Do Vancouverites take themselves too seriously? Do we place an extraordinary amount of emphasis on our physical appearance, or how we appear to each other socially? Is it as difficult to make friends as some claim? Are we really as boring as people make us out to be? Vancouver playwright Mathew Willis thinks that while our reputation may not be quite as bad as some would have us believe, there may be something to how we are viewed by outsiders.
In his new adaptation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic 18th century comedy The School for Scandal, Willis hopes to strip away some of our city’s artifice with a satire that pokes fun at some familiar Vancouver archetypes: the Kitsilano yoga freaks, Main Street hipster-poets, wealthy Marpole doctors and, poor basement-dwelling students.
“When I first came to Vancouver about six years ago, friends told me how difficult it was to make friends, and about the big cultural importance that Vancouver residents put on their physical and social appearance,” says Willis.
Originally from Winnipeg, in the province that boldly announces itself as “Friendly Manitoba” on its license plates, Willis saw a parallel between our city’s preoccupation with appearance and Sheridan’s play.
“The School for Scandal is all about the importance of your reputation, how people see you in public, and what they say behind your back,” says Willis.
Renaming the play The School for Scandal of Vancouver, Willis has tried to maintain a balance between Sheridan’s original text, while making some changes to make it more relevant to audiences today.
“Most of the play is still Sheridan, except the 18th century jokes and references have been replaced by Vancouver references,” he says. “We tweaked the characters so they have modern day equivalents, but we haven’t completely dismissed what Sheridan has in his text. We’ve tweaked it enough so they fit both the original time period and in modern Vancouver. It is a comfortable middle where they are modern, but doesn’t deviate too much from the original.”
More than updating some of the text though, Willis is also using the opportunity to create a theatrical event drawn from both burlesque and stand-up comedy.
“I go to see a lot of stand-up in Vancouver and have seen a few burlesque shows. The thing I noticed at most of these types of events is how relaxed everyone is in the room, chatting, laughing and drinking. I’m trying to take that spirit of those kind of shows with this production,” he says.
With the action happening on all sides of the audience, Willis is hoping to take the aesthetics of burlesque and stand-up, with seating at banquet tables and a fully-stocked bar, to create an immersive experience that theatre-goers will not usually find inside a traditional theatre.
“Have you noticed how much theatre resembles going to church or a lecture?” he says. “I want to create an easy and relaxing atmosphere that will give an audience more liberty to enjoy themselves.”
It just may go a long way to helping Vancouver shed its reputation as “no-fun city” too.
The School for Scandal of Vancouver plays at CBC Studio 700 (700 Hamilton Street, Vancouver) June 28-30, and July 2-5. Tickets are available online or cash only at the door. Visit https://quimeratheatre.wix.com for more information.