MTYP has been quieter but not still during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to all of the work within our educational programs, we’ve also continued the important work of developing new plays for theatre for young audiences.

On Dec 10th, our rehearsal hall had a solitary table set up with boxes of lav mics, batteries and a bottle of Isopropyl alcohol; a reminder of the world we are currently living in. Four actors performed a staged reading, in full accordance with current health and safety measures, of Billie and the Moon in Richardson Hall.

Billie and the Moon is a new play in development, written by Winnipeg playwright Wren Brian. The play follows the character of Billie, who the playwright describes as an “introvert (but not at peace with it)”. Brian states that she too is an introvert like Billie and that writing is a solitary thing, so the pandemic hasn’t really changed her process. However as the play progressed over many months, the next step was to have actors read the lines out loud and explore it deeper. The playwright observed the rehearsals over zoom.

The play is set at “Camp Happy Fun Times”, an aptly named summer camp. Billie feels isolated and different from their peers, who are loud, exuberant and playful. Removing themselves from the group, Billie asks “what’s wrong with me?” This is a question some of us have asked ourselves at one time or another, and this feeling is especially big when you are a child. When Billie finds a friend in the moon (yes, the moon!) they start an unlikely relationship. The Moon understands Billie and the loneliness they both experience. Without giving too much of the story away, the play wraps up with Billie’s peers becoming more accepting and realizing that not all of us are the same or like the same things. The four actors who took part in the staged reading of Billie and the Moon were Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed, Melissa Langdon, Omar Samuels and Matthew Paris-Irvine.

Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed
Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed

After almost ten months of not acting, the return to the theatre felt “like breathing again” said Sophie. “I was excited that MTYP was the first theatre I got to step back into,” she continued. Sophie was a student in MTYP’s theatre school as a teenager, so it was fitting that it was the first theatre to welcome her back after being away. “I was anxious about leaving the house and being in a room with other people. MTYP ensured the space was incredibly safe”. Sophie admits that, despite her anxiety, she “couldn’t stop smiling”. She said there are unique challenges to acting during a health crisis. “Breathing was really different. I realized that I was taking shallow breaths to keep the mask out of my mouth.” Sophie also had to stop herself from following the usual impulses an actor has to move towards other actors or to touch them. “I took different risks and made a few less physical choices.” Another challenge was performing for a digital audience where she couldn’t feel anyone’s presence or sense their reactions.

I was surprised at how much light was in the room every single day. I think so much of the conversation around theatre right now is shrouded in grey and uncertainty. When we got together and started to work, I was reminded of how it is the people in this community who make it beautiful. The hardest part was leaving MTYP on the third day when everything was done.

Billie and the Moon was supported in its creation by MTYP and the Creators Unit. The aim of the Creator’s Unit is to collaborate and explore the theatrical creation process. Every year the Creators Unit offers ten theatre artists the chance to create together and learn from facilitators such as playwright Rick Chafe and devised theatre artist Andraea Sartison. The Unit also provides participants with support for their own projects that are in development. The goal is to further the skills of each artist, rather than expect specific outcomes such as new plays, but as is demonstrated in the experience with Billie and the Moon, it does create opportunity for new works to flourish. This past spring, the Unit concluded their year with a virtual, week-long creation workshop where the artists advanced their own pieces using the skills they developed throughout the season.

New play development is important because it allows you to respond to the specific realities you are living in, whether they are a result of time, location, culture or anything else,” says MTYP’s Artistic Director Pablo Felices-Luna “That is even more important when working for young audiences because you can open up new lines of thinking as they are developing a sense of self and as they are figuring out their place in the community”.

MTYP is proud to create opportunities where artists can develop their skills and collaborate and will continue to prioritize the development of new works to serve, impact, and delight our core audience of children and youth. We remain grateful to the artists who join us in this aim.

Wren Brian
Wren Brian