The Heroes of Canadian theatre

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Vancouver audiences will have a rare opportunity to see three masters of the Canadian stage together in a production of Tom Stoppard’s Heroes at the PAL Theatre in September.

With a combined 180 years of experience that includes director Terrance Kelly, John Innes, William Samples, and Michael Dobbin will star in Stoppard’s tale of three cantankerous WWI veterans who quietly reflect on their long lives while plotting their escape from a military retirement home.

“Terry recently described it as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Waiting For Godot and I think that is a pretty good description of it,” laughs Dobbin, who alone accounts for 44 of the quartet’s 180 years.

Having been back in Vancouver living at the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) for four years, Dobbin found himself in conversation with Kelly, lamenting the fact that he had not had any theatre work since returning.  With the two agreeing they should find a project to work on together, it was Kelly that eventually found the script for Heroes and knew instantly that it would be the perfect vehicle for Dobbins and his fellow Lodge residents.

Providing housing for members of Canada’s performing arts community aged fifty-five and older, one of PAL’s mandates is to provide an opportunity for residents to be part of quality productions in the building’s performing arts space.

“There have been a few productions but with few producers living here there haven’t been many,” says Dobbins.  “We wanted this production to have a fully professional look and feel about it.  I worry that people think PAL is a bunch of old has-beens who were never really professional.  While there have been some very good productions at the PAL, we are unfortunately working against that perception.”

John Innes, Michael Dobbins and William Samples star in Tom Stoppard's Heroes on stage at the PAL Theatre in September
John Innes, Michael Dobbins and William Samples star in Tom Stoppard’s Heroes at the PAL Theatre in September

Helping to change those perceptions and with the hope that Heroes will be the start of something bigger, Dobbins and his team are cheekily letting audiences come up for their own meaning behind The FOG acronym.

“Fond of Gym, Four Older Gentlemen, Fuck Off Gently … we decided not to tell people,” laughs Dobbins.  “Actually, it originally stood for Four Old Geezers, but if Heroes takes us forward in any meaningful way we don’t want to prejudice it.”

In recognizing Canada’s aging population in the theatre, Dobbins hopes The FOG will become an opportunity to create more opportunities for older actors.

“We’re all getting older and we’re part of this big bulge in the theatre population,” says Dobbins.  “When I was 25 there were few seniors in theatre and we thought of them as our mentors and teachers, or simply in the way.  Now there is a large group of seniors struggling to find parts to play.”

With his near half century contribution to Canadian theatre, Dobbins and his fellow members of The FOG are out to prove that there are indeed great roles for actors of a certain age, even if it means creating those opportunities for themselves.

PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street, Vancouver
6 – 30 September 2012

Set in a soldiers retirement home in 1959 France, its cast consists of three WWI veterans, each of whom carry a heavy burden from the war: Gustave suffers from crippling agoraphobia; Henri possesses a gammy leg; and Philippe is prone to blacking out due to shrapnel lodged in his brain. The trio’s doldrum-filled retirement is ignited when they hatch a grand, if somewhat harebrained, escape scheme. Over the course of the non-stop 80-minute play that is variously uproarious, pensive, and tender, the geriatric threesome work to outwit the staff, overcome logistical roadblocks, and make a run for Indochina – or at least as far as the top of a nearby hill.  Tickets are available online.

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