Citadel Theatre: What is your character’s name and how would you describe him?
Ashley Wright: I play Stan, the bartender. He lives in the town of Reading and about four years prior to the play’s start, he had an accident in the factory, so his leg is injured. Stan is a bartender, and kind of like the conduit for all of the characters – they all go through him. Everyone comes into the bar, talks about their problems, their joys, their sorrows. It’s interesting because the audience kind of sees the town through Stan’s eyes.
CT: This play is set in an American city. What makes it relevant to a Canadian audience?
AW: I think it’s very relevant. I was just reading the paper this morning, and I saw that the General Motors plant in Oshawa laid off 2,500 people. Anyone can relate to factories going out of work, or people who don’t have a lot of extra skills that need to go at a late age in life to re-educate themselves, and re-train. It’s a pretty universal story in that sense.
CT: What are some of the themes of the play that you think Albertans will relate to?
AW: Alberta being a boom and a bust province, that’s kind of what’s happening in the States – and what did happen in the States in the 2000s. The whole play revolves around the factory being on strike and the workers being locked out. I think Alberta - even more than some of the other provinces - we know what it’s like to have our jobs on the line, for big companies to move to the States or to Mexico to make more of a profit, so I think it’s very relevant.
CT: You play a bartender. What are your interactions with the other characters like?
AW: I feel like Stan is a bit of a … it’s sort of that trope of the bartender being everyone’s sounding post. He serves a slightly different function, but definitely is a counsellor, a friend – he sees both sides of the story. He’ll get mad at someone, like Oscar, another bartender, and then two scenes later, he’s defending him to others who are at the bar. He’s kind of like an Everyman.
CT: What are some of the ways in which you relate to your character?
AW: I feel that there is a lot of me in Stan. We always try to find those similarities. I feel like I’m a good listener. I have opinions. It’s very different – in this play, Lynn Nottage (the playwright) talks about it a lot – she says ‘These people aren’t polite. They’re not Canadian. They’re American. They’re blunt and upfront.’ So maybe that is a bit of dissimilarity to me, but he’s just an all-around good guy.
CT: What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing this show?
AW: I think for the folks who aren’t in that world, who don’t work in a factory, or aren’t necessarily reliant on a paycheque month to month, or week to week, will have a new insight into what happens in these places. Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2008, when all the factories left, it was – not a ghost town, but it was completely changed, completely restructured. That’s what’s happening a lot in the Rust Belt. I think we kind of know what’s happening out there, but we don’t really know. It’s definitely a different voice and a different insight into those people’s lives.
CT: Did you do some research into the Rust Belt towns, like Reading?
AW: Oh, for sure, because there is a lot out there. It’s interesting that Lynn Nottage, in writing
the play, went to Reading and interviewed all the people there, so what you’re getting is a
glimpse into real lives, real people. It’s not that it’s verbatim theatre, necessarily, but it’s
certainly a very good reflection on those people’s lives.