When Mr. Kipps, an older gentleman, presents a young actor with the opportunity to help him tell, what on the surface appears to be a simple ghost story, he is faced with the challenge of telling a haunting tale that has affected him deeply.
“There are so many things we cannot represent. How do we represent the dog, the sea, the causeway? How the pony and trap,” he asks the young actor.
“With imagination Mr. Kipps. Ours and our audience’s.”
It is indeed that, that is the challenge of The Woman in Black, the Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s most recent play. How do two directors, two actors and a variety of tech people tell a ghost story?
It’s also what drew co-directors Cathie Hamm and Alix Leary to the script in the first place.
“I was reading the play and I saw it,” says Hamm. “I read this play and I saw light being played with and my love of light drew me to this play.”
She then handed the script to her stepdaughter, Leary.
“She came bounding down the stairs and said, ‘You know what you could do with this?’”
Both Leary and Hamm come from technical backgrounds with the Studio Theatre and the possibilities within the script written by Stephen Mallatratt, based on the novel by Susan Hill, drew them to directing the story.
“I really like how tech became its own character and had so much involved with this play,” says Leary.
Leary is a first-time director and says she’s never been closer to the stage than the tech booth.
The experience has pushed her out of her comfort zone.
“It has been very new,” she says, especially working with actors and during decision-making.
Hamm says working with Leary has been a proud-parent moment.
“I have seen her grow,” says Hamm. “The first couple rehearsals she kept looking at me and looking at me and then she actually took over a couple of them and grabbed them. There were a couple where I couldn’t make it and I came back and she’d produced something fabulous.
“Just seeing you be able to make those decisions,” she says, turning to Leary, “You make very good decisions. I’ve watched you grow.”
Of course, they both add, it doesn’t hurt to have two experienced actors on board.
Mr. Kipps, the older gentleman, is played by Michael Rawluk, who is no stranger to the Williams Lake stage. New to the Studio Theatre, but not to acting, is Stuart Wright, who plays the part of the young actor.
Kirsten Sandberg and Matt Dressler have also added their voices to the production.
In the play, Mr. Kipps hires the young actor to help him tell the tale that has haunted him for years and, in the telling, to exorcise the ghost that follows him.
Before he knows it, the young actor is drawn into the story of heartbreak and horror they act out onstage.
The show draws the audience in as the young actor becomes more and more terrified, “until finally it is haunting him as well,” says Hamm.
Onstage in time for Halloween, The Woman in Black is a ghost story that pulls the audience in as much for its visual and audio effects as for its storytelling.
The directors credit a number of people working backstage to create the look and sound of the play.
“The biggest challenge is to make it look dark and yet still see everybody and that is such a fine balance,” says Jeff Rankin, the lighting designer.
“Every play is a little bit different, this one was, it felt to me like when you throw spaghetti at the wall, sometimes things stick. That’s what I’ve been doing, is throwing ideas out there.”
The result is a play that darkens as the characters find themselves more and more drawn into the ghost’s story.
The Woman in Black runs from Oct. 25 to 28, Nov. 1 to 4 and 8 to 11 at the Williams Lake Studio Theatre.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students and are available at The Open Book, Kit and Kaboodle and online at www.wlstudiotheatre.com.
Oct. 25 and 26, the performances are discounted at $15. Ticket holders for the performance on Oct. 27 will receive a coupon for a free appetizer at Mr. Mikes.
“I think this is a really good demonstration of what you can do with theatre and with the imagination,” says Hamm.
“As the young actor says, let the audience use their imagination and how you can pull people in with some great acting, a few simple set pieces and simple props, how you can pull people into a story that is fabulous.”