Art imitating life, kind of

Playwright Trish Cooper doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story

Set in River Heights, there’s lots of Winnipeg flavour in Social Studies, the new Prairie Theatre Exchange comedy by Trish Cooper, one of seven local female playwrights that’s debuting work this 2013/2014 season.

Cooper, a local actor, writer and comedian, has already put together some short works for the PTE Playwrights Unit, but Social Studies marks the first time she’s created a full-length two-act play.

“I didn’t realize I had that opportunity until I got involved with the Playwrights Unit,” Cooper says. “It took me a long time to put a plot in place, as opposed to just episodes, and that’s where it really helped to have that sort of guidance. PTE really wants to develop and produce new works written by local people who might not have a ton of previous experience yet.”

The play features a mom (played by Marina Stephenson Kerr) who decides to take in a refugee from Sudan (played by Richie Diggs), much to the dismay of her oldest daughter Jackie (played by Alix Sobler) she has returned home after breaking up with her husband and is forced to sleep on the living room couch.

Cooper says the script is partly inspired by her real life experiences, as her own mother really did take in a Sudanese refugee before she moved back home.

“I mostly used that as a springboard because I knew there was an opportunity for some comedy,” Cooper says. “The true story about what happened with the guy is way less interesting. He was really nice, we had some interesting conversations and then he went on his merry way. I also think my mom feels the need to put a disclaimer on the poster and say ‘That’s not actually me.’”

Local actress Jenna Hill plays Sarah, Jackie’s 16 year-old sister that happens to be writing a school assignment on the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, who were displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).

“It’s really fun being a teenager again and there are a few scenes that really remind me of tiffs I’ve had with my mom and arguments I’ve had with my sister (Broadway actress Samantha Hill),” Hill says. “There’s one part where I go into the fridge to sneak some food and my mom slaps my hand and takes it away because there are guests coming over and that just reminded me of something my mother would actually have done.”

While Hill performed in Shakey Must Die at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival and has had experience with musicals through the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, this is the first big role for the 24 year-old, who graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Theatre.

“I had given Prairie Theatre Exchange my headshot and resume awhile ago and eventually Bob Metcalfe [PTE artistic director] contacted me and asked me to audition for the part,” she says. “It’s been great working with such a strong cast of people who I’ve been able to learn a lot from along the way.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)

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