Young Jen Lee’s We’re Gonna Die has been lauded internationally, and in Calgary, for over a decade—even gracing one of America’s preeminent performance venues at the Lincoln Centre.
It also played to rave reviews from critics in 2012, during a touring performance at Theatre Junction Grand.
We’re Gonna Die returns to Calgary at the end of this month, with Verb Theatre hosting a production of the play one of the city’s newest performance venues at Theatre 1380.
Actor Elena Belyea, who recently performed in sketch comedy show Gender… I hardly knew them, will be stepping into Young Jen Lee’s role during the April 28 through May 6 run.
“The title is obviously provocative. My experience, the first time that I read it, was that I expected it to be like quite visceral or painful to engage with,” said Belyea.
“What I was surprised by is that I actually, I find the show itself quite gentle.”
The play is structured around a singer who, through the course of the show, comes to grips with life’s losses, in oftentimes both sad and funny ways.
“She talks really early on in the show, acknowledging that as people, we all know what it’s like to be in a feeling of being really isolated, or alone and in pain,” Belyea said.
“It’s not really kind of a thing that often feels very appropriate to talk about.”
Hardly dark or all-encompassing, Belyea described the feeling that audiences will walk away with is like getting a hug. A very entertaining, musically filled, and highly choreographed hug.
“I think the kind of main hope or goal of the show is to offer audience members something so that if they are in pain, or the next time that they feel that way, that the show kind of offers something,” she said.
“Whether it’s a detail from one of the stories or the experience of the songs themselves that can maybe offer some comfort.”
To that, the tag line of the show is “you may be miserable, but you won’t be alone.”
Back to Calgary, with some changes to keep the play fresh for audiences
Belyea said that she literally screamed when she heard that she would be getting the part, as Lee was one of her favourite playwrights.
“I screamed and screamed at the top of my lungs as though like I had fallen ill… my partner came in with like, ‘oh my god,’ and I was like ‘I just got this show,'” she said.
She said that although director Kathryn Smith offered her the opportunity to view archival performances of Lee when she performed at the Lincoln Centre, she declined.
The goal, said Belyea, was to come up with her own interpretation, which extended to modifying the ending dance routine.
“It’s not just about my character, but also figuring out my character’s relationship with the band, because that is also a really huge part of it,” she said.
“There’s a giant dance sequence near the end of the show, which is such a delight. Lee had written really specific choreography, and we’re gonna take some of what feels fun to us in that, but she’s also in the scripts really clear about being like, ‘take whatever this works for you guys.'”
Like Lee’s performance in 2012 at Theatre Junction Grand though, Belyea will be backed by a full band.
Guitarist Sacha Crow, bassist Caleigh Crow, and drummer Gus Rendell will be performing on stage alongside Belyea.
This will also be the first time that Calgary audiences will be able to see Belyea on stage with Caleigh Crow, whom both graduated from the University of Alberta and have been working as actors and playwrights in Alberta.
“The experience of getting to just jam with my friend is so wonderful,” said Belyea.
“We will be having a good time together and my hope is that there’s an invitation for the audience to know that they’re invited to have a good time, and they’re welcome to the party as well.”
For more details on We’re Gonna Die, see www.verbtheatre.com/season. Tickets start at $10 and go to $45, and are on sale now through Verb Theatre’s website.