In Melissa James Gibson’s comedy, This, five friends approaching middle-age, grapple with where they find themselves today and what could, or should, come next.

Examining urban existence in midlife, including parenthood, loneliness, loss and adultery, This is the story of widowed mother, Jane, whose well-meaning friends try to fix her up with an eligible bachelor.

In the upcoming Vancouver production from Kindred Entertainment, the company roster includes many local film and television actors.

In this Q&A, we chat with three cast members – Benjamin Ratner, Loretta Walsh, and Zak Santiago – about the play, and the differences between acting for the stage, and acting for film and television.

This interview has been edited.

Benjamin Ratner plays Alan Stimple in the Kindred Entertainment production of This.
Benjamin Ratner plays Alan Stimple in the Kindred Entertainment production of This.

Benjamin Ratner

Tell me about your character and how he fits into the story of This.

Alan Stimple is a fun and challenging character to play. He’s very intelligent and articulate, but he’s socially inept. He has a gift and/or affliction that he remembers everything that he’s experienced in his life; it’s a lot to deal with and it drives him to drink to take the edge off. He’s gay, single, childless, lonely, and tired of living a shallow existence. He’s looking to make a career/life change and become a “better person”, and as middle age sets in, his existential clock is ticking loud and fast.

Why do you think it is important for film actors to also do live theatre?

I can’t speak for other actors. I do know that I do plays occasionally to face the fear, and the hard work makes me feel like I’m “really doing it”, and ups my game in art and life, especially as an acting teacher.

Also, the experience of creating a meaningful piece of work with a group of like-minded artists always brings forth people I respect and admire. It’s hard work, but it’s fun to stumble along together and eventually take flight.

Obviously acting for film and television requires great skills, endurance and focus on a whole other level, but theatre is a very raw, very under-funded beast that reveals a performer’s skills, humility and true depth of character quickly and savagely.

Why should audiences come see This?

The play is massively relatable to anyone who’s ever loved a friend, lost a friend, fucked over a friend, been fucked over by a friend, or forgiven a friend.

The characters are middle-aged, but it’s not really about that. It’s about not taking life for granted. It’s about doing your best to carry on bravely, no matter what. It’s funny and sad and smart and true.

Loretta Walsh confronts middle age in Melissa James Gibson’s This.
Loretta Walsh confronts middle age in Melissa James Gibson’s This.

Loretta Walsh

Tell me about your character and how she fits into the story of This.

I play Jane, a poet and teacher who is a recently widowed, single mother.  Jane is struggling.  Deeply.  She is stuck in grief and feels unsuccessful in every area of her life. Her funny and caring friends are trying to help her keep moving forward after such a devastating personal loss, but Jane makes a lot of mistakes along the way and risks losing those friends who are everything to her. Jane is smart and funny, but lost and aimless. She is just trying hard to be ok and to ‘keep living’ in the face of adversity, something many of us can relate to in life.

What is the biggest challenge of producing small theatre productions in Vancouver?

Getting people to come to the show early.  We often turn audience members away on our closing weekend, so please get your tickets early and book in advance. You can even get a better deal on your ticket if you book online and in advance.

What do you think will be the audience experience from seeing this This?

In my experience as a producer, audiences love a good comedy.  But they also want to feel something deeply and have lots to discuss when they leave the theatre. I am confident This will provide that full experience.  We have a deeply committed group of bright and talented people coming together to bring This to Vancouver. I am confident that audience members will laugh, some will cry, but everyone will be entertained.

Zak Santiago plays Jean-Pierre in the upcoming production of This.
Zak Santiago plays Jean-Pierre in the upcoming production of This.

Zak Santiago

Tell me about your character and how he fits into the story of This.

My character is Jean-Pierre, he’s a doctor with Medecins Sans Frontieres who is doing important work in Africa.  He meets the group of friends in This through Marrell, and as the play continues he teaches them all something about themselves as he also learns about himself from their unique encounters.  He is intelligent, observant, self-assured and worldly, and enjoys a good smoke, jazz music and stimulating conversation.

This is your first play after so much film work, what is the biggest difference you are discovering besides the rehearsal time?

The rehearsal process certainly is a new luxury I am not accustomed to, but the biggest difference is the sense of being part of an independent team.  There is real camaraderie and focus, as we all hold hands on this journey trying to create something larger than life from the magical words found on these pages.  There are no script revisions, no location changes, no scenes cut, no dialogue rewritten.  We have this tremendous story, and are challenged to create a worthwhile event from it, just on our own from this little group huddle we formed.  It’s exhilarating and terrifying.

What has been the best part of rehearsals?

Working so closely with the people involved.  Bill Dow is astute and trusting as a director, and his ideas just make the exact sense, every time.  Loretta our producer is fierce and so committed; her belief in this play wraps over our whole group and makes us feel like anything is possible if we just try, and just do it.  It’s intoxicating.  My castmates are brilliant, I can’t say enough.  They are tremendous actors, and wonderful people.  There is struggle in what we’re doing, but because of them I never feel like it’s work. It’s something other, and absolutely I love it.

This opens at Studio 16 in Vancouver on April 28 and continues through May 5. Visit kindredentertainment.com for tickets and information.