Much Hope for Hopegrown
Concordia Theatre Group Debuts Around Miss Julie at Fringe Fest
If having playwright and director Harry Standjofski as a professor has taught his students one thing, it’s that—in the theatre world especially—you have to create your own opportunities.
As a group of recently graduated Concordia fine arts students, Miriam Cummings, Lindsey Huebner and Samantha Megarry have realized that now is the time to create those opportunities.
“Why wait around for someone to give you a job when you can make one for yourself—at least for now,” said Megarry, now the co-founder of theatre company Hopegrown Productions with Hubener and Cummings.
Like most actors entering today’s theatre world, the group’s members know that stage success will not come easily.
“There are so many people who have the same dream,” said Cummings. “It’s a vicious cycle because it’s difficult to get work if you’re not part of a union, but it’s also difficult to be part of the union without professional credits. I think that it’s an inspiring thing to do, to create opportunities for yourself.”
Through Hopegrown, the graduates found not only the performance opportunities they were looking for, but also the chance to work with like-minded performers.
“Throughout the years we’ve wanted to work together, but due to the nature of the [theatre] program and how productions are run here, you don’t exactly get to choose who you work with,” said Huebner.
“This was a cool opportunity for us to make our own dream team.”
Embracing this new sense of freedom, Hopegrown needed to decide what kind of opportunities they actually wanted to make for themselves. One thing they had all noticed throughout their years in the theatre program was the lack of female roles, both in plays throughout history and in contemporary theatre.
“It’s not just Concordia’s problem. It’s everywhere,” said Hopegrown director Norah Paton. “There aren’t plays that have a cast of three or more fleshed out female characters, other than The Vagina Monologues —and we all did that!”
“Just in terms of employment numbers, think about any other industry. If you were to say there are this many positions available for men and this many for women in the medical field, that would be ridiculous. There would be a huge up in arms,” added Megarry.
“It just so happens that with theatre and with film, you’re playing a character that has a sex assigned to it and so right now there are just less jobs available for women.”
Coupled with the larger number of aspiring female actors, the theatre world is less than kind to actresses. For Hopegrown, focusing on creating female roles was the best way they could make a change in the theatre world, while also creating opportunities for themselves.
The group’s goal is to develop interesting, well rounded female characters—and ideally having more than one in any given show. As female-oriented as the goal is, however, Hopegrown is not set on portraying women as perfect, or ignoring men in productions.
“What we want to get across is that it’s a full-bodied character with fallibilities and flaws. We want to depict reality in the way that a male-centric show can about a man,” said Huebner. “That same kind of critical dialogue with the audience about the character, we want that to take place here too.”
“ Around Miss Julie certainly is not a feminist attempt at social change. It’s a story about people, and a bunch of those people happen to be women, and that’s unique,” added Megarry.
The play is accessible to all audiences however, including those that might not be as passionate about the need for change in the gender dynamics of theatre.
“It’s four people, trying to find their way in the theatre industry and regardless of their sex, everyone is a little crazy and has their quirks and their problems,” said Graham Berlin, the only male member of the play.
“I think that’s what’s important to represent, whether you’re a man or a woman.”
Around Miss Julie was written by theatre professor Standjofski, who took on the task of writing a play that countered the women’s secondary role in theatre. After approaching Standjofski with their project, Hopegrown members ended up with a show to make their own.
“With a script like this that’s never been performed before, it’s really exciting that it’s my interpretation first,” Cummings said of acting in an original production.
Founded last fall, Hopegrown’s project has grown from a group of Concordia theatre students to professional actors, as they premiere their first production at The Montreal Fringe Festival, before touring the world.
“There’s this huge sense of community, so much other stuff that ends up going on,” said Paton of the Fringe festival. “There are people from all over the world—it’s a smorgasbord of theatre and theatre people.”
Besides a great opportunity to be surrounded by diverse and interesting theatre, festivals like Fringe are also financially beneficial to the actors.
“One of the fantastic things about Fringe festivals across the globe is that the profits go back to the artists,” said Megarry. “As young actors starting out, it’s a very complicated business to try to make any type of a living in, this is a really great way to launch into the industry and be able to feed ourselves.”
She was also clear on the fact that organizing a project like this was not easy. Hopegrown launched a crowdfunding effort and successfully raised $5,000 to tour the show in Ontario as well. They’ll also be bringing the show to Edinburgh later this summer.
“Our project kept growing!” Megarry said. “We would have a great idea for a fundraising event, and then a city would get added onto the tour, something would happen that would increase the total budget of the project.
“A big part of our goal for this is that we don’t want it to be a volunteer thing for the people we’ve involved. This is a job, it’s a business endeavour.”
“On top of that, we were all in our final semester of university,” added Huebner. “There was a whole plethora of commitments to school and productions and planning for our futures that was happening concurrently with trying to get all this off the ground. It was a lot of things coming at us at once.”
All that being said, it’s their dedication to the project that will make it possible for the curtains to go up on June 15.
“It’s a personal investment, which I think has a different quality to it than a school show,” said Paton. Not that you’re any less committed [to a school show], but I would take it harder as a person if this show were to fail.”
“Graduating is a scary, scary time,” said Megarry. “Becoming an actor is a scary, scary time, always. It was having faith in ourselves, in our team members, and in the project that kept us growing.”
For showtimes and more info, visit hopegrown.ca.