Love and Chance in Central Alberta
By Richard Beaune
As I write these words, I’m sitting in the Scott Block Theatre in Red Deer, taking a short break from rehearsing The Games of Love and Chance. This classic play is being rediscovered by an ensemble of artists who are living and breathing some very old thoughts and ideas through their contemporary bodies. It’s an exercise that necessitates an exploration and a sharing of what is universally human; and what isn’t. What has changed over the last 300 years, or even in the last 3 years, and what remains the same? How is the France of Louis XV different from Canada today? Or Alberta, or Red Deer? It raises questions for me about how I experience the space/s that I’m in and the communities for whom I make my art.
I moved to Red Deer from Toronto about a year and a half ago. I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to lead Prime Stock Theatre shorty after I arrived, and when I became Artistic Director I knew that I wanted to program both classical and contemporary plays. I want my audiences to reflect on our world today within the context of a continuum of human history and to see how the human condition can remain constant while societies change. I want people to feel that we are capable of social change without needing to feel that our basic humanity is threatened.
I chose The Games of Love and Chance as our first classical offering because of how gentle it is. Unlike most comedies, Pierre de Marivaux wrote this play with a lightness of touch that requires no cynicism. The humour lies in the situations and mistaken identities, but Love itself is never scoffed at or painted with any irony. It was partly my response to repeated warnings that Red Deer is a very conservative place where audiences have been fed a constant diet of dinner theatre farces and they might be reluctant to take chances on unfamiliar fare. This play seemed like a good point of entry.
Once I started to crack the play open, I had to confront the tension between my own progressive views and the moral imperative lying beneath the play. The love and the joy that lie at the heart of the play make up the universal human condition that I want to celebrate, but the social order that is taken for granted makes me pretty uncomfortable. The idea that some people are granted social status as a function of their birth is repugnant to me. Marivaux celebrates it, but I need to expose it – not just as a function of French regal authority, but also through a contemporary lens that recognized how that 300-year-old thinking has had an effect that still resonates.
Black Lives Matter; Me Too; Reconciliation; greater appreciation of gender and sexual diversity – these important movements are all struggling against the residue of colonial social and political structures. I want those structures lie underneath this play to be exposed for the unfair and abusive mess that they are. It seems so obvious to me. But I now find myself living in a place where many who benefit from the old systems feel threatened by this contemporary thinking and sometimes fight against it. And I find myself really wanting to engage with those people in a generous way that gives them an opportunity to consider a new social order without acrimony or blame.
So, how am I trying to do that with this play?
I decided to address the unfair power imbalances through the lens of gender. I crafted an ensemble that includes a variety of perspectives on gender and tried to create a space where gender identity could be fluid and freely expressed. The diversity of our team puts into question the values of the binary world of our play. I also switched the gender identity of one of the characters changing Lisette to Louis, thinking that I would be introducing a same-sex couple. When the actor asked if they could take this opportunity to explore gender identity, I was delighted to have the chance to share that exploration with them. The results so far have been a very rich celebration of love and identity in many forms.
I hope to reframe the morality of the play in a way that exposes its inherent imbalances. But I don’t want to alienate the very audiences who I want to reach. So, once we’ve rearranged the social order lying beneath the play, we present it as the delightful little comedy that it is. If somebody chooses to remain oblivious to the social provocation of our production, they can still enjoy a nice evening at the theatre. At the very least, they will have been exposed to an opportunity to think about society in new ways. They might come back to the theatre again. I really believe that over time, people who attend the theatre will develop their sense of empathy and that will create opportunities for expanded thinking about all kinds of things. We might even change a mind or two when we show them a beautiful example of a world that embraces a greater diversity of love than you might expect from a classic play.
We’re on a long journey of discovery with a very long road ahead, but if we continue to be generous and caring, each step we take is joyful and rewarding. Wish us luck.
Richard Beaune has performed in every province and territory across Canada in both official languages over a career spanning more than 35 years. His work as actor and director has garnered rave reviews and several awards, including a Dora Mavor Moore Award and a Canadian Comedy Award, and has been seen in Canada’s largest theatres, including the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, as well as the smallest indie theatres and found spaces. He is the current Artistic Director of Prime Stock Theatre in Red Deer, Alberta. Ultimately, his goal in life is to make you smile. richardbeaune.com