Sheldon Elter, as Clem, and P.J. Prudat, as Mary, go through rehearsals for The Ministry of Grace, running Feb. 4 to March 1 at the Belfry Theatre. Photos by Peter Pokorny

Actors asked to find a spirituality for new Belfry production

Playwright/director Tara Beagan’s The Ministry of Grace tells Indigenous tale of challenge, love

Tara Beagan’s play will finally see the light. The Ministry of Grace, which Beagan wrote and is directing, debuts Feb. 4 at the Belfry Theatre.

The Ntlaka’pamux playwright says “it feels absolutely right” to stage the long-developed play at the former church.

“It’s one of those funny Canadian plays that had its time in workshop and its been read off the table for a long time,” she says, noting that the story was refined through Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto. “It really feels right that the piece should come to fruition here.”

The story follows a Ntlaka’pamux mother, Mary, who answers a call for labourers in California, before being hired as part of a travelling evangelical show and renamed Grace. What’s interesting, Beagan says, is getting actors to interpret what is “a pious devotion” within the play, such as learning certain hymns. She says it’s rare to work with actors who have “any kind of active practice” going to a formal church.

“It’s kind of a funny translation process where we have to go ‘what was that for people, when church was such a common part of community and a way to create community.’ What is that to us now?”

For actors, Beagan says, that communal place is the theatre. It’s a place where they find connection and reward by going to work, and “seeing colleagues at work.” So they work from there.

“It’s interesting to move from the secular into the more spiritual and sacred,” she says, “[and] figure out a way to speak to that that is really authentic and doesn’t feel like a superficial layer.”

It’s the third day of rehearsals at the time of interview, and she isn’t shy in praising the actors’ work so far. It’s a little scary how great this cast is, she says.

“These actors are phenomenal,” she emphasizes the last word. “They’re just so keen, they’re so ready to go, they’re already lifting off the page a whole bunch, they’ve done their homework,” she says.

Like many of her plays, Beagan says, The Ministry of Grace is about love and how to keep hold of it when facing challenges.

“Because this is an Indigenous story, the love and the difficulties are wrapped up right inside of laughter. So I think anybody will find it’s a story they can relate to and they’ll be glad they left the comfort of their homes for this telling.”

Tickets are available online tickets.belfry.bc.ca, by phone at 250-385-6815 or at the Belfry box office.



editor@mondaymag.com

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