Curse of the Starving Class casts shadow — AND THERE'S A LAMB
The first thing you should know about the production of Curse of the Starving Class, premiering later this week on the campus of Thompson Rivers University, is that the cast is not entirely human.
The second thing you should know about the play is that one of the cast members — the interloper — is less than two months old.
The non-human, underage cast member in the TRU Actors Workshop Theatre production is a lamb.
But, the human beings taking the Black Box Theatre stage alongside the precious, adorable, oh-so-cute newborn sheep don’t have to worry about their fluffy co-star taking top billing.
That’s because the lamb doesn’t have a name.
The animal, on loan to the theatre from a farm in Pritchard, is making its acting debut.
In fact, director Wes Eccleston said the animal hasn’t even rehearsed.
A dog has been filling in for the ungulate as the actors polish off their performances.
(The lamb has been such a no-show that even repeated emails by KTW to the Actors Workshop Theatre could not establish whether the animal is male or female.)
“It doesn’t know its lines, it doesn’t know its blocking,” Eccleston told KTW.
“But, we’re willing to take that risk. It adds another element of excitement and theatricality.”
The mood is loose after rehearsal in the Black Box Theatre — largely because there are so many jokes being made about the absent four-legged actor covered in wool — but Curse of the Starving Class, written by American playwright Sam Shepard, is anything but light.
The play is set in a late-1970s farmhouse in the American West and depicts the deep-seeded struggles impacting a dysfunctional family.
Eccleston described it as a “gritty and realistic” story.
“They [members of the farmhouse family] are starving in many regards — intellectually, spiritually,” he said.
“It’s set in the past, but its themes are still very relevant and topical.”
And, although its a dark tale, Eccleston said there are light moments as well — and, as mentioned at length above, a cute little lamb.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a drama or a comedy or a tragedy,” he said.
“It’s tragic in many senses, but it’s also funny at times.”
Third-year student Matt Hardy, who plays Slater, said the story lends itself to the group of TRU actors — minus a lamb — who have been rehearsing it for seven weeks.
“We all work really well together,” he said.
“It’s a really good script and we can really work with these characters a lot.”
Eccleston echoed Hardy’s sentiment.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to make yourself keep loving a script,” he said.
“But, after seven weeks, I still love it.”
NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PLAY
When a director is asked about what some of the struggles have been in the weeks leading up to a play’s debut, the answer is often something abstract like “getting the actors deeper into the essence of their characters” or “really reading the script.”
Not so for Eccleston ahead of the premiere of Curse of the Starving Class.
“Definitely, the major hurdle has been dealing with the acquisition of the lamb and making sure the animal’s safety is paramount,” he told KTW.
“And also just acquainting ourselves with dealing with the animal.”
Eccleston said human cast members whose characters have interaction with the animal even took a special course in animal safety to make sure nothing baaad happens.
But, the animal remains nameless — for now.
“Several of the cast members want to call him Sam the Lamb,” Eccleston said.
“Because, you know, Sam Shepard — shepherd.”
One of those cast members, Justin Hall, said he’s looking forward to sharing the stage with the lamb.
“It’s going to be unpredictable, but it’s a new challenge,” said Hall, who is playing the role of Wes.
“It’s going to be interesting.”
And, Hall said, it might end up on his resume.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh, “’Worked with lamb.’”
WHEN AND WHERE
The TRU Actors Workshop Theatre’s production of Curse of the Starving Class premieres on Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Black Box Theatre inside the Old Main building on campus.
It runs through Saturday, March 2, and then again from March 7 to March 9.
All showtimes are 8 p.m.
Tickets are $12 each and can be reserved through the Actors Workshop Theatre box office at 250-377-6100, or the Kamloops Live Box Office at 250-374-5483 and online at kamloopslive.ca.