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Taking the dialogues from the page to the stage

Marion Reidel’s 2019 sophomore book Café Conversations contains short stories to which readers can readily relate. Meeting over coffee may be a once-commonplace activity that’s been off the agenda of late, but the collection of 30 unique dialogues easily hit home, which makes taking them from the page to the stage that much easier..

Riedel’s connection to Guelph Little Theatre (GLT) exists partly through her husband, playwright Tom Riedel. Marion was assisting with his play, Swordfish, as a set-design volunteer when she met GLT vice-president Judith Eden and soon became the producer of a new production.

“Judith and I met building the set for that play and dressing it. It’s an antique store, so we had a lot of fun – there are a million objects on the set to make it look like an antique store,” said Reidel. The production was in its last day of design when it was paused indefinitely due to the coronavirus lockdown.

With the full-sized production of Swordfish frozen in time behind theatre doors, Eden was searching for some way to show the community that GLT was still active.

“I was looking for something else to do. There’s a lot to do in this building, [but] it’s not always creative unless you’re working with someone. And all of a sudden, I hear she (Reidel) is an author, [which] piqued my interest, especially as she was long-listed for the Stephen Leacock award for humour,” she said.

Reidel was in the top 11 of 80 authors on the long list for the prestigious Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for Café Conversations, a collection of short stories.

Although a full-scale production was on Reidel’s mind, she and Eden decided to narrow down a couple of scenes to create four vignettes. Running around five minutes and filmed in just two days on a small stage created to ensure COVID prevention methods, the scenes are available on GLT’s YouTube channel.

“When Judith went through the book, she picked out four scenes that she liked, and they were really well chosen in that one featured old ladies and one featured a middle-aged woman helping a younger guy find a job. … There’s a blind date couple, and then there’s a longtime married couple. So, it’s a nice broad spectrum of character types,” said Reidel of Eden’s choices.

Not all is fun and games in the café, Eden notes.

“Her stories are filled with human nature and how we relate to each other, really deeply, not just having laughs – examining myself.”

When most people read, we create our own mental image of the characters on pages. Usually, the transfer from scribe to screen leaves a feeling of disconnect; however, this was not the case for one of Riedel’s characters in particular.

“There’s an actor who plays a very self-centered husband, and he came in to hear about the piece to [see] … whether he wanted to do it. And Judith was describing it to them. And we said, “well, it’s only seven minutes long. Here’s the script…And I swear, this gentleman looked at the script, and read it cold as if those were his words that he was making it up. It was just fabulous,” said Reidel.

Now in its 85th year, GLT continues to create in a time of uncertainty. With puppeteer MANU scheduled for videos in the coming future, and a Romeo and Rosaline, most of which will appear on GLT’s YouTube channel free with the encouragement to donate as a fundraiser for the theatre.

“[The lockdown has been] really hard on theatre, period – young professional theatres are having the same problems as this little organization. But this organization had a whole season set up, and it was aborted because of the pandemic. So that means there’s no money coming in the they’re losing contact with their patrons. So that’s what this is about is engaging the actors, the set makers, the videographer or the lighting guy and everything, to keep the creative side engaged in the process, but also to have a product to put out so that the community knows that this organization still exists,” said Reidel of the video series.

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