Arts & Culture(Archives)
A Conversation with… Norm Foster and Patricia Vanstone
By Krista Balsom with Alan Roberts
When talking about Canadian Theatre, Norm Foster’s name almost always comes up as one of the most prolific and most-produced of all Canadian playwrights. He is our country’s preeminent comic playwright, with over 40 plays to his credit.
Now imagine pairing him with Patricia (Trish) Vanstone, a woman passionate about new work, with over 35 years performing in, dramaturging and directing in theatres in Canada. The result is a completely dynamic duo, the stars of “On a First Name Basis” at Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre from this past October.
“On a First Name Basis” introduces the audience to wealthy spy novelist, David Kilbride, played by Norm, and Lucy Hopperstaad, his housekeeper, played by Trish, as they spend an evening drinking and talking at the novelist’s home. It turns out he’s a narcissistic guy, and is only chatting with Lucy to make himself feel better for not even knowing his maid’s first name. The result is an evening of great chemistry between these two great actors, and constant laughter from the audience.
I had the pleasure and good fortune of sitting down with these two stars, along with the good company of Alan Roberts, the director of the Theatre at the Wood Buffalo Brewing Company. Claude Giroux, who helps as a consultant with technical direction at Keyano Theatre, suggested I spend some time getting to know both of them, and I’m very thankful I did. Not only are they both legends in their own ways in the Canadian theatre industry, they are both genuine and sincere people. Here is an excerpt of some of just some of our conversation that included lots of deep insight, laughter and memories made.
Here’s a little snippet of our conversation:
Krista: I really enjoyed the performance of the show you did at Keyano. The thing I found most interesting was how accessible it was to the audience. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, and I also found your other show “Bedtime Stories” to be similar that way and very relatable. Is this on purpose?
Norm: Yah I guess so. That’s how I write. I am accessible and not an intellectual so it is intentional.
Patricia: During the last two places we performed we have heard more people say that they felt like they were in the living room with us.
Krista: Kudos to the two of you. It’s incredible to be a part of it. One of the things I learned during my time volunteer acting at Keyano is that the audience is very important and changes everything.
Patricia: In this show the audience is like a third character. You have to play with the audience. We noticed that the salary of my character ($97,000) wasn’t getting a big reaction in Fort McMurray.
Alan: What happens at the end of the show? What did David and Lucy do the next day? How does their relationship move forward?
Patricia: We say that the audience leaves the show writing the third act. Different people have different thoughts. We don’t believe they do get together. But I love that it’s ambiguous for the audience.
Norm: I believe their relationship becomes a lot warmer, but stays strictly professional.
Patricia: The show is a challenge and every performance there is something new, or we are trying to figure something out.
Norm: We’re always working on the timing of something, or the feel of something.
Krista: That’s what live theatre is all about. Every show is a little different.
Patricia: People get so invested in the lives of the characters that they do imagine what the next morning is like.
Krista: One of the things I read was that you wrote this show for Patricia to play. Is there more pressure to play?
Patricia: I bugged him to write the play. I wanted Norm to write the “Trish Show”
Norm: I wrote it to get her off my back.
Patricia: It’s a huge gift to work with Norm. One of the huge gifts of this play is that they can sense the chemistry between us on stage.
Krista: You have to believe that you could be in love. You might not know what happens at the end, but there has to be a “what could have been” thought behind it. I left the show feeling sad because it could have been so great between David and Lucy. Neither character is happy at the end.
Patricia: These characters say the hardest things they’ve ever said in their lives. An admission of mortality and an admission of love. What creates the tension, is that they want what they want without giving anything up.
Krista: I found relief, sadness and hope at the end. When there are only two characters, you get really invested in them and you definitely feel at the end of it. The show doesn’t tell you how to feel. Life is not that simple and this show, as we mentioned, is very accessible and based on real life.
Patricia: We’ve had ladies come up to us and tell us how this show helps them relate.
Krista: As David says in the show, “Life is a series of vignettes”. The entire show is something that could have realistically happened.
Krista: Is it fun to get to do this all of the time?
Patricia: It is a gift and very wonderful.
Norm: We have dates booked up into next year and it’s exciting to get to keep doing it.
Krista: Alan and the crew at the Keyano Theatre do a great job of bringing in incredible talent and this is another opportunity for the public to see live, professional theatre. Also a great opportunity for the actors and actresses get the chance to see and work with professional actors and writers.
Alan: It’s a sheer joy to get to see you perform on stage. For me, it’s great to see you push the boundaries and see how long you can hold the audience.
Krista: This is a legacy of theatre and arts in our community. It’s remembered and everyone keeps on talking about these shows that come into our community and leave an impact.
Krista: What do you think of YMM?
Norm: I didn’t want to come up here. Trish did. I don’t know much about this place, it’s way up north and I’d been on the road for months, but after I was here for two days, I was thinking it was such a lovely place and with awesome people from all over the country. I now really love it a lot and think it’s really friendly.
Patricia: I love it here too. I’m a maritimer so I feel at home. I walk a lot so I’ve been doing a lot of walking around the downtown core. Everyone says “hello”. It is a very friendly community. Hearing Alan talk about the refinement of the downtown, it will make a huge different in the quality of life for the people who live here. It’ll be great to see it become a more pedestrian-friendly town.
Krista: The culture that the Keyano Theatre Group brings is like a family.
Patricia: It just occurred to me what is extraordinary about Fort McMurray. I had always thought of Fort McMurray as a transitional community. People come here, make some money, go home. But being here I’ve met so many people who are passionate and choosing to stay here. People love it here...and there are lots of things to love about it! That’s something I had not expected.
Norm: We’ve had a great time here. I love that people dress up to go to the theatre.
Krista: Any final advice for up-and-coming directors, actors, writers?
Patricia: Enjoy what you do; learn as much as you can about the world we live in. And sometimes that means going away so you can bring back your experiences to those who live here.
Krista: Thank you all for sitting down here tonight. It was a pleasure to get to know you all and can’t wait for you to come back to our community with your next show!
Photographs by seanmclennan/Keyano College.