always busy career with plans to continue performing in more cabaret shows. (She and a friend tour an eclectic musical, The Barb and Lori Show). She also recently completed a tour with Smile Theatre for senior’s homes of Songs in the Key of Love, which tells true stories from her own love life featuring songs from Broadway classics to Air Supply.
Tickets to the Classic Theatre Festival’s expanded 7th summer season are available online at classictheatre.ca or 1-877-283-1283. Two-Show and Full Season Pass discounts are available.