"I wrote a version of this play two years ago as my final project for Roberta Barker's Gender in Theatre class at Dalhousie," says Gillian Clarke, playwright of Understudy. "Although the script has evolved since then, I have always wanted the central focus of the play to discuss the consequences of the social roles and pressures that we place on children." So, we meet Dylan, age nine, played by Clarke.
"He's a boy struggling with bullying, questions of identity and his clear miscasting as an understudy in his school's Christmas pageant. Dylan uses performance as a safe way to explore his most difficult feelings," Clarke explains. "The show also features Shakespeare, sequins and Shakira."
Clarke's performance as a young boy (Shakespearean, indeed) will draw attention to the audience's and society's assumptions of gender roles. In Understudy, she takes it to a micro level in the characterization of a boy struggling with who he is through prescribed identities. Subject to gender roles as children, at what age do we begin to push back against expectation, and how? Let Dylan answer these questions. Clarke is especially excited about the one-person performance aspect of her play.
"A one person show provides a higher level of intimacy between the audience and the performer. This relationship challenges the audience to be more active in judging not only the character onstage, but themselves," she says, "I hope Understudy will stimulate the audience to reflect on their role of allowing children to play the part in society that they feel most comfortable with, even if it does not fit within gender binaries."
Not everything is black and white, and Plan B's stage will offer a prism of possibility.