For Ashlie Corcoran, co-productions were among six programming objectives she saw as priorities as she took over as the Arts Club Theatre Company’s artistic director.
In the second co-production already under Corcoran’s leadership, the Vancouver company has teamed up with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to present the Canadian premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat. Currently on stage in Vancouver, the play will move to Edmonton in January.
Set in a bar in the working-class town of Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweat is the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives working together on the line of a factory floor. As layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, they find themselves pitted against each other in their fight to stay afloat.
Originally championed by Vancouver actor Marci T House, both Corcoran and Citadel Theatre’s artistic director Daryl Cloran accepted the challenge. The two enlisted Alberta-based director Valerie Planche to direct.
“From that moment almost a year ago, I have been working with the two companies and my designers to lay the bedrock of this world,” she says. “Getting the actors into the process brings breath into that world, and what a world it’s proving to be. Edmonton and Vancouver are in for a treat. It’s a strong piece of drama not to be missed.”
Playing one of the friends is Edmonton actor Nicole St. Martin, who describes her character Tracey as someone who values loyalty and finds change terrifying. Having worked in the local factory for her all of her adult life, she is very much a creature of habit.
“Tracey has always been vulnerable, but has been forced and then subsequently forced herself, and the people in her life, to deny that vulnerability,” explains St. Martin. “She is proud and will not tolerate being dishonoured and will even resort to hurting those she loves most, in some horrific ways like racism, to not be shamed.”
While St. Martin is enjoying her time in Vancouver, especially with the region’s recent run of good weather, she admits it tough to be away from her family, especially the “snuggles and sleepy time chats” she is used to having with her eight-year old son.
“Luckily, we have FaceTime for nightly catch-ups and now low-fare airlines for quick visits during the two months,” she says.
Despite being away from home though, St. Martin is enjoying the artistic experience in working on a co-production.
“How wonderful is it to get to meet fellow actors and artists from other cities and to join together and create something that two cities’ audiences will get to have a shared experience of,” she says. “Our country is so geographically huge, which can make it challenging to travel across for work and to share artistic endeavours. This is a gift. I’ve met such incredible people doing this show.”
Sweat continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver until November 18. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.
Editor’s Note (23 October): this article was changed to reflect this was the second co-production for the Arts Club Theatre Company this season, not its first. The first was the company’s production of Mustard in conjunction with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre.