Mustard Seed actors find humour in Greek tragedy

By Andy Williams

Oedipus Rex is a story of hubris, of fate, of murder and last but not least, incest.

At first glance, the classic Greek tragedy seems like a peculiar choice for a collaboration between the Mustard Seed Drama Society, the Provincial Boom Commission Art Collective, Verb Theatre, and University of Calgary’s own Development Studies Club. However, a cast fully composed of members of Calgary’s homeless community have worked with artists and volunteers from the aforementioned groups to not only introduce new elements to the play, but to create a more complete re-imagining.

“[The changes] came and evolved as we did rehearsal,” explains crew member Hannah `. “Some of the natural characters of the drama group came out in rehearsals, as people took on the roles and added their own personality — it just seemed right.”

The groups haven’t only changed the structure and dialogue of the play — originally written by Sophocles around 400 BC — but also added new forms of media. A video projector is used to display short clips throughout the play, supplemented by a complete sound system.

“Those familiar with the play may be a little surprised by the media additions and what the cast has brought to the play,” says Poon. “But for those who are not familiar, they’ll probably just be surprised with the story line in relation to the group of people we are working for. Individuals’ quirks and aspects of personality played a role in the ward robing as well.”

Actor Barclay Wolfchild, who plays Prince Creon, Oedipus’ brother-in-law, asserts that the changes were for the better.

“The mixed media approach makes it funny,” he says. “It lightens it up, but it’s still serious at times. It’s both.”

Wolfchild shines in his role. His laid back characterization of Creon serves as an effective foil to Nigel Kirk’s tightly wound Oedipus. Wolfchild is a natural performer and obviously enjoys his time on stage.

“Performing gives me a chance to express myself. It’s a way to take on a different character, to become someone else,” says Wolfchild.

The choice of Oedipus Rex works extremely well for the group, but the collaboration isn’t just about putting on a great show. It is also about the process.

“I’ve met good people, [crewmembers] Aviva, Mat, Col, all the other crew and cast,” says Wolfchild. “I’ve learned a lot from them — how they act and what they do. They share their ideas with me and I share my ideas with them. We’ve all got . . . kind of close together.”

Poon, a social worker who doubled as the groups costume designer, has worked with youth and adults experiencing street life and homelessness for four years. She also discussed the benefits of drama.

“The process of learning to speak clearly, speech, keeping eye contact — there are a lot of games and warm-ups that we do that help with things like that,” she says. “I think people who come from certain populations are looked down upon, and so being able to overcome that, and being able to speak clearly and speak with confidence in front of people is a huge opportunity. Theatre and drama work on those kind of secondary skills a lot.”

The play leaves audience members wanting to know more about the characters and their backgrounds. It is easy to see the cast’s personalities and quirks, and though the play is not directly about homelessness, it serves as a reminder that there is more to the city’s homeless population than first meets the eye. Like Oedipus, they all have stories and histories that are worth sharing.

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