Three Big Stars in Something Small

Something Small

andrea lee norwood, heather rankin & deb allen
photo by janet e. maclellan

After his critically acclaimed play Bingo delighted audiences at Neptune Theatre and his captivating one-man show (created with Daniel Brooks), This is What Happens Next, graced Eastern Front Theatre’s season last year, world-renowned playwright/actor/director Daniel MacIvor brings a brand new play, Something Small, to Nova Scotian audiences this August. The play has a star studded cast including Dame Deborah Allen, Heather Rankin and Andrea Lee Norwood. I was thrilled to sit and chat with these three lovely ladies at the Living Room in Halifax on Saturday afternoon. Here’s how that went!    

Amanda Campbell (AC): Would you please tell the TWISI readers a little bit about yourselves and your careers in the theatre?

Deborah Allen (DA): I’ve been working in theatre since the 1960s. I started as a teenager and worked here and elsewhere and came back. My home base is Halifax now, but I do a lot of character work for stage, film, TV and radio.

Andrea Lee Norwood (ALN): I am an actor… pauses to think for a moment

AC: You won a Merritt Award….

ALN: I did. Once upon a time I won a Merritt Award for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at Neptune in 2006. I’ve been acting professionally for about ten years. I do plays. I’ve worked all over the province. I’ve toured with Mermaid Theatre doing their puppetry shows. The last couple of years I’ve started to do a little bit of film here and there. (Andrea’s film Bunker 6 will be screened as part of the Atlantic Film Festival in September).

Heather Rankin (HR): I’m from the band formerly known as The Rankin Family. Laughter. Cheers from Deb and Andrea. Most recently in the theatre community here I was in Bingo at Neptune Theatre and I feel very fortunate to get to work again with Daniel (MacIvor) and these two fine actresses.

AC: Do you recall your first experience or introduction to Daniel MacIvor? Either the man, the work or the myth?

DA: I’m trying to remember which one I saw first. I saw him performing one of his own pieces. Was it House? Yeah. It was House. I particularly remember his performance. Any time I have the opportunity, I will watch him on stage because he is fascinating.

ALN:  Before I had taken the Pre-Professional Training Program at Neptune or done any kind of professional work I saw one of the Dal[housie] Productions and they had done You Are Here. That must have been 2002? I remember being quite struck by it, especially because, it’s sad that this has to be a thing, but he writes women well. I remember being struck by that and being like, “Oh! A woman on stage talking and doing things and she’s not just talking about her relationship with a man! Awesome!” I remember really enjoying it.

AC: That was the first MacIvor I saw too.

ALN: Yeah!

DA: He gets the voice. He really gets inside people’s heads. As in our piece, it is three very different women and he does that successfully, I think. So, that helps us as actors too. There’s a lot of good stuff to mine there.

HR: During the years that I was making music and touring I didn’t get to the theatre very often and I had not been introduced to Daniel’s plays at theatre school. But, I had always heard whisperings of Daniel MacIvor and my introduction to him was the film Marion Bridge. I had a small part in that film and then [being cast in] Bingo. Then I made sure that I read all his plays. It’s hard not to be enamored with him because he is just so very gifted.

AC: He IS. Can you talk a bit about this new play Something Small and the characters that you play?

DA: Don’t give anything away!

ALN: The basics is that we have Deb’s character who is a widow, who is well to do and has moved from the city to the country to a large home because her health is failing somewhat, so she needs to hire a housekeeper to help her keep up this big house, which is the style that she’s used to. So, she hires Heather’s character-

HR: Birdy

ALN: Birdy.

DA: It’s interesting because I’m a difference in status person who gets parachuted into this community and it’s like one of those “Come From Away” people arrive and how is she going to be received? “Am I going to like it here?” And what happens through the play will tell you how it goes for her. It tells a good story, but we’re not going to tell it yet because you have to come see it! The 7th to the 10th at Chester Playhouse!

AC: Yes! That was a good plug! (To Andrea) So who do you play, missy?

