Calgary playwright Michaela Jeffrey said getting the news from Alberta Theatre Projects was devastating – at first.
Her play, Without Rule of Law (WROL), wouldn’t have its world premiere and close out the 2018/2019 ATP season as planned. Instead, it was replaced by The New Canadian Curling Club, a production from Ontario playwright Mark Crawford.
Jeffrey didn’t want to get into the details of the split. Instead, she and her team made up of what she called motivated and determined actors and production professionals chose to move forward.
“The conversation we had was, “what do we want to do as a next step?” Jeffrey told LiveWire Calgary, noting that because the play was in development with ATP for nearly two years, everyone involved had a substantial stake in it.
“It was about mentally changing course and saying, “what else is there and what else can we do and how do we do this?’
“The beautiful thing was there was such an amazing outpouring of support for me and for this project and for this team of people from all over the country – and beyond – in terms of a desire to help, a desire to support and desire to do something to help move it forward.”
The group decided they believe in the play enough that they wanted to give in another life.
Jeffrey said a full production of WROL was still going to be in development for seven months. It had been contracted as a developing piece.
“While I’m very excited about where it is currently, we wondered if sending out a play in development via email was the best way to get people excited about it, promote it and move it forward,” Jeffrey said.
In some cases, Jeffrey said that’s the best way to do it. But, this one, a play whose theme resonates deeply with her, needed to have a reading.
“(We thought) If we could show (other artistic directors) why we’re excited about it, what is fun about it and what the theatrical potential of it is and put its absolute best foot forward, for people who might subsequently be able to give it a premiere – or even beyond a premiere, giving it a run somewhere,” she said.
“When the decision was made, it was full steam ahead.”
And so, they scheduled a reading.
Jeffrey called it a “children’s story for adults.” She said think Stranger Things or the 80s movie, Goonies.
When asked what the play is about, Jeffrey paused.
“It comes from a multiplicity of different places,” she said.
On one level it’s rooted in campfire stories and urban legends and their connection to awful things happening to young women. It led her to think about her own experiences as a girl and what you report to the people around you, like parents or teachers.
“It’s the realness of certain things that are sort of taken as hyperbole. We don’t really listen carefully to children. Particularly female children,” she said.
That’s where the character development began.
Jeffrey said she created her main characters – 13-year-old girls – specifically to be in that purgatory between childhood and adulthood.
“It’s a really intermediary phase between having no autonomy or authority being a child, and concerned enough about your world and your life and having genuine worries, anxieties and fears, but not yet in a place where you have any autonomy or authority to control those things,” Jeffrey said.
The girls are preparing for the end of the world – or a Without Rule of Law state. It was born from the YouTube ‘preppers’ movement. She said it jokingly was pitched as teenage girls who’d defected from the Girl Guides because they don’t fundamentally believe they’re being taught what they need to know in order to inherit the world they live in.
“They don’t believe that what is being offered to them reflects the actual state of things,” Jeffrey said.
That’s where the conflict begins.
They set out to find a better way forward. They’re rejecting the current world they live in, in search of a new paradigm.
“They look at it like, can you really truly be in revolt of something that kind of let you down in the first place? Or are you at that point just accepting that maybe the world at large isn’t going to prioritize your best interest,” Jeffrey said.
“It’s from a place of dark comedy. We start it from a place where we believe these young people might be a little over the top with actual survival gear because the world might end at any moment. By the time you get to the end you’re thinking that it’s maybe not that far off the mark.”
As far as readings go, Jeffrey said the support has been unprecedented.
“It’s a play reading on a Monday night,” she said.
“In my experience you’re lucky to get 30 to 40 people out.”
The support from the Calgary arts community and the national theatre community was overwhelming.
They filled the 190-seat Big Secret Theatre at Arts Common and a waiting list swelled. The play began reading at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 17.
They won’t do another reading. Jeffrey said they believe Without Rule of Law belongs on stage with a full production.
“It’s a desire to fight for a full opportunity and with a full production context, realize the potential. We want to make sure that happens,” she said.
“To me, I continue to feel it was and remains a worthy piece and a project that has value and deserves to be out there and deserves to be fought for, and I will keep fighting for that. Because I believe in it and I believe in these artists.”
The reading is a culmination of the team’s efforts to find the show a home. Jeffrey showers praise on all of the members of the team. She said the “proactive, motivated, self-producing-minded people working on the production pushed it forward.
And now they will wait.
They’re hoping their determination will pay off and Without Rule of Law will find a home. They’re hoping it gets a premiere. They’re hoping it gets a full run somewhere.
“Whatever happens next there’s no guarantees that it stays intact. We kind of wanted to have a celebration, a last hurrah. We might not get a full rehearsal period and run of the show but we get one night and we’re gonna do it and we’re gonna watch it,” Jeffrey said.
“This isn’t the last step. This is the first, next step.”