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Through the eyes of a Canadian female collective

Behind the Scenes with… Act 3 Theatre

A collage photo of the the 25 Women in the Act 3 Theatre Collective
A collage photo of the the 25 Women in the Act 3 Theatre Collective

     Forces of nature all and with a richness of spirit that will be heard, this emergent collective of mature female actors is working the process with their well-honed and crafted skills.  The 24 members, aged 50’s and up, have a formidable array of honours, kudos, and awards.  While many of them met and got to know each other at auditions 25 years ago as young moms, their professional lives as actors had diverged.

     The inspiration for Act 3 Theatre came during the spring of Covid-19, from Dufferin County resident Marni Walsh and Toronto actress Debra Hale.  Walsh started working in professional theatre for Blyth Summer Festival at the age of 17 while Hale has performed on stages across Canada including Theatre Orangeville.

    During one of their conversations, they had found themselves coming back to the lack of representation in the theatre for older women.  Reflecting on the female actors they knew,  Walsh said that they soon realized that this was highly significant and “a demographic that included some of this country’s most creative, energetic, and reliable performers.”

     They then reached out to their networks and, as Walsh recounted, “within a couple of days of that conversation, we had a fantastic group of over 20 incredibly talented, acclaimed, mature, professional female performers.  (They) were eager to work and build something unique together that put their thoughts and perspectives about women on stage.”

     Hale commented that, “When Marni came up with the Mary-Go-Round concept the excitement was palpable. We all had Marys spring to mind.”

      The backstories of people in this group are not only fascinating in and of themselves, but illustrate the greater gestalt this troupe is aiming to represent.  Details and the unfolding of women’s lives are the backdrops of their stories that speak to that larger theme. 

      Walsh continued explaining their original premise and observations.  “This culturally diverse group has a wealth of experience in life and theatre, they have built careers, raised families, and contributed to their communities – they have a lot to say about the lives and history of women.” 

      She created the concept of The Mary Go Round Project which literally will revolve “around the metaphor of a human carousel. The carousel or Merry-Go-Round serves as a visual representation of the social constructs which have historically constrained and confined women.”

      “The central thread, and common denominator in every scene, is a character named Mary. Act 3 Theatre’s many Marys will hail from both fact and fiction, (famous and infamous alike), with each scene addressing issues that have shaped the lives of women throughout time.”

      Walsh continues to elaborate on how “the Mary stories are influenced by our own stories and by lives lived both real and imaginary.  They are universal stories about women and our creative reflection on the issues that matter to each of our members now in (the third act) of their theatrical journey.”

     The production literally will revolve around the Mary-Go-Round, with the different Marys stepping off the carousel to share their story.  As riders step off into their individual stories, they will be supported vocally and visually by the cast of riders, the other Marys, on the Merry Go Round. 

     The process this group is using involves each member writing a number of 10-minute scripts for scenes that will be then chosen to comprise the overall show. The development of a cohesive script with strong editing is ahead of them yet.  Currently, they zoom and do conference calls as each member writes her pieces and puts them forward for critiquing. 

     With actual rehearsals and the production of this show slated for mid-year or summer of 2021, this leaves the troupe a goodly amount of time to collaborate.  As the Act 3 Theatre collective approaches this point, there is yet one more crucial role to fill.  They will be casting about for strong sponsorship to mount this production.  

      Walsh observed that, “There is a level of support and camaraderie in this group that you would be hard-pressed to find in many businesses or cooperative organizations.” With all of their other ingredients in place, the formidable talents, enviable credentials, and proven track records, the Act 3 Theatre collective is poised for success.  The considerable investment of time these seasoned actors have committed to the Mary-Go-Round Project can only underline the worthiness of investing in this production.

       Theatre in Canada, from shore to shore and what is in-between, runs the gamut from the commercial productions and their hoped-for longer runs in the metropolitan centres of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, to the established theatre companies, independent troupes, summer stock, and small theatre. 

       The fringe festivals in Toronto and the illustrious originating fringe event from Edmonton can be steps along the way for a production to be picked up by a mainstream theater, sometimes moving on to become a TV show, as with Kim’s Convenience, a stage show written in 2011.

      For the Act 3 Theatre collective, their focus is on the present and the joy they are finding in the process.  While many of them are reconnecting with each other, for all of them it is a chance to reflect on where they are and how the significance of their journeys is what gives shape to this production.  It is a compelling vision that has galvanized this whole group to work towards a common end, which is phenomenal given the stressful times of this pandemic. 

      Walsh offers an overview of the members of the group which “include established and award-winning Toronto performers and writers like Tabby Johnson, Brenda Kamino, Rita Deverell, and Stella Rose.  Additionally, there are Stratford vets like Jane Spence and Broadway performer Kerri Clarke; seasoned directors and musical theatre greats like Marcia Tratt; as well as published writers like Jasmine Da Costa, the author of “Curry Is Thicker Than Water;” performer, playwright and one of Obsidian Theatre’s founders, Trisha Williams; as well as entrepreneurs like Moxie Production’s Bonnie Anderson and more…too many talents to describe them all.” 

       Both Hale and Walsh assert that, “Our goal is to be ready for rehearsal when theatre spaces open once more and we are progressing very steadily towards that end.  (We are) encouraged by the inspiring creativity, passion, and encompassing support that comes with the wisdom of years.”  Adds Walsh in reference to this illustrious group of actors, “It is an honour to know them, let alone work beside them.” 

      As the coordinators of the Act 3 Theatre collective’s endeavour, Walsh and Hale also have the accolades and experience to shape and shepherd this creative outpouring successfully to its production launch.   Both are professional members of Actra and Equity, Hale with an Honours BA in Drama and Fine Arts from Guelph University and Walsh with a BFA Special Honours in Performance from York University.

       Their professional association started at Cullen Theatre where Walsh was Artistic Director and General Manager of its dinner theatre for more than a decade and first met Hale when directing her in The Dining Room in 1987.   Ms. Walsh is a professional actor and writer who also has worked in several theatres, film, television, and commercials. She is the concept writer in the compilation and editing of this script for the Mary-Go-Round production.

       Ms. Hale has worked steadily across Canada as an actor and writer, appearing frequently in film, TV and commercials.  Many of her own scripts have been professionally produced including, I Won’t Tell a Soul, Heads Will Roll, and the touring hit, FREEDOM 85!,  which was produced at nine theatres including its premiere at the Frigid New York Festival where it won awards and “captured the hearts of New Yorkers”.

       Debra Hale comments that, “Our scripts are so diverse in content, style and approach. It will make for a very exciting exploration of the lives of mature women.”   And so I say, let the play continue for in fact it has already begun as the curtain rises on the Act 3 Theatre collective.

Logo for Act 3 Theatre

      Potential sponsors for this compelling and fierce production may reach out to Marnie Walsh at mwalshwrites@gmail.com.


Behind the scenes with … is a column Connie Munson, local photographer, artist, and writer, has developed to share an inside look at the creative process within various arts organizations. She is a director on the board of Headwaters Arts, which has their gallery in the Alton Mill Arts Centre in Caledon, a member of several other arts organizations, and may be reached at ellie73m@gmail.com.

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