With the upcoming debut of The Last Wife, directed by Glynis Leyshon, the talented play director continues to prove why she’s regarded as one of Canada’s most respected artists.
We caught up with Leyshon to discuss everything from the show to her favourite dates in Calgary. In the interview, she talks about the connection to her work, the keys behind her success, her TV guilty pleasures, and more.
What’s The Last Wife about and what attracted you to directing it?
The Last Wife is a story about the relationship between King Henry VIII and his last wife, Katherine Parr. Katherine is a strong, smart, independent woman who’s forced to marry a man who has had 5 previous marriages, few of which ended well. The play focuses on Katherine and her struggle for equality, and her struggle for a place in a world very much dominated by men. The play brings the Tudor politics into a contemporary setting with modern language, sets, and costumes. So it’s very current.
I think as a director I’m interested in doing plays with strong ideas, and strong themes that I connect with on an emotional level. I was particularly attracted to Kate Hennig’s use of language, themes and ideas.
What are some of your favourite dates around the city?
You know, I love Calgary and I’ve really enjoyed visiting over the years. For me, I love having dinner at Charbar in the Simmons Building because on one side of the restaurant you are in the city, and then you turn your head and people are rafting down the Bow River. I’m also a big fan of the Deane House. I think it has a phenomenal brunch. One of my favourite memories of visiting the Deane House is sitting in their sunroom during a snowfall, and it was perfect. Calgarians are lucky. You have a great scene here.
What are some of your top 3 must-watch TV shows and movies?
I’m an HGTV addict. I love that and the cooking channel. They’re my go-tos. I’m kind of stuck in reality television. Because of my schedule, I usually binge-watch a series long after it has aired, like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. And because I work so much at night I’m usually several years behind everyone else.
Some people believe theatre is a dying art form – what do you believe theatre does better than any other art form, and what keeps it an exciting medium to work in?
Who believes that? That’s so not true! Theatre is about sharing a live moment with a group of people. It‘s not passive, like film or streaming. It’s a public gathering, and what is happening for you in that moment will never be repeated in quite the same way ever again. I don’t think people truly understand just how dynamic the relationship between a play’s audience and its actors is.
Theatre is storytelling that’s both personal and universal: it gives people an avenue to experience and understand their own feelings and emotions through the story, and it can give us insight into the perspectives of people who are different than us. A good playwright like Kate Hennig takes you on a ride, and you might have an experience you weren’t prepared for. In experiencing all the complex motivations that drive a man like Henry VIII, because he’s a complicated villain, a man might experience the woman’s perspective in a play like The Last Wife in a way that might change something significant in his own life. That’s what I truly love about theatre and why I would be desperately sad if your opening statement were true.
As one of Canada’s most respected opera and theatre directors, you've earned a lot of respect and success in your career, a field that for a long time was dominated by men. What strengths do you bring to the table as a leader?
When I was starting out, I was actually the first female director at many opera companies. It’s hard to believe, but true. As a director and as a leader, you have to be yourself. I learned this very early on. I recognized that somebody like a Christopher Newton for example, a revered artistic director, was exactly what you thought a director should be. He was a very distinguished looking man with an English accent, and a lot of gravitas, you know? I remember in that moment wishing I was different than who I am, but you learn quickly you can only be who and what you are.
I’m not afraid of the process of exploration. I think a lot of people want to push their vision for a finished product, as opposed to being prepared to see and shape the experience in the rehearsal studio.
The Last Wife touches a lot on the theme of female empowerment. In your opinion, can you tell us why these kinds of stories are important?
I think this is one of the critical questions of the day. I think there is an astonishing lack of understanding of, and respect for women in powerful positions. I am astonished by the lack of opportunity for women that still exists. I say that especially within a global context. It’s not coincidental that the United States managed to respond to a powerful candidate like Obama but were unable to be convinced that a woman could be president. I think we are still facing some very real issues.
For me feminism is a humanism; it’s valuing humanity. When Kate speaks from the heart about some of her experiences in this play, it is every woman speaking.
The Last Wife kicks off Alberta Theatre Projects 2017 - 2018 season and runs from September 12th - 30th.
Join us at Babes Who Brunch on September 16th where every attendee will receive a ticket to the show. Buy your tickets here.