- Shelter From The Storm, written by Peter Boychuk and produced by Touchstone Theatre in Association with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre, June 1-9 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St., Vancouver. Tickets: firehallartscentre.ca or 604-689-0926. Info: www. touchstonetheatre.com.
TONIGHT marks the official opening of Peter Boychuk's first full-length professional production, Shelter From The Storm, at the Firehall Arts Centre and it will most certainly be a night to remember for the emerging Vancouver playwright.
After years of dedicated toil, Boychuk's provocative work exploring Canadians' changing relationship with Americans escaping war and seeking refuge north of the border is ready to be shared with audiences, and the moment will be one Boychuk will clearly relish.
"It's all just incredibly exciting for me to feel like I'm stepping up to a new level," he says.
Produced by Touchstone Theatre, in association with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre, Shelter From The Storm will close Touchstone's current season. Its run will continue until June 9.
Originally from Whitehorse, Yukon, Boychuk has long been active in theatre. He recalls taking the stage in his first show in Grade 2, playing the title role of Peter Rabbit.
"It was very exciting," laughs Boychuk, now 32. "Whitehorse has quite an active community theatre scene so I did show after show growing up."
He estimates that by the time he left the Yukon in Grade 12 to attend local Langley Fine Arts School, he'd been in 20 shows.
Initially believing acting to be his true calling, Boychuk enrolled in Langara's Studio 58, though eventually playwriting stole his focus.
"I got really interested in the storytelling aspect of theatre," he says. "As an actor, to some degree, even though you contribute enormously to the process, you're still sort of a cog in a wheel.
I got really interested in the bigger picture, the story that we were telling, the production, having more control over the lines and what I was saying. I guess in that way it just sort of felt like a natural thing to move into."
In 2011, Boychuk completed a master's of fine arts in playwriting at the University of Victoria, and this year, taught a first-year course on dramatic writing from a play and screenwriting perspective.
While he's had a great deal of success with a number of one-act plays, Shelter From The Storm marks his professional fulllength debut. He's grateful to his University of Victoria master's supervisor, North Vancouver-native Joan MacLeod, a Governor General's Award-and Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright, for her support of the work.
"She was incredibly helpful in shaping the script and getting it to a point where it would be considered by professional producers," he says.
Boychuk is also grateful to Touchstone Theatre for their willingness to present the play, through their Flying Start Program, in association with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre. The program provides an opportunity to new playwrights who have yet to be professionally produced. Once chosen, a development period follows leading up to the mounting of their work, and the playwright receives a $6,000 stipend, provided by the Vancouver Foundation.
Through Flying Start, Shelter From The Storm was workshopped by professional actors, and Boychuk was assigned a dramaturg, Martin Kinch.
Shelter From The Storm, while it's making its world premiere tonight, has already been awarded. Boychuk submitted the script to the 2011 Uprising National Playwriting Competition and it took second place.
"That was quite an earlier draft so we're all very excited about that and about where the script has gone even since then," he says.
Shelter From The Storm follows a young traumatized American soldier who is deserting his post in Iraq and comes to Tofino to stay with Rick, one of the thousands of young men who sought refuge in Canada to escape the Vietnam draft. Initially, Rick's daughter is against having the young soldier stay with them, but ultimately an attraction develops. Through the course of the play, Rick begins to understand how much Canada has changed in 40 years. A play about love and loss, Shelter From The Storm also questions our notions of courage and cowardice.
The work is based on actual events. Boychuk was channelsurfing one day and caught a news report detailing the number of soldiers in recent years who've abandoned their post, largely in Iraq, and come to Canada seeking sanctuary.
"Of course Canada had a great tradition of welcoming war resistors into the country. During the Vietnam War, we welcomed somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 draft dodgers and deserters into the country and they became an important part of the makeup of Canada," says Boychuk.
The report detailed how many of the current day war resistors had been sent back to the United States, having not been granted stay in Canada, and were facing prison time.
"I just thought, 'Wow, how interesting that in 40 years we have changed so much.' I guess I got interested in that, the shifting Canadian values," says Boychuk.
While Shelter From The Storm is a social commentary of sorts, Boychuk endeavoured to tell the story of the characters, rather than simply hammer home a political message.
"I think as soon as you do that you've failed as a storyteller. . . . I'm interested in human stories so I thought it was a dramatically fertile situation to dramatize," he says. "Obviously, underneath all of that there is a political message going through, but hopefully that shouldn't be the main thing. It's also quite an entertaining and engaging story."
For the play, Boychuk drew on his experience of, at one time, living in Tofino, basing the character of Rick, played by Peter Hall, on a number of people he's met over the years.
Boychuk is currently working on two new full-length plays, one is a Canadian historical drama and the other is a comedy about a Tim Hortons on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, called Fritters In Kandahar. He's also set to make his return to the stage for the first time in many years, joining the cast of Theatre Under the Stars' Titanic: A New Musical at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park in July and August.