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Amanda Dempsey-Laughlin’s Arthur J. Peabody goes International

July 15, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“Arthur J. Peabody is a play that I wrote last year to enter into a Summer Short Play festival,” said Amanda Dempsey-Laughlin. “I had thought of something like it, so, I sat down and I wrote and, right away, I thought about who I wanted in my cast. My daughter, Victoria, of course, as Jamima.”

Jamima is the teen age girl who meets Arthur J. Peabody, a talking, Shakespeare quoting, well-travelled British bird.

“And then, Desmond [Baxter] was perfect as Arthur; the third role, Regina, would be performed by Kelly McDowell.”

Ms. Dempsey-Laughlin elaborated, “This was a short festival with criteria that we couldn’t get together to do it.”

Like so many other productions, Arthur J. Peabody was done over zoom, with a little “magic” added and they took “this thing” to the festival, virtually. A little eight-minute production, “The comments and the quotes – they just loved it,” she told the Citizen. “We used stop-motion and special effects, a little bit of music.”

It was so well received that she decided they might as well do a little series: “So, I wrote another episode and, at the last minute of filming it, I thought about doing something for Toronto Fringe.”

Toronto Fringe has hundreds of entries, she continued to explain, “There were also some from 2020. When it came down to all said and done, there were actually only 16 spots available. There were hundreds of entries and didn’t they call us?”

How it works with the Toronto Fringe: this is it: Fringe is non-juried. Candidates put in the name of the show and their company name and the shows for Fringe are chosen randomly by “lottery.”

Having won this lottery, “With that excitement, we had one show that we had finished rehearsing. I wrote another script of 40 minutes, plus six characters and they added something to the whole mix. And there was a lovely story of a talking bird who lands on the window sill of this lovely young lady.”

While they were filming this extended version of the talking bird and Jamima, they received an email from Calgary Fringe who wanted to include Arthur J. Peabody in that programming too.

Encouraged, she told us, “We went on to apply to Edinburgh Fringe and they said do the paper work and we are on that too!”

In keeping with protocol, it was all digital at Toronto Fringe, while Calgary and Edinburgh are both mixed live and filmed. So, the team putting Peabody together stayed with the Zoom boxes, as it were, of the original eight-minute piece. They were able to blend the two shorter films into the 40-minute version.

Also, “Arthur got a whole new costume for the long version, which meant we had to re-film everything – we couldn’t just cut and paste,” said Ms. Dempsey-Laughlin.

Personally, Desmond Baxter has had a wonderful time as, “the bird, [who] is charming. He’s from England,” he remarked. “He travels and it’s a feel good story. The adventures, some of the messages; shady characters give Arthur a hard time.”

The story takes place in Canada, at Jamima’s home in the country, with the telling of Arthur’s story, which begins in England. A complete novelty as a talking bird, he was kidnapped to be part of a circus. Throughout the story, Jamima is in attendance, delighted, amused and appalled at the various moments of the tale. At the end of the story, there is a happy twist, when Regina comes on, more or less, at the last moment.

Victoria Dempsey-Laughlin described her task as Jamima, “[She] is a young Canadian girl about 14. I’m playing her and I think I pulled it off. She’s very bright and fascinated by the outside world. When she meets Arthur, she thinks she’s gone crazy because birds don’t talk.

“Working across from Desmond was so natural because we were just able to fit in with who our characters were. We have done many other productions together since I was young.”

Mr. Baxter was quick to contribute, “She’s amazing to work with. She made it so easy to be Arthur, and Kelly was so easy to work with – we all moulded together. This trio has been at Peabody for a full year – it’s been a wonderful party.” 

As for her ambition for Peabody, Ms. Dempsey-Laughlin commented, “I hope this is the little show that could. Just to bring a little levity into people’s lives. I know that theatre will be back at some point, so, being able to really sink our teeth into a digital format [was interesting]. We’re very happy.”

Victoria Dempsey-Laughlin is a graduate of Randolph College for the Performing Arts. So, her career was cut short at the beginning and this gave them the opportunity to achieve something else.

Her mother said further, “After seeing the success of this, there’s nothing like sitting back and watching people enjoy it and there’s nothing like seeing something you put on paper and seeing actors bring it to life – I can’t thank my cast enough.”

There are virtual tickets available at all three Fringe festivals: Toronto, Calgary and Edinburgh. The ticket prices go the company and an extra few dollars go the Festivals.

“We got paid and we have a profit share agreement with the actors.” said she. “If we make money, we do and if we don’t, we’ve had the experience.”

Mr. Baxter threw his hat in: “Personally, I’ve had a wonderful time doing this.”

Amanda Dempsey-Laughlin is keen: “As a playwright, I am going to continue in that vein. Next year if we’re lucky again, we might put something on stage. But I’m not the only writer in the house, Victoria is writing too.

“If there’s an opportunity out there that I can take, I’m going to go for it…I’m going to be directing Caledon Town Hall Players in Kiss the sun, Kiss the moon by Norm Foster.”

Victoria, meanwhile, will audition, for the second time, for Canada’s Wonderland’s Winterfest, due to be the second one after 2019.

“I was a part of their first one,” she said. “There are lots of mini shows throughout the night. We were Jingle Jazz; it’s 15 minutes long. There was a gazebo stage and we did five shows a night. It’s a brand new thing.”

For the next Fringe, if their lottery comes home again: “Hopefully a musical, hopefully an hour, more serious, with a Celtic theme.”

The Dempsey-Laughlin website:

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