Bob Frazer thinks that Thornton Wilder’s Our Town sometimes gets a bad rap. The quiet 1938 play about the residents of Grover’s Corners in the early twentieth century is so often produced by community theatre and high school groups that it is all but overlooked by professional theatre companies. Frazer and his Osimous Theatre are looking to change that.
[pullquote]“Wilder isn’t saying that life is easy, perfect, sweet or precious. He is saying life is difficult, and people are people and we all have faults and make mistakes regularly. He is saying that we have to accept that is part of life, and when we accept that things can be pretty great.” – director Bob Frazer[/pullquote]“To be honest when Bob first suggested Our Town, I had a negative reaction to it,” admits Dawn Petten, an Osimous founding member and part of the cast in this upcoming production. “I had resistance to it, but every time I read it I weep. The place is irresistible.”
“Theatre groups think it is easy, with a lot of characters, not much in the way of set, but I actually think it is darker than that and harder than that,” says Frazer, another Osimous founder and who will direct the production.
But don’t let Frazer’s choice of words take you on a darker road to Grover’s Corners for it isn’t that he is suggesting there is something sinister or gloomier in his vision of the ubiquitous show, but simply based in the reality that life is full of ups and downs.
“Wilder isn’t saying that life is easy, perfect, sweet or precious. He is saying life is difficult, and people are people and we all have faults and make mistakes regularly,” says Frazer. “He is saying that we have to accept that is part of life, and when we accept that things can be pretty great. He isn’t creating a perfect vision of life, he is creating real life.”
Helping to push a little deeper into Wilder’s world, Frazer is breaking down the fourth wall between actor and audience. With his unconventional staging, that will see his players performing among the audience, Frazer is exploring the very idea of what theatre can a be, a philosophy that came to him during his own experiences as an audience member.
“I see theatre as being a million different things,” says Frazer. “My passion comes from a simple thought I had one day when watching a play. I went into the theatre, hoping to see a flash of t-shirt as the actors took their place on stage, I waited for the lights to come up and then I watched. It was a process that I had repeated countless times before. But this time it got me thinking about why we have to do the same thing all the time, and I started adjusting how I thought about theatre.”
That change in thinking has served Frazer well having directed similar projects including the critically acclaimed Hedda Gabler in 2012 and an up-close-and-personal production of Balm in Gilead at Studio 58 last year.
“As I have slowly done this over the years the audience reaction has been phenomenal,” says Frazer. “They get excited by it. It integrates them into the play in a deeper sense.”
Frazer is quick to point out though, that while his actors may need to step out of their comfort zone at being so close to the audience, he promises there will be no forced interactions between audience and cast.
“One thing I like to do when I go to the theatre is hide in the background,” laughs Frazer. “I don’t want to be asked questions, and that drives me to make sure that the audiences will feel safe when they come to see a show.”
Rather than any forced and potentially uncomfortable interactions, Frazer has developed the idea that the audience are guests of the Grover’s Corners residents.
“It isn’t interactive, it is just intimate,” continues Frazer. “It is as if the audience is coming to our house for a dinner party and we tell this great story about life.”
“What I love about the world we are creating is that it is about a communal experience,” says Petten. “The audience just lives in the piece, living it through their own experiences of falling in love, of becoming parents, of death and heartbreak.”
Taking place in the home of the Grover’s Corners residents, Fraser has also seized on a unique way in which to help set the stage as it were, by teaming up with HomeStart Foundation, a Vancouver charity that collects and gives donated home furnishings to those that need it.
“We needed furniture and we heard about this great local compay that collects your old furniture and gives it to people who are in need,” says Frazer of the partnership. “They are collecting all of the furniture that we will use in the show, and when it is over it will be distributed to those in need.”
And finally, despite having been written over 75 years ago, Frazer insists that even with the new way in which they will tell its story, its major themes remain timeless.
“You have to ask the same question, why does Shakespeare keep getting done?” says Frazer of the play’s longevity. “They both wrote about human emotions that are instantly recognizable. Like Shakespeare, Wilder writes about living in every moment with love and we understand that. He writes about eternal things: the stars, the moon, the sun coming up. He talks about death and marriage, things that have been going on for centuries.”
“It is about the most basic blueprint of living,” concludes Petten. “It isn’t about these grandiose heroes, but about the smallest and sweetest details of life.”
Our Town plays at The First Christian Reformed Church (2670 Victoria Drive) September 30 – October 18. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets or visit https://osimous.com for more information.