Thursday, February 7, 2013

First-Person: Lauren Toffan on Half-Pint Theatre's Night of Shanley

(l-r) Lauren Toffan (Associate Producer), Esther Vallins (Artistic Director), Alanna Stone (Artistic Producer)

Why Shanley?
Half-Pint hits the boards with a night of works by the American playwright
by Lauren Toffan

When Half-Pint Theatre was first created 2 and a half years ago, the founding members and I agreed our mandate was to produce "passion projects" - those shows that one dreams of working on but are rarely given the chance. Our vision was to collaborate and explore these works with other artists who share the same enthusiasm, so that audiences would be given a show that has been cared for, nurtured, and brought to life with the vibrant energy of those who are compelled and inspired to tell the story. While we were in the midst of producing our inaugural production of Jonathan Larson’s, “…tick, tick…BOOM!” Esther Vallins, Artistic Director, told me to take a look at John Patrick Shanley’s, Women of Manhattan, one of her most beloved plays. 

I had been aware of Shanley’s success with the Oscar Winning screenplay Moonstruck and the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning production of Doubt, and his highly acclaimed Danny and the Deep Blue Sea but I had never even heard of his earlier works. After reading Women of Manhattan I was in awe of how connected and involved I felt in the lives of these characters. I realized that is exactly what I want audiences to feel when they leave the theatre after our productions. Soon after “…tick, tick…BOOM!” Esther and Alanna, Artistic Producer and I decided our next production was going to be Women of Manhattan because as it turns out, we all felt the same way. The downside though…it is a 75 minute play and we wanted to give the audience a little more. We started reading some more of Shanley’s works and discovered his 20 minute one-act play, Welcome to the Moon.  It was comedic, it was dark and it left the reader or audience wanting more of the characters.  It was perfect to pair with Women of Manhattan. Thus, we decided to make this year’s production a tribute to one of our generation’s most beloved and controversial playwrights, John Patrick Shanley. 

Shanley, based on my experience has not been a household name like Anton Chekhov, Tennesse Williams, Oscar Wilde or Arthur Miller, but his work is just as moving, just as thought provoking and just as, if not more so, uncomfortable for the audience to watch. The beauty behind his work is that he creates characters who are already at the breaking point between love and rage and they must face their true selves in order to keep going. That is where his plays begin, and that is why we chose to honour him. Shanley’s work is captivating, brave and honest. As Associate Producer I can speak for all the members of Half-Pint Theatre when I say we are excited, curious and thrilled to bring A Night of Shanley to Toronto!

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