In speaking with playwright Nicole Moeller, it seems like The Preacher, The Princess and A Crow is one of those plays that just won’t go away. It’s been biding its time over the years, with opportunities to develop it coming up from time to time, ultimately culminating in its world première at the Backstage Theatre May 18 – 27.
Murray Utas approached Nicole years ago about writing a play for he and Steve Pirot to bring to life. While Nicole had difficulties writing a play specifically for Murray and Steve, she says the final image of the play appeared to her, along with its central character, and she was compelled to write the story of Jasper, a former street preacher tasked with saving the princess while being tormented by a crow.
After hammering out early drafts of the play, Nicole put it aside until the opportunity to do a 15 minute reading of the play at SkirtsAfire herArts Festival and later the Alberta Playwrights’ Network’s Script Salon. After back and forth between planning on presenting the play through Azimuth Theatre and various obstacles cropping up, the timing was finally right to present the play this year. Working with Dramaturg Tracy Carroll, Nicole re-immersed herself in the world of the play and finished up the script and moved into rehearsals with Director Murray Utas and actor Steve Pirot.
Nicole says The Preacher, The Princess and A Crow is largely driven by the main character, Jasper. “He’s a really marginalized guy… He’s locked himself inside his apartment. He’s plagued by this crow – sort of the devil in the form of the crow, who always appears to him and follows him. So, it’s his battle with this crow and he’s locked himself inside this room in the inner city urban core, so really isolated but in the midst of all these people.”
In speaking with Nicole, it appears the character of Jasper came to her almost fully formed. “I knew he was a former street preacher, I knew he was somebody who felt he needed to be saved, but couldn’t be… This character who believed he had no soul and believed he couldn’t be saved. ”
Despite not having been written specifically for Murray and Steve, Nicole knew The Preacher, The Princess and A Crow was perfect for the pair to work on. “Both Steve and Murray understood Jasper right away – and he isn’t an easy character at all to understand. Steve is an incredible actor in the way he just jumps in and tries things and has a sense of rhythm and a flow of text…Steve is very poetic in his approach to things – he can get the rhythm.”
While Nicole recognizes that some audience members may read Jasper as having a mental health issue, she did not write the character with a diagnosis in mind. “I could just tell his mind was very busy, I knew he was very isolated and a very traumatized guy. I could tell all of those things but I don’t think about mental health when I write because it maybe isn’t authentic to what he’s going through.”
Rather than a particular mental health issue, Nicole says she was interested in exploring how people deal with traumatic experiences. “I’m interested in as people how we push our pain down and how we repress that. It’s interesting to me how it manifests itself later in our compulsions and addictions. That’s sort of universally what I see and am interested in exploring. The crow representing our own compulsions, our addictions, our shame, our guilt and the things that won’t leave us alone and the way we try to cure ourselves and try to be rid of these things and each time the pull to them is so strong. The play also deals with some trauma in that trauma early in life can trigger mental health issues.”
Azimuth Theatre and Fringe Theatre Adventures, who are co-presenting The Preacher, The Princess, and A Crow have arranged the Backstage Theatre’s space in such a way that only 50 tickets are available to each performance – so, be sure to get your ticket early. Of this artistic decision, Nicole says, “I felt that the space should be small, because he’s locked himself in and he’s sort of trapped. I wanted to create that trapped feeling… He’s really opening his soul and heart and being so vulnerable. I think it’s a more powerful show when it’s more intimate.”
The Preacher, The Princess, and A Crow plays at the Backstage Theatre May 18 – 27. Tickets are $23 – $30 through the Fringe Theatre Adventures Box Office. There will be special performances throughout the run:
Tuesday, May 23: Relaxed performance and all tickets are pay-what-you-will
Wednesday, May 24: Post-performance panel discussion on mental illness, pay-what-you-will
Thursday, May 25: Azimuth Theatre fundraising event, “Escaping the Stigma” (tickets for this performance are $30)