Twenty-one years ago, Matthew Payne and Sarah Donald walked into a Victoria coffee shop and transformed the venue into a romantic comedy.
The venue was the first space Theatre SKAM used to perform their first play, Plane Jane — a six-and-a-half minute piece about a couple that meets on an airplane.
To mark its 20th anniversary, Payne and another Sarah (Sarah Murphy) will return to the same coffee shop (Bean Around the World Coffeehouse) to perform that same play, along with the premier of Text Ed. The two short plays are part of SKAM Remixed: The Ami Project, and are written by one of SKAM’s founders, Amiel Gladstone.
For Payne, revisiting a play he first performed more than 20 years ago is a walk down memory lane.
“The script is 21 years old but it’s been reinvented and retold and Sarah is bringing out different things,” said Payne, noting the performance will also take place on the same day it did 21 years ago with the same admission price. “It’s quite nostalgic for me.”
Theatre SKAM was formed in 1995 by four emerging artists — Donald, Karen Turner, Gladstone and Payne (their first initials make up the name SKAM). After 12 years as an ad-hoc project-based company, Payne took over as artistic producer with a mandate to move the company to year-round operations.
Building a reputation as creators of innovative site-specific work, the company now operates with two part-time staff, supporting local artists and has performed in Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, France and Nanaimo.
Payne describes the last 21 years as a wonderful blur. He’s the only one still involved in the day-to-day operations and admits it was a challenge at times keeping the company together. There’s been cuts to its operation funding at the federal level and performers have moved away, but Theatre SKAM has managed to stay alive thanks to regional funds.
“Other than my own stubbornness or determination, depending on the day, I’m not sure what else is sort of driving the heart of it,” said Payne, noting the company recently hired an operations manager. “It’s pretty exciting to be entering a new era.”
Last year, Theatre SKAM performed a dozen shows and partnered with many other companies — something Payne said they haven’t been able to do a lot of in the past. One of its most successful touring shows is Fashion Machine, which will be taken to the U.K in May and performed at a number of venues.
Text Ed, the second performance for its upcoming Victoria show, is a new 30-minute play that was originally written for a teen audience about the joys of being on your phone too much. Gladstone, who now works as a freelance writer and director in Vancouver, originally wrote the play for Green Thumb Theatre, but it was never produced.
“It’s a play that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day...There was something kind of delightfully twisted about a play that’s intended for a teen audience and putting 40-year-old actors into those parts,” said Payne. “It’ll be fun to see what happens. We described it in rehearsals as a cross between a Scooby Doo mystery and The Breakfast Club.”
The Ami Project takes place Jan 12 to 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $5 to $15 depending on the night. For more information visit skam.ca or call 250-386-7526.