In a theatre in downtown Calgary, actress Nancy McAlear is bringing a towering figure in the world of Canadian art back to life. She’s excited about the prospect of playing B.C. painter Emily Carr.
“She is a Canadian icon,” McAlear said.
“An incredible artist and a very interesting human being.”
Shawna Burnett is portraying Carr’s pet monkey, Woo, who was a big part of the artist’s life.
“Woo is quite a character,” Burnett said. “Woo really loved Emily Carr.”
The two performers are sharing the stage in the premiere production of A Love Letter to Emily C.
Produced by Handsome Alice Theatre, the play was written by Calgary poet and playwright Sherri-D Wilson.
“This play is about passion,” Wilson said. “And it’s about: how do we find the art within ourselves?”
The seeds of the project were sown decades ago.
“I was living in Victoria and I just started snooping around (Carr’s) life,” Wilson said. “She speaks to me because she was always an outsider and she was a strong independent woman.
“She was completely dedicated to her work and her animals and also to nature.”
The performers are also impressed by Carr’s independent spirit and they feel that almost 75 years after her death, modern audiences can still be inspired by her.
“Her love of nature — it’s a part of who we are and it was certainly a part of her,” McAlear said. “That love of the natural world and not destroying it.”
A Love Letter to Emily C runs May 4 through May 11 at the Big Secret Theatre in downtown Calgary.