At age seven, Vivian Douglas hung some velvet curtains on the family clothesline to direct her first play.
This fall, Courtenay Little Theatre’s Enchanted April will be her 46th production as a director. The romantic comedy opens at the Sid Williams Theatre on Oct. 3.
“The cast is lovely,” says Douglas. “There are some new faces to Courtenay Little Theatre but everyone has some stage background. And it was exciting to see so many new faces at auditions. When there’s a lot of talent sometimes you have to make casting decisions based who will work best opposite this person or that one.”
Based on a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, Enchanted April is the story of two British housewives who escape rainy England to spend a month in an Italian castle. Their getaway plans don’t include husbands and the sudden appearance of spouses causes unexpected complications.
“I don’t want to give too much away but there are some amusing misunderstandings and catastrophes,” says Douglas. “Matthew Barber, the playwright, used a delicate touch to introduce some elements of farce.”
“The dialogue in a play often doesn’t give a lot of clues as to why someone is reacting in a certain way,” she adds. “The cast and I all read the novel so that really helped with the characterization.”
Behind the scenes crews are adding those special touches that make each Courtenay Little Theatre production so special.
“We have some very seasoned people, such as Maybeth Hoagland and Terry Penney, producing Enchanted April and we’re incredibly fortunate to have visual artist Kari Glass painting the set,” Douglas adds. “She’s doing a great job of painting what looks like the bricks of a centuries-old castle.”
The first act takes place in London. Numerous scene changes are accomplished by moving tables and chairs around to generate the ambiance of a fashionable ladies club, church vestry and so on.
Act two is set on the terrace of a castle in sunny Italy.
“The cast keeps requesting field trips to Italy for research,” says Douglas with a smile. “Although that isn’t possible, we do have a cast member who lived in Italy for six months, which is perfect as all her lines are in Italian.”
Bringing the script to life
As director, Douglas’s goal is to bring to life what’s on the page.
“You have to have a vision to make it work,” she explains. “The challenge with Enchanted April is to mesh the comic and poignant. In the first act we use four chairs to create the scenes, while the second set is much more natural. I have to work with the two contrasting emotions and two totally different sets to form a cohesive whole.”
But Douglas has a wealth of experience to draw from. Raised in Britain, she obtained an honours degree in drama at Manchester University following that with postgraduate theatre studies in Manchester and at Goldsmiths’ College, London.
As a former actor in the UK, Douglas worked with actors and directors from The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic and others.
One of her fondest memories is of her first professional experience playing alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the 69 Theatre Company’s production of Daniel Deronda.
“I only had a small role but I learned so much watching Vanessa and everyone else,” recalls Douglas.
After immigrating to Canada, Douglas ran the drama department at North Island Secondary School and had the pleasure of seeing several students go on to professional careers. Douglas moved to the Comox Valley nine years ago and wasted no time joining Courtenay Little Theatre.
“They’re great to work with,” she says. “So professional and we all have so much fun.”
The award-winning community theatre’s upcoming production won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New American Play in 2003 and was nominated for two Tony Awards the same year.
nytheatre.com wrote, “Enchanted April is that rarity: a play where every single element falls perfectly into place…leaves you positively glowing.”
Enchanted April runs at the Sid Oct. 3, 4, 9-11 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 5. Tickets, available at the theatre, are $22 for evening performances and $20 for the matinee.
Or you can purchase a package deal for all three Courtenay Little Theatre upcoming productions and receive $5 off the price of each ticket. For more info visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or www.courtenaylittletheatre.com.