Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on June 29th, 2005.
With legislation allowing same-sex marriage recently passed in Ottawa it sometimes seems that the place of homosexuals have in our society is all anyone is thinking about. Other times it seems like there is nothing left to say on the subject, as both sides have argued their sides of the issue passionately for months and even years now. Yet just when it seems like there is nothing new to say on either side comes a new play called Orchard Drive, which examines growing up gay from a local perspective.
Orchard Drive’s writer and director Christopher Grignard grew up in Kelowna and knows first hand how hard it can be living as a homosexual in our town. The play is set during the summer of 1997 when Mayor Walter Grey sparked controversy for refusing to sign a proclamation in support of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day.
“I needed the story to have a specific backdrop,” Grignard says about the decision to root his play in the city’s recent past, “I needed a reason for my four characters to get together in a basement on the west side, to perform an adaptation of a play called the Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. So they’re going to do this play for the Kelowna Pride March.”
The Pride March did occur that year, despite Grey’s refusal to sign the proclamation. Like Grignard is doing now the characters in the play use the theatre to deal with the city and its uneasy relationship with its own gay and lesbian community.
“These boys are using the theatre in order to face their city’s ignorance, and it’s to show that this is our strength and they’re going to use the theatre to show how they feel,” Grignard says.
Actor Garett Spelliscy who has appeared in several local productions previous to Orchard Drive, notes that the summer of 1997 is an important point in the city’s history. “Walter Grey is still the mayor and he’s been convicted by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and we still don’t have pride here. It’s an historical drama but 1997 isn’t ancient history. We’re still talking about today in the play, we’re still talking about what’s going on right now and the need to get up and say something.”
With strong and passionate feelings on both sides of the issue in 1997, feelings that remain as strong today, both Grignard and Spelliscy acknowledge that the play has the potential to dig up old wounds and cause controversy.
“It has a lot of controversial content,” says Spelliscy, “not just that it’s about gay people but what we’re doing on stage and what we’re saying on stage.”
Spelliscy laughed, “This isn’t Fidler on the Roof.”
“What I’m really happy about,” Grignard adds, “is that people who’ve read this play is that they’ve said that the play doesn’t pull any punches. I’m really happy with that. I have no control over that I just have to write what I feel needs to be written.”
The play however is not controversial just for the sake of attracting attention or causing a storm of letters to the editor in local newspapers. Grignard says that he wrote what he felt needed to be said, as opposed to writing for the sake of getting a reaction.
Spelliscy, who performed in a local production of Cabaret, is no stranger to appearing in controversial plays, and knows that Orchard Drive has the potential to cause a stir in town. “With theatre in Kelowna when we did Cabaret there was young people that were dancing in the chorus and in that play we’re all scantily clad. But people went nuts and started writing letters to the editor and people went crazy. Cabaret is a relatively safe play, it’s a mainstream musical.”
He adds, “We’re changing the theatre scene in Kelowna by bringing this play, because we’re not pulling punches and we’re saying what we believe.”
Orchard Drive will be ushering in changes to the Kelowna theatre scene in concrete ways as well, as it will be the first production to make use of the rehearsal hall of the Kelowna Community Theatre as a black box space. Set up to hold slightly over a hundred in a limited seating venue use of the venue brings a new dimension to local theatre.
With all four characters named after local street names, Spelliscy for example plays Harvey, and with the focus on such a specific local event Orchard Drive is a rare chance for Kelowna theatre goers to see something that reflects a national issue from a local perspective.