When you live next to the American juggernaut, Canada is caught in that magnetic pull.
Actor-writer-producer Laura Anne Harris shot herself straight into that melting pot, right at one of its most tumultuous times. The timing was an accident, she was just there for a job she got translating between hard-of-hearing people and sound-language people, but the stateside impressions and cultural climate were so different from her own Canadian upbringing that it ignited her creative fuel. Then, life’s most jolting emotions rang true in her life like a telephone, and at the other end of the staticky line was her mother afflicted by cancer.
Destiny, USA was the play that roiled out of the Trump election, the American personality wrapped around a Canadian visitor, and the helpless distance between two loved ones in crisis. It has heartache, it has empathy, and it’s also really funny.
Like Harris’s other plays - and some have set the national theatre scene on the eager edge of their seats, like the acclaimed Pitch Blonde, internationally performed Red/Rouge, and several more - this one is a one-hander. Kind of. This is a play that uses one actor to deliver all the action. Except, there are others, just not in the room.
She uses technology to project multiple other actors into some scenes. Each of them - Tamyka Bullen, Natasha Bacchus, and Sage Lovell - is deaf or hard-of-hearing.
“I paid for their time, and I continue to pay for their time when I use their images on stage,” she said, determined to be an ally in the inroads being made for these unique talents.
Each of these actors therefore get to take part in each and every staging of Destiny, USA, no matter where in the world Harris takes it.
“I really enjoy solo performance,” Harris told The Observer. “I think there’s something really unique and amazing about connecting with an audience in that. And I like monologues. I think character development and character exploration can be done in gorgeous ways in solo work, when you get to play multiple roles within one piece, just with your body and your voice and the space you’re in.”
Harris takes the one-hander theme an extra step by also being the writer of the pieces she performs. While many actors relish bouncing from title to title, meeting up with new casts with each new production, she thrives on both the performance and the creation of a theatrical production.
“My tranjectory as a writer has really changed, especially when it comes to theatre performance. I initially wrote pieces I felt would be good acting vehicles for myself. They tended to be character-based, and they tended to be outside my own lived experience. And then, as I got older, and certainly as I was going through this really crazy culture shock living in the U.S. and also this grieving process with my mother’s cancer treatments, I just felt like I needed to get that out. It was a very cathartic experience. And typically in the past I would say oh, I didn’t have anything interesting to write about from my own life, because nothing has really happened to me. But sometimes life hits you, and you go, ok, I think I have to actually work through this, and I feel the only way to do that is through my writing. By writing this show, I think my voice as a writer has really strengthened, and I can go to those places that are more vulnerable and personal, and to bring that to life on stage is really exiting. And also, it’s mine. It’s my experience. Even though there are fictional aspects of Destiny, USA, it is based on true experiences, and that excites me, and delights me, and it is scary, too. I think ‘write what you know’ can be a crutch for some, but for me it has been a really illuminating experience for exploring my voice as a writer.”
Because the writer is also the performer, with each Harris production, she gets to viscerally know the way each audience feels about every line, every turn of phrase, every change of scene. Most playwrights only get to be voyeurs in the process.
Someone who knows this process intimately is Julia Mackey, the creative force behind the hit play Jake’s Gift, and also the booking agent for the Sunset Theatre in Wells, in Quesnel’s back yard. This is where Harris will perform Destiny, USA on Thursday and Friday nights (Sept. 28 and 29, both 8 p.m.).
“When Julia Mackey asks you to do anything…,” Harris said.
So she is making her Cariboo debut of this play, but it was at the Sunset Theatre that Harris performed Pitch Blonde 15 years ago as a young creative upstart.
“Wells definitely had an influence on me,” she said, because she soaked in the other artists who were there, interacting with her. “It stayed with me to this day.”