by Maja Ardal
Maja Ardal was born in Iceland and educated in Scotland. She studied theatre at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before emigrating to Canada where she has worked for 40 years as actor, director, playwright and professional theatre trainer. Maja wrote and performed in You Fancy Yourself which was originally created and performed in Canada. Maja then took You Fancy Yourself to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, followed by a tour of South East England. The show will form part of Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company’s 2012 season.
In the Autumn of 2009 I was invited with my solo show, You Fancy Yourself, to come to England and tour to Sussex, Surrey and Kent theatres and community halls. My host, Gavin Stride of Farnham Maltings had seen my show at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto where my company, Contrary Company produced it in association with Theatre Passe Muraille. I performed at the Edinburgh Fringe that year, and the tour in England followed shortly after.
I spent my childhood in Scotland, and thought I would feel a familiarity with the countryside I was driving through, but in fact I had never been to that part of England when I lived there, and I found the drives delightful as our tour van wound down narrow tree-lined roads, past thatch-roofed houses, and through towns and villages that felt at times like I was passing through a Thomas Hardy novel.
The UK rural touring venues were extremely varied. I played a grand old theatre, and I played a tiny schoolhouse; in a small theatre over a pub, a school gymnasium stage, and a lovely community hall with a red velvet curtain that I could not resist using, as my show had never had a curtain rise on it before.
My favourite places to perform were the smaller communities, who were often raising money from the sale of tickets to my show for a cause. These performances were always sold out, and the audiences had a celebratory feel to them. Several of my performances ended with a thank you speech and a bouquet. One time when I was standing waiting to go on, the church minister who had launched an arts programme in a tiny schoolhouse got up on the podium (the smallest playing space I had ever used) and announced that they had raised more than budgeted on this one show, and the audience cheered, as did I. There is something very special about the collaboration between a theatre person like myself and the good works of a community. It gave me the feeling that my show had even more power than the pleasure of the experience. Professional arts and community arts can have a terrific partnership in so many ways. It seemed that theatres that were offering the show to the general public had more trouble generating sales. This gap intrigued me and made me want to delve deeper into community relations. Here in Canada I have been inspired to do so with my recent work, and this has a lot to do with the wonderful tour I did. I so enjoyed the travelling as well, sharing stories with my delightful and very competent young stage manager Jemma. I would do a tour like this again at the drop of a hat!
The South East England tour of You Fancy Yourself was produced by Farnham Maltings.