ALN: And I play Dell who is Birdy’s daughter. We’re living together. I’ve moved back in with my mother with my two young children. It’s just me, there’s no father in the picture. And we-

HR: Have an interesting dynamic.

ALN: Yes! And the dynamics grow and change. And our two characters meet Deb’s character, Patricia-

HR: I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding that happens-

DA: In the Getting To Know You time. But, it turns out- the positive conclusion is that it’s good for everybody. Everybody’s a winner in this play.

ALN: Also, everyone is sort of a different person with someone else. For most of the play, but for one scene, the scenes are just between two characters. So, you get to see how my character behaves when she’s with her mother and then how differently she behaves when she’s with Patricia.

AC: Oh, that’s interesting!  How is it for you playing a mother?

ALN: It’s wonderful. Not that I am a mother, but so much, the majority of my career, I’ve been playing kids and playing teenagers. It’s nice to play an adult, which is what I am.

AC: You are.

ALN: It’s difficult to play something that I’m not. In fact, even when I was a teenager I didn’t really feel like a teenager- to some extent.

AC: You were like a teenager in a Daniel MacIvor play.

ALN: Yes. An Old Soul. It’s a pleasure to get to play an adult with adult motivations.

AC: That’s lovely. I like that a lot.

ALN: Me too. Laughs

AC: How about you, Heather? What’s it like playing the mother of an adult?

HR: It’s a little bit challenging. I like to be in the child role. Laughter. In my real life I think I have been for a lot. You know, working with my family and that whole dynamic… I think for a long time I’ve been in the situation where I’m very much a follower… so it’s a challenge. But, I’m enjoying it.

AC: You touched on how well Daniel writes female characters and I’m struck by how this play features an all-female cast. A lot of MacIvor plays are either entirely female or entirely male- so I was just wondering if any of you would like to speak to what it’s like working in an all female cast. It shouldn’t be a rare occurrence, but it still is, and it’s interesting that the play comes from a male playwright.

DA: It provides a different objectivity because it’s a male voice and trying to interpret the women. Yeah. It may be one of the things that attracted me to doing the piece just because I think these are three lovely roles for women. I thought this was a good opportunity to explore this particular woman and this triangle of women. It’s a neat study, I think.

HR: Yeah, he has written this play about three women- each from a different generation all facing their own set of challenges-

DA: It pits people together who otherwise might not have met, but the way our story unfolds they come together and it’s a really interesting chemistry that happens. From the women we see at the beginning to the end of the play, we see how their lives are changed and what they each get [from one another].

HR: And it sort of gives you an insight into life and how we can meet someone and perceive them as being a certain way when, in fact, we all have many faces and we all wear different masks in different situations and you see this evolution of these three people relating with one another through the story.

DA: It’s an interesting analogy to how Heather, Andrea and I are approaching our work here because we haven’t all worked together before so, in a way, it’s kind of the same story. I’ve worked with Andrea before. I’ve only worked with Heather for about two minutes. So, we’re kind of finding out about each other and our characters in the same process. So, it’s a neat exploration. Deb shrugs

AC: Theatre is often heralded as being about BIG concepts, BIG ideas and tackling BIG subjects, but this play is called Something Small. What do you think the allure is to the small in this play?

DA: Maybe we alluded to it before, but just small gestures and small things that happen in daily life and how little things can change people’s lives. That’s what we see happen in the play. People’s trajectories take a different turn because they meet Birdy or they meet Dell. I, [Patricia], didn’t know I was going to have any of these experiences when I came to this small crossroads, which is a beautiful place but I don’t know anybody, but then it changes my life. I could have just stayed in retirement mode and had a very different kind of experience where I was. [The move] has opened a big window for me.

HR: I think “Something Small” is alluding to many things on different levels. Many of which I think are better left to be revealed during the play. But, it is often the simple things that can reach a person.

AC: What has it been like working on a new work with the playwright in the room and having the playwright as your director?

