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In 1999, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, whose restless writing spirit has often played around with our ideas of staging plays, came up with a startling concept: his House and Garden brought two plays with the same characters, in different situations, staged at the same time with the same actors. There’s even a name for it – it’s called a diptych.
Now skip ahead almost two decades and we find Daryl Cloran, then the new artistic director of the Citadel, wandering around in his new theatre – and actually getting lost in the hallways and offices. “I thought ‘we have so many spaces it would be great to use them at the same time.’” The idea marinated in his mind throughout his first year as Artistic Director but was never far away. He placed a call to Kat Sandler. Over the past 10 years or so, Sandler has written (and acted in or directed) a series of impressive successes for a number of Toronto companies, filling halls with enthusiastic patrons, garnering a mantle full of awards (A Dora – Toronto’s top accolade – and others) and forging a reputation as a fearless writer. Proclaimed the playwright, “Our mandate was to create theatre for people who don’t like theatre. The idea was to choose event-oriented, funny, fast-moving plays.”
Then came the call from Cloran and the idea of writing two plays performed at the same time with the same actors. What drew him to the writer/director/actor? “She’s very smart and funny and can take off on various topics. I needed someone who was willing to take a crazy risk.”
“I thought it was cool,” Sandler chuckled on the other end of the three-way call. “We knew we wanted a comedy but I feel that a real comedy should be rooted in some real stakes. In comedy or drama, no matter how crazy or silly, they have to have some basis in reality.”
The intention in the format was to show what is happening on the other side of the story. The thought being – we may all have starring roles in our own lives but we have mere walk-on parts in other people’s lives. In Ayckbourn’s play, when characters leave the stage, they continue to exist. “So I started to think of subject matter. Something current that is affecting everyone. With characters that are larger than life. We needed something that we could all laugh about. Or at. Of course the answer is – politics.”