McLean McLain

Just realized this.

I just finished as Laurie McLean in Vimy.

I am just starting as Curly McLain in Oklahoma. Who marries Laurey Williams, becoming Laurey McLain.

How crazy is that?

What stays with me

During the run of VIMY we would centre ourselves as actors before the show by having a little scrum on the stage before the show. Some called it our “energy circle” and we each looked forward to it. It took us to the place we needed to be.

Basically, we stood in a circle and held onto the person beside by hooking arms on each others shoulders. Some would close their eyes, others would stare ahead, up down, whatever.

It worked for us. It was profound. For me it conjured visions of myself in places I can’t even describe. It was a moment that, while unexpected, I think we all looked forward to every night.

On closing night we invited the entire crew to take part, and so we had a circle of many more than usual in Victoria Hall. I think it affected us all in different ways, and I haven’t come back from that place yet. Not fully.

Not sure if I will, ever.

Last post. The story of Vimy for me

A man standing alone in the darkness, picking away. Chink chink chink.

He reveals a little bit of light. A pinprick, shining, and he glances around.

Normally, this is where the stories end, before they’ve started, with one little idea, snuffed. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

But this time, he glanced around and saw he was not alone, but joined, and he saw that the light grew stronger with their presence. He saw that the source of the light was no longer the little pinprick, but the people around him. They positively glowed with their own brightness, and together as they surrounded the darkness, they became a thing unto themselves.

Like sisters and brothers.

And that is our story of Vimy.


Joel VartySome people say the meaning of life is all about your perspective.
Some say that the meaning of life is perspective.

That seems like a bit of a cop-out – like we can just leave it there and move onto other, smaller things. 

It was an interesting audience last night – a hundred or so fourteen and fifteen year old kids from a private school.  There was a bit of chatter and whispering, probably some illicit texting, and a few silly reactions to things that really weren’t very silly.

The thing is, I was that kid, once.  I once sat there and didn’t see what was right in front of my face.  There was a time, not so long ago, that I didn’t pay any attention to the world as it passed me by.

But in between then and now… something clicked.  I don’t know what it was, or even if it was a specific time or place, but I didn’t forget those years, or what happened, or who influenced me, or who taught me things. 

It is stuck in here. 


Tonight, another show, another audience.  Kids and their parents, this time, including my own two.  I’ve spent time telling them about the show, about the war, about Vimy, about what it might have been like to live in that time.  Who knows how they’ll react? 

There’s mystery in that, you know, that I wouldn’t trade for all the sold-out shows in the world.

more later – joel


One of the things I dread as an actor is coming out from backstage and seeing a whole troupe of folks waiting to see the cast as they emerge.  This is a really nice way for family and friends to shake hands, give hugs, and generally share in the spirit of the moment, especially right after such a ride that Vimy is. 

However, just as I spend so much time preparing to appear onstage as a character, I spend little or no time preparing to see that same audience as JV.  I mean, how could I?  I don’t know what the reaction would be.  The weirdest thing is when folks don’t recognize me at all, or they pretend they don’t, because the relationship that worked fine as stage actor/audience member has now broken down because the invisible line has been crossed.

Aside from all that strangeness, I want to share a few reactions I received over the weekend from people who had just seen Vimy.  I won’t say these are exact quotes, but they are as close as I can remember:

I can’t stop thinking about Sid’s last line.

I thought of my young father and what he must have gone through.

It’s great to see community theatre doing theatre that is relevant to it’s community.

Marlena as Clare is extraordinary.

It just stays with you.

I won’t say I enjoyed it, because that would be an insult to those who died, to say I enjoyed what they had to endure, but I will say it was excellent, and it needed to be done, and I needed to see it.

Amateur, professional, I don’t care.  This is just great theatre.  People who know theatre have to see this.

On Sunday, I was sitting waiting for church to start and a couple of friends of mine came up to me.  One was carrying a shopping bag.  She says to me, ‘We were going through some paintings yesterday, and we found this.  We’d like you to have this.  And here is our ticket from 11/11/11 so you can keep them together.  It’s by a local artist.’

I opened the bag and took out the painting, a watercolor.  Poppies.  With something else, in gray, in the background.  A rifle stuck into the soil and left, abandoned, with a helmet hanging from the stock.  The penciled in title read ‘We will not forget’. It took about two seconds, but something got caught in my chest as I tried to say thank-you to her and and I had to throw my arms around her so she wouldn’t see me break down.  Never had that happen before.  I’ll frame the picture and invite people over to see it.

Four more shows this week and then all that’s left are the memories.


more later – joel

Vimy preview tonight, opens tomorrow, 11/11/11

Layout 3Layout 1vimy-poster 2


We are ready to go.  Tonight’s preview is for the peace-week group from the Cobourg YMCA, and there is a question and answer period with Vern Thiessen and the whole team after the show.  Thiessen will be appearing via live video feed.  Should be interesting.

I was poking around Amazon the other day and saw my original review of this script:

Vern Thiessen has created what I consider a masterful play that revolves around an essential part of the the Canadian experience. Many believe that Canada became a nation during the battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI, and this play samples from that idea.
This play is beautiful in its use of time and memory in a surprisingly contemporary cross-section of folks from Canada. The staging is simple, and though the stage directions are sparse, it reads in a very visual way.
Read it, and if you can, see it.

Still fits.



Like a mother waits, for a child, for him, to linger in the door
That is how I wait, that is who I wait for

Like a sister waits, for a younger brother, and the older
That is how I wait, for when they grow no older

Like a father waits, for a daughter to return, and a son
That is how I wait, not for war to be won

Like a brother waits, for ones he loves, out past the line
That is how I wait, until to me your fate does assign

Like a tide, like the darkness, the dawn, the silence
I wait for your stories to end this endless violence

I wait

About the trailer for Vimy

VOS Theatre has started making video trailers for their productions.  It’s a good way to promote a show online, and it provides a better way for us to display the kinds of things that the show will represent onstage.

For Vimy, I wanted to show some of the faces in the show, along with some of the spare but evocative set pieces that have been built, as well as the excellent costumes and replica weapons and webbing that have been constructed for the production.

And, more than anything, I wanted to show off Bea to everyone.  She’s the lifeblood of the show, its force and its direction.  When I first met her, it struck me how strong a vision she had for the play, and how much she wanted to see it come to life.  I took only a few or her comments for this clip, just enough for us to tease out a bit of what we might see in the play.

Keep in mind, too, that this was filmed in the VOS Barn, which has “wonderful” fluorescent lights, so I put in only two shots of actual rehearsal footage.  One shows the four soldiers as they are coming into the front-line trenches, the other shows Clare and Laurie on a picnic by the ocean.  I hope that this shows some of the breadth of scope that an audience can expect here.  I put the rehearsal scenes in black and white and added a spotlight effect to dispel some of the glare of the barn lights, and to give a bit more depth to the limited space.

The sounds underneath are from the actual soundscape, which was produced by Todd Charlton, of Stratford.  The way he mixes and blends the sounds of war with waves and thunder and Chopin are just… more than words can say. 

The coolest thing about this play is that it is so cinematic, playing with time and incorporating dreams and flashbacks into the timeline.  Bea has shown absolute commitment to her vision of the story, and her imagination has taken us to places that make for some truly remarkable and beautiful theatre. 

“It’s a crie de coeur.”

Hopefully some footage or at least some photos of the actual stage will be available soon to give you another taste of what is to come on the 11th.

See you there.

more later – joel