ALN: I think we’re all aware that we don’t have a lot of time and the more big, big, big changes that get made, the harder it is on everyone. The work seems quite finished, to me. We haven’t made a lot of big changes.

DA: And it’s not every day that you get to have the playwright on the end of the phone-

ALN: The insight that he has into the intentions is SO HELPFUL. Huge relieved exhale of breath. REALLY GOOD.

AC: Yeah. He’s pretty smart.



ALN: He is though.

AC: I find often, because Daniel is so prolific, that his new work gets compared to his older work in terms of how they are similar to one another. This interests me less than the question of what is new in each piece. In your experience, from your perspective, what is new or different in this MacIvor play?

ALN: There are almost no direct address monologues.

AC: OH. That is very different.

ALN: Yeah. So, that’s pretty new.

HR: No direct address monologues YET. He’s still writing.

AC: You have how many days of rehearsal left?

ALN: There were a few in an earlier draft but he changed it. The next draft out they were all disseminated back into the dialogue.

AC: I’m always wary of quoting things Daniel has previously said, but he HAS said (sort of jokingly) before that in his evolution as a playwright, he’s going backwards. Normally a writer might start out writing very conventional plays and then build up to being really avant-garde; but he started out really avant-garde and is working his way back to plays that are more “conventional.” I think he said that Bingo was like, he wouldn’t have used this word, but his “masterpiece,” as far as writing something “conventional” goes… but you can’t really hold on to a masterpiece if you’re going to keep writing!

ALN: [Bingo] better not be his masterpiece!!

AC: No. At the time he was saying that Bingo was sort of his pinnacle of “mainstream theatre” I think then that Bingo was the last play he’d written to date. He’s still continuing to evolve as a playwright, obviously. Or “devolving,” if he’s going backwards maybe. laughs.

HR: Did you ask him that question? What’s different about Something Small?

AC: I didn’t. I haven’t spoken to him about this one, to be honest. I would like to.

HR: I would be interested to hear his response.

ALN: I like that there’s no direct address monologues. I think that the dialogue is very strong. I prefer this version. I can see why he made the changes he did. I think this is definitely the stronger draft.

AC: It must be interesting too, when you’re working on a new piece, to see the evolution of it because you feel like you have an idea of the process behind it.

ALN: Yeah!

HR: Yeah, and some of the back story of the characters was in the original draft-

AC: Oh, so that’s helpful.

HR: Oh GOD yeah!

AC: Do you think MacIvor’s work has a specific appeal to East Coast audiences because he is from Nova Scotia?

HR: The play is based in rural Nova Scotia, so that would have some appeal.

ALN: It’s nice to see your home reflected in a piece of theatre. But also, it all just takes place in some living rooms so that’s something that-

HR: Is relatable to anyone-

ALN: Living anywhere.

AC: How exciting or important is it for you as an actor to get to premiere a character in a new work?

HR: It’s a good way to get your feet wet in the business because you’re not being compared with anyone else. Whose done a better job with the role or how ridiculous your interpretation or embodiment of the character is…

AC: Right. It’s not like Hamlet.

ALN: Yeah. Laughter

HR: That would be SCARY. It’s kind of a privilege, isn’t it? To be the birthmother to a character.

ALN: YES. It definitely is. You’re right; it doesn’t come with any baggage.

AC: You’re also the FIRST

ALN: The first!

AC: You were the first person to play this part.

HR: Ever.

ALN: Yeah. It’s nice. I hadn’t thought of that. Why hadn’t I thought of that? That’s so nice. I like it.

AC: I like it too. And it’s exciting too that it’s happening HERE. In Chester. At Chester Playhouse. August 7-10th.

I hope you like it too. Go buy your tickets right now at this website before it all sells out.

Something Small plays at Chester Playhouse (22 Pleasant Street, Chester, Nova Scotia) August 7th- 10th at 8:00pm and August 10th at 2:00pm. Tickets are $18.00-$28.00. For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website or call the Box Office at 902.275.3933 or 1.800.363.7529. 

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