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Charlotte Dennis and Deborah Drakeford

ARC's premiere production of MARTYR

Courtesy of ARC

Joe Szekeres

In early December, I had the chance to profile mother and daughter Deborah Drakeford and Charlotte Dennis who are part of quite an impressive ensemble of cast and crew of ARC’s first production of 2023: MARTYR by Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade) which is the North American premiere of the play to be directed by Rob Kempson, his first production with ARC.

I first learned of ARC in early 2020 just before March of that year when the world changed as we know it and wanted to learn more about this company. On its website, ARC bills itself as: “an ensemble-based company that produces contemporary international theatre in a multinational city. We take a rigorous, bold, socially active, and highly collaborative approach to producing thought-provoking international works in their Canadian premiere. By collaborating with community stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and our audience, we create this work to engage with relevant global conversations. Community engagement and social justice are at the core of who we are as theatre-makers.”

Deborah and Charlotte’s evident enthusiasm for MARTYR certainly led me to engage with what they were telling me about the production.

Both Deborah and Charlotte are still feeling somewhat nervous about returning to the theatre but are grateful for the implementation of ARC’s solid Covid policy. Everyone has been wearing masks during the entire rehearsal process and they won’t be without their masks until the tech/dress, and Deborah smiled saying that’s when they will all get a chance to see everyone’s faces again. Charlotte echoed Deborah’s sentiments by telling me: “It feels safer as this is my first show back after Covid.”

I found it interesting that Deborah has performed in two faith-based plays back-to-back. In November, I saw her wonderful performance as Sister Aloysius in BNE’s riveting production of John Patrick Shanley’s ‘Doubt: A Parable’. Drakeford jokingly stated she has performed in one-word titles in the last few shows: GLORIA (another terrific production), DOUBT and now MARTYR.

Although MARTYR might be considered a tale of religious extremism, Deborah states it’s “much more than that”:

“It’s about loneliness. It’s about seeking community. It’s about a young man trying to find his identity and his way in the world. He latches on to religion which in turn affects his schooling, his friendships, and his family relationships. In his desire to seek community, he actually further isolates himself.”

MARTYR is an exciting piece for Drakeford as it goes to crazy places and she’s looking forward to seeing how that sense of ‘craziness’ is going to be achieved on stage.

For Dennis, in terms of the plot, she states: “We are at a very volatile time globally and MARTYR comes at the perfect moment because we know what isolation does to the human person since we’ve engaged in these many times these last two-plus years. We know what these feelings can do in the depths of depression and sometimes that kind of pain can lead to very hard-shelled anger. We’ve seen it around us…engines are hotter…tempers flare easily…there’s been a rise in violence [of all kinds] and religious extremism, and I believe this stems partly from the way we’ve been isolated from each other and our communities.”

Charlotte then made a comment which made me think further:
“MARTYR is very topical right now and it’s an important discussion to talk about the difference between religion and extremism because often in liberal media we place these two terms together.

She was also keen to speak about Rob as director. At an October workshop regarding the play, Charlotte was excited and a tad nervous because this was her first time back in the theatre with Covid’s embrace still felt. Because MARTYR is such a volatile play and being in the room with Kempson, Dennis ran the gamut of emotions, wondering how rehearsals might proceed under Rob’s direction. According to Charlotte, Rob led: “a beautifully collaborative very curious deeply kind room that I felt completely safe throughout all of our discussions. It is a room I’m very excited to return to, and I thank Deborah for leading ARC and Rob in leading the room so generously and collaboratively.”

What intrigues me the most about seeing MARTYR?

It’s an important conversation starter about the difference between religion and extremism that Charlotte alluded to earlier. The play is neither Christian nor Catholic bashing. Charlotte says throughout the play the young male protagonist of the story cherry-picks and pieces portions of Biblical text together to back up his arguments and his own agenda. For Charlotte, that’s not talking about religion anymore.

Because the play deals with issues that hit home to people of faith, those who may question elements of faith, will there be an opportunity for audiences to discuss, hear and listen to what other audience members are thinking?

Deborah says the production team has planned for a couple of discussions with the audience after a performance, and she is really looking forward to that. She elaborated further:

“We are all coming from such specific experiences and MARTYR just like DOUBT is going to hit people very particularly. So, to offer up a space where people can discuss and keep the conversation going is going to be really important. Plans have been put into place to allow for that feedback between actors and audience.”

Audiences who want to discuss the show more in-depth should consider attending a Thursday performance with a Post Show Talkback where the cast will be joined by Jad El Tal of the Canadian Arab Institute on January 19 and Stephen Drakeford, an Anglican minister, on January 26th. This is a continuation of ARC’s signature Open Room initiative, a process of investigation featuring company members alongside Community Collaborators who help place unique and challenging plays in Canadian context before rehearsals begin.

As our conversation concluded, I asked Deborah and Charlotte why audiences should see such a thought-provoking piece like MARTYR coming off the Christmas/holiday season.

Deborah pointed out how ARC has a good track record for producing and delivering excellent and interesting performance pieces so that is one prime reason to see the production.

I heartily concur on this account.

Drakeford went one step further about why we must go to see the play:

“That sense of isolation that we’ve all been feeling for so long. Now we are given an opportunity to be together in some kind of communion, to share an experience together and breathe together the vitality of theatre. But also to have this time and space to examine these potentially very tricky questions, and to have an opportunity to look around, to be curious and feel each other’s understanding and take on these questions and see things from another point of view. That’s vital, theatre is vital and that’s why I’m so glad she survived these last two plus years.”

What’s next for Deborah and Charlotte once MARTYR concludes its run?

Deborah considers herself to be a very fortunate actor. As soon as MARTYR opens, she will be in rehearsals for Amy-Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton’s ‘Redbone Coonhound’ which opens February 7 at Tarragon Theatre. In March 2023, Charlotte will appear in WHAT ROUGH BEAST with Théâtre Ouest End and Tantalus Theatre in Montréal. She considers this production an opportunity to visit ‘home’ as she studied in the city. The production is being staged by Theatre Ouest. Just like her mother, Charlotte is quite excited about this chance to go from one show to the next.

The MARTYR cast features ARC Co-Artistic Producer and Resident Artist Deborah Drakeford and ARC Resident Artists Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Ryan Hollyman, and Nabil Traboulsi, with Ryan Allen, Richard Lee, and Adriano Reis in their ARC debuts.

ARC Resident Artists Jackie Chau and Tamara Vuckovic will lead Set and Costume Design and Stage Management, respectively. The rest of the creative team includes Michelle Ramsay (Lighting Design), James Dallas Smith (Sound Design), Taija Shonée Chung (Assistant Director), Hannah MacMillan (Assistant Stage Manager), Za Hughes (Assistant Lighting Design), B.C. Batty (Technical Director), and Jack Rennie (Fight Director). Julia Dickson will be the Producer, with Patrick Lynn as Production Manager.

LISTING INFORMATION The Canadian Premiere of MARTYR, an ARC Production

Dates & Times: January 13 to 29, 2023. Opening night is January 14. 8:00 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday) & 2:00 p.m. (Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday)

Venue: Aki Studio Theatre, 585 Dundas St E, Toronto, ON M5A 2B7
Ticket Prices: Tickets from $20 (early bird) to $35; discounted tickets are available for seniors, students, groups, arts workers, and on Tuesdays.

Ticket Link:
Twitter: @arcstage | Instagram: @arcstage | Facebook: ARC

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