Vancouver theatre director Mindy Parfitt has a vision for her “little company with a big dream”. This year, her Search Party captured six Jessie Awards for its debut production of The Father.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Parfitt said she wants the Search Party to deal with deep subjects. In addition, this must be accompanied by a “very rigorous production value”.
“I think that’s partly why The Father did so well,” Parfitt said. “People acknowledged that there is a need for that kind of work here.”
Jessie awards for outstanding production and outstanding direction were among the honours bestowed on the tear-jerking tale of dementia.
So it might come as a surprise that Parfitt’s newest directorial endeavour is a comedy, The Amaryllis. Written by Michele Riml, its world premiere will be held at the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday (November 12).
The play revolves around a brother and sister who spend a great deal of time in a well-kept apartment with a couch, an old reclining chair, a TV, and a coffee table. The brother, Jeremy Keener (played by Shawn Macdonald), is an agent, and his sister, Lucy Keener (played by Amy Rutherford), is a voice-over artist.
“The characters are complex and interesting,” Parfitt said. “One of the things that I really appreciate about the piece is that it is dealing with sort of the ripple effects of powerful experiences.”
According to her, Riml dealt with this with a great deal of humour and grace.
Parfitt has been directing plays for 15 years, but this was the first project that she has overseen during a pandemic. She credited the Firehall Arts Centre for laying down a solid foundation with its health protocols, which have been in place for several months.
The two actors, Macdonald and Rutherford, functioned within their own bubble. But for Parfitt, who kept her distance, it created a certain formality in the room that normally doesn’t exist when she’s directing plays. That’s because she and the cast couldn’t share food or be close to one another.
“I’ve had to create different skills and rely on different tools around building comfort in the room and the sense of collectivity,” Parfitt said.
The set designer, Ana Cappelluto, worked from her home in Montreal. Parfitt said there were fewer challenges when it came to stagecraft, thanks to the props person, Heidi Wilkinson.
Film career on the agenda?
In the past, Parfitt worked as a freelance director so she could remain committed to raising her children. As a result, she said, she didn’t tick off all the boxes that hiring committees were seeking in theatre, notwithstanding her set of skills and experiences.
“I haven’t been able to climb the artistic ladder, in a way, because of that choice I made about how I needed to parent my kids,” she said.
So when she was ready to devote more time to theatre, she launched the Search Party. It was a way to advance a longer-term vision and create some impact.
“I’ve run businesses before, so there’s a part of me that is very attracted to that administrative element of the work and to the business side of the work.”
So would she ever entertain the idea of making a film, given that the pandemic has exerted a brutal toll on the theatre community? Parfitt hasn’t ruled out this idea.
“If you had asked me that question nine months ago, I would have said, ‘Absolutely not, the Search Party is a theatre company,’ ” she said. “But we’re in a different world, and I think I need to keep myself open about where the Search Party can go and the places that it can express itself.”
Parfitt conceded that film directors tend to be a little more autocratic than theatre directors. But she also acknowledged that as she enters her 50s, she’s feeling stronger about what she’s doing professionally.
“I think there’s a part of that that is about feminism,” Parfitt said. “It’s about valuing my voice as a woman and saying that the work that I do has importance. And my vision has importance. And my voice has importance.”