Comedy on ice

Before playing a new character, Daniela Vlaskalic must first play detective.

Vlaskalic spent the week before rehearsals started for Hurry Hard – a comedy by Kristen Da Silva making its world premiere at Lighthouse July 3-20 – scouring the script for clues about her character, Sandy, especially noting what other characters say about Sandy and what Sandy says about herself.

“That’s all you’ve got,” Vlaskalic said of the dialogue. “Some descriptions and stage directions as well, but usually that’s it. You start to figure out, okay, what’s this person like?”

But her solo investigation only went so far.

“As you enter into a (rehearsal) environment and you’re actually talking to another person, sometimes the choices that you’ve made stay and sometimes they go out the window, because somebody else throws a different interpretation of a line to you and you just react, and that continues until you unlock the scene,” she said.

“You come in with some ideas, but it’s usually the rehearsal process where you refine and create it all together.”

Figuring out what makes this new play tick was the mission accepted by Vlaskalic and her Hurry Hard co-stars Susie Burnett, Bruce Davies, James Hawksley and Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, under the direction of Sarah Phillips.

“Oh, I love it. It’s actually some of my favourite work that I do, working on new plays,” Vlaskalic said. “Because no one’s ever done it before, so you’re originating this role. It’s exciting because it’s fresh, it’s new, you’re not trying to do something that someone’s done before.”

As a playwright herself, Vlaskalic appreciated how Kristen Da Silva populated the world of the Stayner Curling Club with richly drawn characters.

“It’s hard to write people who’ve had relationships for a long time, and she’s created a beautiful shorthand for all the characters so that you really believe Bill and Terry are brothers, and Darlene and Sandy have been friends since high school, and Bill and Sandy were married and divorced but they still have feelings (for each other),” Vlaskalic said.

“There are a lot of really beautiful moments of honesty and truth and sacrifice – the things that we do for family and friends that can maybe change the course of our lives. And within all of that, the context of curling and being a team.”

Making those relationships ring true is the actors’ challenge.

“Usually when you get to know someone, it takes a long time. Here we’re just thrown together in a room and we have to just figure out a way to get along and be okay with it,” Vlaskalic said. “There’s a certain vulnerability and openness that you have to have to just let people in really quickly.”

The characters in Hurry Hard are facing the threatened closure of their club while they work through old wounds and try for one last blaze of glory. Vlaskalic hasn’t stepped foot in a curling rink since moving away from her hometown of Thunder Bay, but she remembers it fondly.

“We were just kids playing, throwing the rocks. Probably doing it all wrong,” she laughed. “It was a really small rink. What I liked about it was the sense of community.”

When she first saw Eric Bunnell’s set design – inspired by a road trip he took to several small-town Ontario curling rinks – Vlaskalic was blown away.

“I felt like I stepped back in time,” she recalled. “It really helps us (as actors) to be in an environment that is really familiar. It’s comfortable and it’s sort of ‘our place.’ It’s nice that he’s done such a great job of creating that environment for us so we can just enjoy it and play on it.”

Artistic Director Derek Ritschel is excited to have Vlaskalic making her Lighthouse debut this summer.

“I saw her at a general audition a few years ago and I really liked her. And then I saw her in a production of Halfway There in Port Stanley and I thought, yeah, she has to come to Lighthouse.”

Ritschel said it was Vlaskalic’s “freedom of performance” that impressed him.

“It was just natural. She has a comfort on stage and is easy to watch,” he said. “She’s just someone who knows her craft, which I appreciate.

It’s taken vigorous training and years of experience for Vlaskalic to hone her craft, but her affinity for the stage has been a constant since day one.

“I think I’ve always felt more comfortable on stage than in life,” she laughed. “I’m naturally an introvert, so I think it was more surprising to everyone in my family and anyone that I knew that I wanted to be an actor. I try not to have a lot of drama in my life, whereas you meet other people and their lives are full of drama. I prefer to keep it on the stage, if I can.”

Equally at home performing Shakespeare and modern drama, Vlaskalic keeps coming back to summer theatre because she loves the rhythm of comedy, with its back and forth dialogue punctuated by punchlines.

““When you see a show that’s really on a roll, it’s just so seamless. There’s a real flow and a rhythm to it,” she said.

“And you can’t really find that rhythm on your own. You have to find it with the company that you’re working with. And then when the audience gets introduced, that’s the other element. Sometimes a joke flies and sometimes it falls flat. A matinee crowd might be laughing at all the physical humour, and an evening crowd might be laughing at all the jokes.

“And that’s the beauty of live theatre. You get on the train and it takes you on a really interesting journey.”