Departures and Arrivals at U of T’s Scarborough campus

Drama students at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus finished their production last week of the comedic play Departures and Arrivals written by the late Canadian writer Carol Shields.

The play, performed at the Leigha Lee Browne theatre, is structured around multiple stories. Set in a busy international airport, it allows the audience to eavesdrop on the lives of these average, yet intriguing, characters.

The play begins with the movement of an airport conveyor belt. The rotating prop changes in each scene, later becoming a bench, a waiting area, and even a telephone booth.

This interpretation of the play takes place in 1989 when the script was published. This was before 9/11, during a time when going through the airport was a simpler process uninterrupted by today’s more invasive security measures, said director Paula Sperdakos.

The cast of 12 members brought to life some 60 characters with diverse roles ranging from grandparents to young children to athletes. This diversity has made the play popular among university and college productions, Sperdakos said.

“It gives everybody in the show the opportunity to play several roles,” she said. “Every person in the play had a few meaty, juicy, roles and most plays don’t offer that sort of opportunity to the actors.”

Each cast member had at least three characters. Briana Doble, a drama student, played four distinct characters, including a British matron, an outspoken woman, and a divorcé.

“The cool thing about playing different characters is that you have a whole bunch of opportunities to engage with the audience in a whole bunch of different ways,” she said. “And because you’re only on stage for a few minutes with that character, you really have to work hard to win over the audience.”

Sperdakos said the comedic tone of the play made it hard for the cast to keep a straight face during practice but the actors knew if they laughed during a performance, the audience wouldn’t.

“The audience has to believe that whatever they [the characters] are going through, they are going through for real. That’s the rule that all actors learn,“ she said.

This year’s production was the most expensive and elaborate set the school has ever had, Doble said.

“A lot of people don’t know we have a theatre so I think that performances like these definitely bring awareness to the fact that our campus has a theatre,” she said. “It’s great to be able to bring your work forward in a way that exposes the theatre.”

Departures and Arrivals was first produced at the University of Manitoba’s Black Hole Theatre in 1984. Carol Shields was best known as a novelist, poet and short story writer. Departures and Arrivals was her first full-length play.