The Sunset Syndrome — Emily watched her husband of 60 years fight a battle with dementia and its related complications. A few years after his passing, she too is diagnosed with dementia. As Emily struggles with difficult decisions about her future, she reflects on important moments from her past.
While watching the news one evening, I was inspired by a story about a dementia patient who chose to take her own life rather than lose herself and be a burden. I wondered how a person would set out to justify – or not justify – such a decision. This was my spark for my play. I struggled with my play ending and whether my character would take her own life or choose time. If you want to know her choice, you will have to come and see The Sunset Syndrome.
After being mentored from February to July 2015 through the Alberta Playwrights Network’s RBC Emerging Artists Mentorship Program and Conni Massing, I was left with time to sort issues such as who was the main character was talking to, what were the pertinent details of dementia and their place in Emily’s journey, and how could I enhance the love story between Emily and Samuel and the sometimes messy dynamics of family.
With a focus on the art and community opportunities, The Walterdale Theatre From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival was my choice as a home for my play. Sherilyn Brady Cook’s play, Bottled Up, had been accepted as well. We had not met prior, but both of us shared the festival journey.
My 8-month journey began with an amazing group from the Walterdale Theatre and Edmonton Theatre Community. The day I met the Festival Coordinator Vlady and my dramaturgs, Brian Dooley and Rohan Kulkarni, I was a mix of excitement and nerves. The Sunset Syndrome is only my second play, and I felt there was so much I still needed to learn. I met and exchanged emails with Brain and Rohan to address how the characters, messaging, and story were presented and my intentions for each. Each time I was able to focus on finding meaning and messaging that could be better visited and transitioned.
Then, in December, a first read was arranged at the theatre with a group of actors and I met my play’s director, Catherine Wenschlag. Having the actors read from the play was powerful and pointed out areas that required polishing. There was also chances to borrow ideas from the actors in how they played the characters and how the dialogue flowed. It also provided an opportunity to see which scenes were emotionally and visually connecting and which were not. Watching Catherine’s process also taught me about directing and how she saw the play, actors, and staging.
Each reading and discussion provided a chance to focus on the content that was the strongest and cut the content that was frivolous. In each rehearsal, I was able to see what information the actors required to build the characters and watch their skills and talents take each character from one dimensional to three dimensional.
The From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival nurtures the playwrights and their process. I was able to be at the auditions, a reading, and every rehearsal that I wanted to attend.
Monday night I attended some of the Cue to Cue for The Sunset Syndrome to see how the lighting cues are set up. When we pulled up at the theatre, the festival poster was in the marquee and there was my name on the poster! While all along this process it has felt real, it seemed so much more official to see it in the Marquee. It took so much energy to stop myself from letting out a squeal!
Photo is by Cale Walde
The Walterdale Theatre From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival opens on Monday May 16th, 2016. Performances of The Sunset Syndrome and Bottled Up run every night, May 16-21, 2016, at 8pm and alternate first and second positions.
For ticket information check out Tix on the Square
Thanks to the following special people for making The Sunset Syndrome possible: The Walterdale Theatre Team, Anne Marie Szucs, Vlady Peychoff, Brian Dooley, Rohan Kulkarni, Catherine Wenschlag, Rebecca Bissonnette, Kevin Heaman, Peg Young, Andy Northrup, Roseanna Sargent, Shelby Colling, Grace Chapman, Patrick Maloney, Richard Hatfield, Joan Hawkins, Geri Dittrich, Alan Weston, Tom Lam, Louise Mallory, Cale Walde, Janine Hodder, Glenna Schowalter, Emilia Eyo, Athena Gordon, and Kristen Finlay.