Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong are presenting an online reading on May 9. (Photos courtesy Joni Marcolin/Heather Armstrong)

Nanaimo playwrights present online Mother’s Day script readings

Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong to read from in-progress plays

This Mother’s Day two local playwrights are getting together online to read from plays about their parents.

On May 9, Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong will share excerpts from their plays Suddenly 50 and Another Life. The reading is supported by the Playwrights Guild of Canada PlayConnect program and the Canada Council for the Arts. After the reading the playwrights will discuss their works with audience members.

“It’s really an homage to relationships that we have with our parents,” Nattrass said of the event. “Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters.”

Nattrass’s one-woman play Suddenly 50 is based on her experience going on a cruise with her aging parents. She said one of the play’s themes is the “role reversal” that happens when a child starts to care for a parent, and the story includes both “humour and heartfelt pangs of sorrow.”

“Part of my imprint as an artist is really to have both exist at the same time,” she said. “I want to have all the colours of the palette rather than just pink and yellow. I want the greys and the browns.”

Nattrass said her plays start off with more humour and she develops the serious tones with each draft. As a writer who is influenced by world events, she said the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on her outlook as well.

“I have a different perspective now,” she said. “This perspective of facing my parents’ mortality is a lot more fresh.”

Armstrong said his mother Barbara, who died in 2007, always intended to write her life story, “but by the time she had enough time, she no longer had the will.” He said he feels like that responsibility has fallen to him and as a result Another Life is “the most personal thing I’ve ever written.” The play follows his mother’s life from birth to near death, as she searches for a lasting relationship.

“There was a whole series of things that happened in her early life that made that difficult for her,” Armstrong said. “A series of losses.”

Barbara’s mother died of an infection nine days after giving birth to her in 1919, and her father gave her up to her aunt and uncle, who ran a tuberculosis sanatorium in rural Minnesota. At the age of 10 her adoptive parents split up and she moved to California with her mother. Barbara had many relationships and was married three times, although Armstrong said he wasn’t aware of the second husband until he was 45 years old.

“There are so many things in her life that are dramatic and interesting,” Armstrong said. “My father was an alcoholic and though that relationship finally lasted until he died – almost 35 years – it was a trial for her. But by that time I guess she got tired of moving around.”

The playwrights hope the feedback gleaned from the reading will help them as they continue developing their plays.

WHAT’S ON … Mother’s Day play reading featuring Nicolle Nattrass and Michael Armstrong takes place over Zoom on Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m. Free, no registration required. Click here for event link.

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