It’s barely been two months since she retired, so there hasn’t been much opportunity for Heather Harris’s fears of becoming bored or lonely to come to fruition.
Add to that the fact that the inexperienced actress is playing a lead role in a stage production this month, and Harris’s life couldn’t be further from tedious.
Harris is playing the part of Jennie Woodson in Surrey Little Theatre’s (SLT) current comedy/drama A Murder of Crows. And other than doing some behind-the-scenes theatrical studies in university decades ago, subsequent recreational theatre programming with kids, and more recently, engaging adults with special needs in imagination and improvisation exercises, this will be her very first time taking centre stage.
“I never had to learn a lot of lines or work in a more structured atmosphere with experienced actors,” the Surrey resident says. “This is my first time doing that.
“I’ve always been kind of animated… so probably that part of me needs an outlet,” she laughs.
Harris had often thought of getting involved with theatre over the years, but her schedule simply didn’t allow it.
But after prodding her teenage granddaughter, who’s involved in theatre, for pointers, she boldly headed for the SLT auditions in January. The worst that could happen, she thought, is that she’d gain a little experience – and very likely meet some nice people.
“I was just excited,” Harris recalls, adding she wasn’t scared at all and set no expectations. “I didn’t expect to walk in and get a part, never mind the lead.”
But that’s just what happened and beginning this week, she finds herself in the spotlight – and thoroughly enjoying it.
Murder of Crows, written by Ed Graczyk, is set in the small town of Wallace, Ohio and takes place over a short period of about a day-and-a-half. Jennie and Harley Woodson are longtime residents of Wallace, a once-thriving farming community that has turned into a toxic waste dump. The couple find themselves forced to move from their comfortable home – all they’ve ever known – to a trailer on their estranged son’s property in Pennsylvania.
The play features a small, six-person cast, which includes Steven Burridge as Jennie’s husband, Harley.
Harris says her relationship with her on-stage husband has helped with her rather quick plunge into theatre.
“He’s very experienced compared to me,” she says. “He’s easy to be on stage with – he just relaxes into the role and becomes that person. It makes it so much easier.”
She says that security has extended to her character Jennie’s relationship with Harley while they’re dealing with such trying circumstances.
“It’s admirable. These people have been married for 57 years.”
Producer Brigitte Seib has high praise for the scripted couple, saying their chemistry is very believable.
“They look like they’ve been married for years,” Seib says.
Also cast are Brad Hammerstron and Robyn Bradley, who play the couple’s son and daughter, respectively, while Pat Braun is lifelong friend Velma and Grant Vlahovic is Luther “Digger” Briggs, the town’s gravedigger who also owns the local garage.
The show is directed by Abbotsford’s Lynne Karey-McKenna, who has directed several Langley Players Club productions, and had an award-winning supporting role in SLT’s Brooklyn Boys in 2009.
While A Murder of Crows will inspire a lot of laughs, neither Seib nor Harris are willing to call it a straight-up comedy.
“There is some darkness,” Seib says. “You know how comedy comes out of reality?”
After all, at the root, the story is about people living through a tragedy of sorts – one that’s been a long time coming, but which has come to a head.
“It’s a serious subject,” admits Harris, pointing to the couple’s being uprooted and their struggle with unwelcome change.
“Jennie has a line that says ‘All I ever wanted is what I have’ and it’s true. It’s true for everybody, but I think the older we get, that’s exactly what we want.”
While the play’s environmental issues are topical, both Harris and Seib believe the other universal themes of family, aging, relationships and loyalty will resonate with theatre-goers.
“I think this is a play that the audience can get carried along with … the emotional ups and downs,” says Harris.
A Murder of Crows opened last night (April 7) and runs Thursdays through Saturdays until May 7 at Surrey Little Theatre, 7027 184 St. Evening shows are at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on April 17 and May 1. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling 604-576-8451 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org