The Madwoman of Chaillot has lessons for today

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Greed. Power. Economic and social collapse.  Sound like the last couple of years in North America?  Try 1940s Paris as University of British Columbia Professor and Director Stephen Heatley brings French playwright Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot to the stage as the opener for Theatre UBC’s 2010/2011 season.

Stephen HeatleyA show that Heatley has wanted to do for some time now, The Madwoman of Chaillot has much to speak about life today, telling its story of Parisian vagabonds, led by Countess Aurelia (the Madwoman), battling an evil corporation bent on drilling for oil in the middle of Paris.  And while shows of this type might have fallen “out of fashion in the last 10-20 years”, Heatley says it speaks directly to much of what has happened recently with the financial turmoil and what he describes as “the corporate fraud that we are witness to every day”.

But more than just good timing in terms of the play’s themes, Heatley also sees it as a perfect convergence of subject matter, class size and the talent to pull it off.

“The first show of the season always features the graduating class in the Bachelor of Fine Arts Acting program,” explained Heatley.  And apparently sometimes size does matter, even in theatre.

“With 15 in the class this year it means we can do a show of this size,” Heatley continued.  “There were some big shows written in the forties, like this one, when theatre could actually have some scale.  Even when I ran my own theatre company five people was about all we could afford to have on stage at one time, so it is a great pleasure to be able to do something of this scale.”

Recently receiving full Professorship at UBC, Heatley has always had an inclination towards teaching and even before coming to Vancouver served as Director of the Citadel Theatre School in Edmonton.  “I always thought of myself as an artist who teaches,” he said.  “Now I am a teacher who gets to direct sometimes.”

And as a teacher, Heatley has two words for his students: patience and tenacity.  “Don’t sit by the phone weeping.  Get out and create your own work.  Make your own projects – that is how people will get to see you”.

But beyond the persistence, Heatley also says that to be a really good actor you must be willing to make others look good.

And perhaps not coincidentally this last piece of advice, coupled with Heatley’s own work with the UBC Positive Spaces Campaign, seems to fit nicely with the one take away he hopes audiences leave with after seeing The Madwoman of Chaillot: “we all have a part to play in making the world a better place”.

The Madwoman of Chaillot
Frederic Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia
30 September – 9 October 2010

By Jean Giraudoux, translated by Maurice Valency, Director Stephen Heatley | Sweet madness ensues when an eccentric circle of Parisians plot to foil corporate plans that will transform “The City of Light” into a rubble-strewn oilfield. At once comedic, whimsical, poetical and prophetic, The Madwoman of Chaillot is the story of the triumph of good over evil – obviously it’s also a fantasy. Tickets are $2 – $22 by calling 604-822-2678 or at the theatre box office.

The Madwoman of Chaillot
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
30 September – 9 October 2010
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