By Amanda Hu
Protesting at the top of a tree is the newest form of grief therapy in Urban Curvz’s upcoming production of Ayla Stephen’s Tree Hugger. The show stars Stephen herself as a woman mourning the loss of her lover to cancer all the while taking a stand against pollution and overdevelopment.
“My inspirations come from a few different things, like all the development that’s going on in Calgary right now and all the commercialism,” she says. “In the new communities, they have all those mini malls to make things more convenient for them even though we have a million of them all over the place. [There is a large] effect that this is having on the environment in terms of how big the city is– there’s an urban sprawl, so you need a car to get anywhere and transit sucks in this city. The emissions from that [negatively] affect the human body.”
Stephen revisits her character Angela from her previous work, This is Our Solar System, though takes a new turn, surfacing as an adult rather than an 11-year-old girl. She says it was a challenge to portray some of the characters similarities while incorporating differences as well.
“[Her] viewpoints on life [are different],” she says. “She has more of an understanding of how relationships work and how she fits in the world. She’s just evolved her personality a bit more.”
With that maturity comes a lot more mature struggles and problems. Stephen says she tried to structure the script to convey that in different ways.
“It’s a struggle and the communication is that there’s so much development and so much hurt that comes from losing someone and a lot of people try to fight against it,” she explains. “The set-up of the play is kind of the seven stages of grieving. So there are points where it’s the anger and bargaining stage, where she’s kind of rallying against the cancer and fighting against the loss, as well as the loss of nature.”
Urban Curvz is running the one-woman show as part of their Heroines series. Stephen answered the call for works by emerging female artists after graduating from the University of Calgary last May and says the Heroines program has given her a lot of experience and knowledge about making it in the theatre world.
“We’ve gotten mentorships from different artists in the community,” Stephen explains. “Kate Newby did some different acting workshops with us. Production mentoring for our producer was good because then we learned how to produce our own works and we can take those tools and use them in the future.”
In addition to the Heroines help, Stephen credits U of C for preparing her for her future career path.
“[I got a] lot of drive and the ability to create my own work,” she says. “The program doesn’t spoon-feed you shows. You have to work for them. If you don’t get into shows and you want to do something creative, you have to make your own work and get it up on its feet so people can see it. It drove me to create my own work.”