Up next at Theatre Orangeville: Trudeau Stories

January 26, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

So, at 22 years old, you’re in your second year of a three-year Acting Program at the National Theatre School of Canada and you have been invited to a function at which Pierre Trudeau, whom you have never met, has also accepted an invitation.

Your borrowed dress and shoes are too big for you and this becomes a joke  and a point of rapport between yourself and Mr. Trudeau, now retired from his Prime Ministerial life for the last 18 months. 

This and the ensuing friendship are the basis of the true story acted out for us by the author, Brooke Johnson, coming up next in the Theatre Orangeville’s season, opening February 15 running to March 4.

During an telephone interview, Ms. Johnson told us more about it all. “We met at the [function] and he asked me to dance but I was uncomfortable in my shoes that were too big and we laughed about it.”

The play and the friendship are one: “People with whom you’ve such a great affinity, for so many years, so many times – I’m finding, as I get older, it [the play] is easier to re-discover. I rarely feel that I haven’t done a good job. I just feel that I’m in the room with my best friend. This is a very simple show about me and a great friend.”

Saying which, Ms. Johnson plays a few versions of herself, according her age in the scene, and all of Pierre Trudeau.

With lots of performances over the years – she reckons she has done the play before as many as 20,000 people, all told – there are moments when peripheral changes occur. One such was during a three-week run in Ottawa, when she happened to arrive a little later than usual, thereby being forced to forgo her usual warm-up exercises. Her performance was perfectly fine that evening.

She pondered the matter and concluded, “Maybe, I don’t have to do this routine [before the show]. I just have to be myself – I was pretty well myself that evening in my uncomfortable too-big shoes.”

Reflecting on the reactions she has heard over the years of doing the play, she remarked, “What people are surprised about is how shy and soft spoken he was. Anyone who was a fan of his, I guarantee they’ll enjoy it.  The evening goes by in a heartbeat.”

While she was acting it in Montreal, she talked to some separatists about him and relayed their comments to her: “We think it’s time we looked back on Trudeau with fondness..”

Ms. Johnson has had family in this area, near Tottenham, back to the beginning of the 20th Century. That was a family that held tremendous family reunions every year during the mid century and she remembers coming to them with real pleasure.

“They were over by Thompsonville, south of the Nottawasaga Inn,” she recalled. “Charles and Cicely had 11 children – all farmers.”

She is also a fan of hockey and a hockey player, a lady with one other in two otherwise male teams and with the “Thursday Parkdale crowd, a community group.” She says, “It’s great exercise.”

She has taken Trudeau Stories all over Canada, with her smallest audience in Millford Heights Senior Residence and lots of numbers elsewhere, which are Whitehorse across to St. John’s and several stops in Atlantic Canada. There is a theatre in Old Montreal with a “real fairy tale quality.” Plus other theatres in Quebec and Ontario.

“More than ever, “ she commented, “when I look back on when I started it, I love being in that world because the audience comes there with me.”

She continued by talking about the importance of live theatre. “You don’t feel alone when you go to the theatre with the surprising connection [between audience and the actors]. It is incumbent on us to connect with people who are out of our own sphere. Each of us has the right and the duty to say what you think and, then, we meet the most surprising people.”

Of the play and its vision of Pierre Trudeau, “It’s the engaging experience of those for whom he was such a part of our living. It’s a very Canadian play.”

Trudeau Stories is on at Theatre Orangeville from February 15 through to March 4. Tickets as usual in person at the Box Office, 87 Broadway and the Information Centre on Buena Vista Drive at Highway 10; by telephone 519-942-3423 and online at 

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