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Queen's drama premiere production to open Isabel theatre

Orbit Rehearsal
Queen's drama student Maddy Schaefer Scovil, who plays one of Galileo's daughters in the upcoming performance of Orbit, uses a telescope prop during a rehearsal at the Power Corporation of Canada Studio Theatre. (Supplied photo)

When the Queen’s Department of Drama’s production of Orbit takes to the stage on Friday, Oct. 17, it will be a kind of double premiere.

Not only will it be the first show to be held at the Power Corporation of Canada Studio Theatre at the recently-opened Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, it will also be the first time the play will be performed.

“We will be the first performance to occur there, which is quite exciting because it’s a new space and a new play – all sorts of premieres,” says Adrienne Miller (Artsci’15), marketing manager for Orbit and a stage and screen student herself.

While Orbit revolves around Galileo Galilei, the father of astronomy and one of the great scientific minds in history, the play focusses more on his personal life, especially how differently he treated his son in comparison to his daughters.

The contrast is stark.

“As much as we are saying ‘stars and Galileo’ it is more a story about family and how women were treated at that time,” Ms. Miller says. “He completely cast off his two daughters to live with the Poor Clares as nuns. And we see him visit and he sends letters but we also see how he treats his son, who has a free life and lives off his father’s riches, while these daughters are in poverty in a convent. So it’s more of ‘here’s Galileo, this great man, but he’s very flawed, especially as a father figure.’”

Written by Jennifer Wise, associate Professor of theatre history at the University of Victoria, the play was initially commissioned to mark the Year of Astronomy in 2009.

With the play yet to make it to the stage, Craig Walker, head of the Department of Drama and an acquaintance of Ms. Wise, vowed that Queen’s would bring the piece to life.

A premiere is a rarity for a drama department and has already proven a valuable experience for those involved.

“It’s been interesting working with a playwright directly because normally with the drama department we’ll receive rights to a play and there’s usually not a connection like there is with this one,” Ms. Miller says.

Ms. Wise will be attending the preview and opening night and is also involved in a special advance event called “Orbit Under the Stars,” set for Wednesday, Oct. 8, starting at 9 pm.

Being held at the Queen’s Observatory at Ellis Hall, the event is a natural setting for anything Galileo related. Ms. Wise will take part in a question and answer session via Skype, while there will also be a demonstration of telescopes by local members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and a presentation by David Hanes, head of the Queen’s astronomy group.

The studio theatre at the Isabel has already proven to be a benefit for the drama department, says Dr. Walker, adding that the opening production will put its full potential on display.

“Producing this new play in the Isabel studio has been thrilling. While there has been drama at Queen’s since 1843, moving into the Isabel studio marks a major step forward for us,” says Dr. Walker. “In fact, the Isabel studio is the first purpose-built theatre the Department of Drama has ever occupied. It is far more advanced in terms of the possibilities for lighting, set design and sound than any space we have used up until now. In effect, the ceiling for aspiration has been raised, and so working in this space has encouraged everyone to ‘up their game,’ so to speak.”

He also points out that helping foster a higher level of work is the presence of professional actor Paul Rainville, in the role of Galileo. A veteran actor from the Ottawa area, Dr. Walker says Mr. Rainville “brings a presence and theatrical power to the role of Galileo which provides terrific motivation for the otherwise all-student cast.” 

The play opens Friday, Oct. 17, coinciding with the start of Homecoming, with drama alumni being invited. There will also be a special dram homecoming reception held after the play.

The show continues Oct.18, 23-25, 30 and Nov. 1 at 8 pm. Matinees are set for Oct. 18, 25 and Nov. 1 at 2 pm

Tickets are $22 for general admission and $15 students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at theisabel.ca/tickets; at the Isabel box office (12:30-4:30 pm); or at the door prior to performances.