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Q&A: artistic director Katrina Dunn on the stage adaptation of Terry Fallis’s The Best Laid Plans

Terry Fallis

Terry Fallis

Vancouver’s Touchstone Theatre and Patrick Street Productions Music Theatre are collaborating on a stage adaptation of The Best Laid Plans, Toronto author Terry Fallis’s 2008 political-satire debut novel, winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the 2011 edition of Canada Reads.

The musical, written by Vern Thiessen and with music and lyrics by Benjamin Elliott and Anton Lipovetsky, premieres at Vancouver’s York Theatre, and runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3.

Q&Q spoke with Katrina Dunn, Touchstone’s artistic director, about the production.

How did the play come to be?
We commissioned it. The idea came from Peter Jorgensen, the artistic director at Patrick Street Productions and the play’s director. He’s a real fan of the book. I’d been doing work in Vancouver trying to seed ideas for new Canadian musicals and help them develop and be successful. He and I were chatting, and he said, ‘There’s this really great book, I think it would make a great musical.” Then when we were looking for people who would be good adapters, [Governor General’s Literary Award–winning playwright] Vern Thiessen came to mind. I was especially interested in him because he’s a former speech-writer himself, like the main character of the book, and I thought that would be a fantastic connection and that he would understand the world of the protagonist. He’s also a political junkie, and that’s really important for this play. We had to have somebody who really digs that world, is invested, and knows a lot about it.

What makes this title particularly good for the stage?
The tone of it. There’s a critique implicit in the book, but it’s still very upbeat and full of heart. There’s also a bit of a sweet naïvety to the story that has a kind of first-book feel to it, and I think that emotion really does well in musical theatre.

Has either group done a book-to-stage adaptation before?
This is the first book adaptation we’ve fully commissioned from the ground floor all the way up to production. Touchstone has done a couple of musical [adaptations] where something has already been created and we come on board at some point, and we’ve certainly done productions of Canadian musicals that have been produced before. And Patrick Street, which mainly does more well-known but more interesting American musicals, has done a lot of musicals of different types. But this is the first time this group of people has taken something from the idea moment through all the processes to develop it right through to opening night.

Was the timing of the release with the forthcoming federal election intentional?
It wasn’t intentional right from the beginning, because of course that was four years ago, and you never know what’s going to happen. But when it became clear that we were going to be producing around the time of the election, we were very sure that we wanted it to debut before the election. There are two elections in the play itself, and there’s a lot of election talk and election comedy. We felt that would fall a little bit flat – I mean, I think it will do well in other productions afterwards – that if we put it out just after the election, it would feel a little anti-climactic. I think it’s just a really nice convergence that those two things happened.

What are your hopes and anticipations for the play’s reception?
I noticed a lot of people love this book. We did an in-progress showing at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival last year and it was great, lots of people came out. People were coming up to us and asking, “Are you going to do this part of the book?” or saying, “Have you cut that character? Because we don’t like that.” A lot of people – especially because it was adapted into the CBC miniseries – are very invested in this book, in its characters, and in certain events that happen. I just want to assure readers that you won’t be missing anything. It’s very true to the text, and especially to the iconic moments from the book, which we tried to keep and highlight.