Thursday, April 14, 2016

What's it all about?

Pocket Rocket actors ham it up before a rehearsal -- Hannah Ziss (foreground) and (left to right) Matt White, Mark Kreder, Andrei Preda and Suchiththa DeSilva. The play, which opens April 20, is about friendship, life journeys, Canadian identity -- and road hockey. 

Guest blogger Kathy Storring

(Last in a series)
Who are the characters in Pocket Rocket?
Well, they are drawn from Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham’s friends and life experiences; they are moulded by specific time periods and historical perspectives. And they are partly Gary and partly Lea — sometimes in the same character.  Sometimes unexpectedly.
There was a revealing moment in our interview when Gary pointed out the similarities between Lea and a character named Dave.
Lea reacted with surprise as Gary tallied the ways Dave mirrors parts of her life. Dave starts his family early — Lea had her first child at 19. The play’s street hockey action takes place in front of Dave’s house — the seeds for the play were planted as Lea watched neighbourhood street hockey games in front of her house.  Dave takes over the family business; Lea followed her father into the arts, despite having already pursued a degree in psychology.
So character development can start close to home.
“You do that subconsciously,” Gary says.
“Well, really subconsciously,” Lea adds with a laugh. “Because I hadn’t thought about it until this morning!”
Yet the Dave character also reflects Gary — his wanderlust, his desire for more.
“I think that the extraordinary thing is how autobiographical the play is — for both of us. In the same character even,” Gary says. “That could sound peculiar, but you have a character on stage for an hour and a half. … We are all so complex, we are all multi-peoples.”
Dave’s appeal works for others too. At readings, audiences have told Lea and Gary that they “know Dave.”
Another character, Ifty, is a newcomer to Canada in 1967 “and that’s totally me,” says Gary, who arrived from Britain that year. “The moment of him seeing a game was me coming into this country and saying, ‘Can I play with you guys?’ ”
Yet Lea says that character reminds her of her son on a family trip to Europe — the way he watched kids playing, too shy to ask to join. “He just wanted to play so much. It would break your heart.”

Transitions and transformations

Local audiences will meet all of Pocket Rocket’s characters, four males and a female, April 20 at the Lost & Found Theatre premiere at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre. The actors – Matt White (Dave), Mark Kreder (Paul), Andrei Preda (Steve), Suchiththa DeSilva (Ifty) and Hannah Ziss  (Cindy) -- will morph through time during three acts. The first act is set in 1967, requiring them to slip back to age 13. From there, the action jumps 14 years to 1981, and then about 14 years again to the mid-1990s.
At every stage, the play is about friendship — road hockey gives them an excuse to hang out.
“This is what the people who stick with you are like,” Gary says. “Or those friendships that you get back again. You get back together after 10 or 15 years and it’s like you’ve never been apart.”
The time jumps are reminiscent of a series of acclaimed documentaries in Britain. In the first show, Seven Up, director Michael Apted captured a group of seven-year-olds in 1964. Followup docs have checked in with the characters every seven years. The most recent instalment was 56 Up.
Lea and Gary are fascinated by the documentaries’ transitions and transformations, and by how Apted didn’t coddle the viewers — he simply let the characters pick up their stories. Moulding fictional characters is easier, of course, but as much as possible Gary and Lea stuck to an organic course, just letting the characters grow out of their backstories.
In the first act, the characters are about age 13 — children on the verge of adolescent angst. The next act shoots them into their 20s, where the freedom of young adulthood mixes with the uncertainty of what’s to come.
Gary remembers this stage well. “Thirty for me was traumatic. I was nowhere. I was in-between everything and that reflects itself in the characters.”
The third act brings the characters into their 40s. “You understand yourself better,” Lea says. “Maybe some of the possibilities aren’t there any more so you can narrow your focus a bit.”

Deeper themes

Pocket Rocket’s time spans also have a broader perspective.
“It was really important to me that it be about Canada,” Lea says. “There’s a real underlying theme of Canada’s growing up and maturing along with these kids.”
Pocket Rocket even touches Quebec’s flirtation with independence and the changing sexual values of the times.
By beginning in 1967, Centennial year, the play explores Canada’s “peak of optimism,” Lea says. This was also a time of rapid immigration, and as one of those newcomers, Gary remembers it as a “magical time.”
The next act is in 1981, a year in which two names were stamped deeply into the national psyche  — Wayne Gretzky and Terry Fox.
In writing this section, Lea was determined to understand hockey and the fascination with Gretzky, a hockey powerhouse for the Edmonton Oilers. As she jokes: “I did think there are people so passionate about hockey that if you do something that is egregiously wrong, someone is going to stand up and say, ‘No!’ 
As for Terry Fox, both Gary and Lea were deeply moved by his passion and by his death in 1981. They remember the way the whole nation held its breath in 1980 as Fox dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic and set off on a cross-Canada run for cancer research.  After 143 days — 5,373 kilometres — his cancer returned and he was forced to abandon his Marathon of Hope.
It was a tragic story, but also a symbolic one.
“Nobody thinks he is not a hero,” Gary muses.
“Not completing his run, not finishing, and still that’s a hero for us. Trying is heroic — in a way that’s just who we are.”

Let the games begin!

So, are the actors busily honing hockey skills in between rehearsals? The play does revolve around road hockey after all. 
Well, that’s where theatre magic steps in. Sound effects will fuel the audience’s imagination, and the set will complete the fantasy with its curbs, sidewalks and houses.  As the play’s various storylines unfold and the characters gain depth, it won’t matter whether the actors have scored any real goals.
“It’s sort of a metaphor for what we are doing,” Gary says.
“You never see the game — you see the aftermath.”
So, get your tickets! Pocket Rocket is not to be missed, whether you are a hockey player, an avid bystander or, most importantly, someone who loves great theatre. Lost and Found Theatre presents Pocket Rocket April 20-30, 2016, at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener.

Extra! Extra! To get you in the mood, a collection of short street hockey videos by artist Dwight Storring will be shown before each performance of Pocket Rocket.

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