One of the Peninsula’s enduring summertime attractions – Beach House Theatre – is returning to the world of beloved children’s author Robert Munsch for its daytime, family-oriented production this year.
And actor/director Ian Harmon – son of Beach House co-founder and co-director Rick Harmon – is back to helm the production, which will have a brief four-performance run Aug. 14-17 on the company’s temporary tent stage at Blackie Spit (Crescent Beach).
Love You Forever and More Munsch is Stephen Colella and Sue Miner’s adaptation of the author’s emotionally loaded paean to parenthood, Love You Forever plus four sure-fire, typically quirky and humorous Munsch classics: Mortimer (about a boy who simply will not go to bed); Murmel, Murmel, Murmel (the story of girl who finds a baby in a sandbox); The Paper Bag Princess (in which a fairy-tale heroine faces down a dragon) and Zoom (about a disabled girl with a super-wheelchair).
The 11 a.m. shows are around an hour long (with no intermission) and will be followed by a question period and autograph session – always popular with younger audiences – but limited seating for Beach House shows makes early booking advisable.
As with the company’s previous annual daytime shows, it’s an exercise in imagination, characterization – and sheer stamina – for a small company of versatile actors; in this case Steven Simpson, Ella Storey and Peninsula born-and-raised performer/producer Sabrielle McCurdy-Foreman (daughter of well-known Peninsula singer and educator Heidi McCurdy).
The Cloverdale-raised Harmon has plenty of experience both onstage and offstage with the idiom, including touring with young-audience-oriented shows for Green Thumb Theatre, Kaleidoscope and Axis Theatre, for whom he acted in Hamelin: A New Fable in 2017.
The last time he directed at Beach House, it was also a Munsch play, he noted.
“That was The Three Munschketeers in 2014,” he said.
“I’m fond of his work – I grew up reading it. I think it’s something that everybody in the family – at all ages – can get into.”
And being familiar with the territory of this style of production, he knows exactly what he’s asking of his actors, he said.
“For the actor, there are so many characters you have to play – and they all have to be completely different and have outrageous characteristics that will carry from the front row to the back row.
“It’s also a high-energy piece for the actors – because of all the changes, it’s a complete workout. If you’re not sweating by the end of the show, you’re not doing your job properly.”
Fortunately, he has no fears about the strong cast he’s working with.
“They’re all excellent,” he said. “Steve is a gifted actor, Ella has an amazing comedy sense and Sabrielle is a delight – a very committed theatre person, who also works as a co-producer with another company in Vancouver.”
Harmon said that directing such a show doesn’t tempt him to get up on stage and show his actors what he wants – he’s able to separate the job from his own acting, and look at it from a very different perspective, he added.
“The way I work as a director, I give my cast so much freedom to explore and create – I never want to handcuff an actor. I don’t want to see it done how I would do it on stage, I want to know, ‘what’s your perspective on the show?”
Harmon’s creative process on the show has also been influenced, he acknowledges, by the fact that he is now a parent – he and his wife Breanne have a 20-month-old son, Emmett.
“Parenthood is definitely giving me a different perspective on the material, and it’s why I wanted to go back to doing a piece like this, after having done so much touring,” he said.
It’s also colouring his approach to the core piece of the current show – Love You Forever, Munsch’s heartfelt rumination on the devotion of parents throughout their lives, and the lives of their children.
“It’s one of the ones that adults, in particular, have become sentimentally attached to,” he said.
“I’ve had some people who’ve heard we’re doing this who’ve said, ‘Oh boy, I don’t know if I can handle this.’
“If you have kids, it does evoke quite a bit of emotion about the circle-of-life aspect. It’s going to be quite interesting to stage it in the middle of a high-energy show.”
But it does come in the middle, Harmon underlines – which allows plenty of time for the lighter aspects of Munsch’s writing to carry the audience, young and old alike, along to a happy conclusion.
“I think the show is quite balanced,” he said.
“It does have emotional bits, but they’re woven into a piece that kids are going to love.”
For tickets and information, visit beachhousetheatre.org