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Theatre’s backstage takes centre stage

Go to any theatre company in the world and you’ll come across an old actor who’s been on the stage for decades.

Go to any theatre company in the world and you’ll come across an old actor who’s been on the stage for decades.

Over the course of his career he’ll have played everything from the young foolish Hal in Henry IV, to the aged Polonius in Hamlet.

He’ll have great stories, and will want to teach you everything he knows about the theatre.

You must do your best to ignore him, said director Amiel Gladstone with a laugh.

Gladstone was loosely quoting an essay by revered playwright David Mamet.

A nomadic theatre director, Gladstone calls Vancouver home. But like so many in his profession he’ll go where the work is.

This month he was recruited by friends in the Yukon to direct the Guild’s production of Mamet’s 1977 play, A Life in the Theatre.

On Wednesday afternoon, sitting in a local cafe, it was easy to pick Gladstone out of the crowd.

Beside lawyers dressed in dark suit coats and button-down shirts, Gladstone stood out with his shoulder-length red hair, brown corduroy coat and pear-green scarf flung casually around his neck.

He looked like a man who came to Whitehorse to direct a play.

“It’s a funny bittersweet story,” said Gladstone of Mamet’s script.

“The thing about life is that you’re never really equipped for each stage.

“There are no guarantees you’ll be able to roll with the punches.”

A Life in the Theatre follows the backstage relationship of two actors — a stage veteran named Robert, played by Ken Bolton, and a promising rising star, John, played by Anthony Trombetta.

It’s about what they learn from each other and what it’s like to be an actor performing in show after show.

“We have this idea of actors being glamorous and exciting but the reality for most actors in Canada, especially stage actors, is a nomadic lifestyle that is filled with the day-to-day trials and tribulations,” said Gladstone.

“Then there’s the curse of the long-running show where you’re working, but you have to do the same thing night after night.”

Unlike other Mamet works, like Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo, this play contains just a few profanities.

But they’re doozies, said Gladstone.

“If you don’t like strong language then this is not the play for you.”

This is also one of Mamet’s least political scripts, relying on the power of the characters instead of on making a statement.

And it’s one that doesn’t see the footlights very often.

Although the characters are thespians, the play has wide-ranging appeal.

“These guys could be journeymen carpenters or office workers,” said Gladstone.

“There are definitely a few inside jokes, but a good production will be able to impart the universality of the story.”

It works on the idea that “all the world’s a stage” and as both the young and old actors learn their life lessons, so can the audience.

As a 12-year veteran of the stage, Gladstone can relate to the characters in the Mamet script.

For the past six years, theatre has been his full-time job.

“It’s a ridiculous way to make money,” he said with a laugh.

“I think of it as a big Tetris game: you don’t know how the gigs are going to fit, but you just line it up and slowly the pieces start falling and you get offers to do this play and this play.

“Hopefully they match up.”

On top of being a director and sometimes actor, Gladstone is a playwright.

He wrote Hippies and Bolsheviks — the story of two flower children and a draft-dodger trying to find themselves in 1970s BC.

 It has played in theatres around the West and will begin a run at Vancouver’s Touchstone Theatre in March.

The Guild originally planned to stage Caryl Churchill’s scathing satire Cloud 9, but too few people showed up for the auditions.

So switching to Mamet was a choice born from necessity.

“We were looking for a play we could cast,” said artistic director Eric Epstein.

But Epstein has had a soft spot for the play since seeing a production in London in ‘79.

“While it may not be prime Mamet, it’s still an interesting metaphor for life and relationships.

“Ephemerous, ephemerous …” he chanted one of his favourite lines in the play with a hardy laugh.

“I’m not even sure that’s a word, but it captures the magical quality that the play is taking place in this room at this time and then it’s over.”

A Life in the Theatre runs at the Guild Hall in Porter Creek from November 16 to December 2 on Wednesday to Saturday evenings at 8 p.m..

There are two preview nights on November 14 and 15 and November 22 is pay-what-you-can.