In the back room of a grocery store, surrounded by boxes stacked to the ceiling, pairs of shoplifters and security guards butt heads in the latest Arts Club on Tour show in Surrey.
The Shoplifters is reason for a reunion of actors Patti Allan, Dean Paul Gibson, Agnes Tong and Raugi Yu, who first played in Morris Panych’s comedy a year ago on Granville Island. This time, for about a month, they hit the road on stages around Metro Vancouver, including Surrey Arts Centre’s main boards from Jan. 15 to 25.
“It’s the same people brought together again,” said Gibson, the Semiahmoo Peninsula-raised thespian. “We knew last year there was potential of taking this on tour, and we only wanted to do that if we could all do it together again, because we had such a good time. A big part of it is having a good laugh and also working on material that is fun to do, and entertaining and has a touch of down and a little bit of, you know, social issues and lots of heart. This has all that.”
Allan plays Alma, a career shoplifter who prefers a five-finger discount over any deal for senior citizens. When a theft with her anxious sidekick (Tong, as Phyllis) goes awry, her life of petty crime is halted by an overzealous security guard (Yu, as Dom) and his affable mentor (Gibson, as Otto).
These four misfit characters propel a Panych script that focuses on “small people with small lives,” as the director and playwright calls them – people who want something and will do anything to get it. “I’m really fascinated with what’s happening in the world right now, with people being left behind, and I wanted to write about that,” Panych told an interviewer.
Since his school days at Earl Marriott Secondary, Gibson has made an award-winning career of acting, directing, adjudicating and teaching the art of theatre, far and wide. He is a staple at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, where he directed the rarely-staged Coriolanus last summer, and speaks at events such as Work of Art, a day-long conference held in Newton last October.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be a creative person and be gainfully employed and doing what you love, you know,” said Gibson, who now lives in Vancouver’s Main Street corridor.
“With acting and directing, I go back and forth,” he continued, “and this year has been an extraordinary year for acting, and in between, directing some passion projects, including Coriolanus, and teaching and adjudicating and the various other things I do. Quite frankly, as an artist working in the theatre, you have to create a lot of different streams where you’re going to be stimulated and also earning money to pay the mortgage, you know. If I want to keep doing this, I gotta keep that monkey dancing,” he said with a laugh.
The Now-Leader caught up with Gibson before Christmas, when rehearsals for The Shoplifters remount hadn’t yet begun.
“The theory is, if all the same people come back again, you’re supposed to be able to cut rehearsals a little bit and be able to get back up in a quicker fashion – and that’s yet to be determined this time, but I’m sure it will be,” Gibson related. “Morris will be flying in and running us through for a week in the hall before we take it on the road (starting Jan. 9). This time it’s all about putting the words back in our brains. So I just did a delete on The Merchant of Venice, a play I did in Calgary, and now I’m uploading The Shoplifters. It’s how it works…. Learning lines, it’s association and repetition, and the next thing you know, you’re doing King Lear.”
In Surrey, tickets for The Shoplifters range from $29 to $49. Call 604-501-5566 for details, or visit tickets.surrey.ca. The run at the arts centre includes several “value-added performances,” including opening night (Jan. 15), a First Friday show (Jan. 17), Paint at the Play (Jan. 18), a pre-show chat (Jan. 21), Talkback Thursday (Jan. 23) and VocalEye description for the blind (Jan. 25).