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Meanwhile ... on Granville Island

Langley writer-director Jessica Nelson’s play will be performed at Fringe — to one audience member at a time
Tickets to Jessica Nelson’s 20-minute play, Meanwhile, will go on sale each evening at 6:45 p.m., shows will be performed to a single audience member every half hour.

Three actors, two characters and an audience of one.

It was an idea that had been buzzing through Jessica Nelson’s mind since she was a student at UBC and learned that such an avant-garde approach to live theatre was even possible.

And now the countdown is on, as the 25-year-old D.W. Poppy grad prepares to turn the concept into reality with her one act play, titled Meanwhile, at the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival, Sept. 6 to 15.

A small bit of parkland, located at the southern edge of Granville Island, behind the False Creek Community Centre, is the setting for Nelson’s original production, which features just two characters and changes course depending on what its audience member decides.

Because tickets are necessarily limited, the 20-minute long show will be performed 70 times over the course of the 10-day festival.

During that run, actors Dan Willows, and Gerald Williams will share the role of the Gardener, while Kayleigh Sandomirsky plays Blade, a spirit-like guardian of nature.

And in Nelson’s production, presented through her one-woman company, Excavation Theatre, nature can use all the help it can get.

Set 50 years in the future, Meanwhile takes place in a version of Vancouver which — through the development of pipelines and other factors — has lost all the forested land along its waterfront — with the exception, that is, of the small patch of forest where the play is being staged.

“This preserve is it. There’s no more Stanley Park — it’s gone,” said Nelson.

The plot, meanwhile, is somewhat less well defined.

“It’s interactive, fluid — kind of like a ‘choose your own adventure’ — explained the playwright.

Nelson now lives in Vancouver and works “three or three and a half jobs” to be able to pay her rent and pursue a career in theatre.

But she grew up on a rural property in south Langley before moving to Murrayville at 13.

She happily recalls spending a lot time playing on her own in the forested 40-acre property shared by her immediate family and her maternal grandparents.

Her mother, who also grew up on the property which formerly housed Clay’s Nurseries, would reminisce about cold winter days spent skating on a creek which runs through the acreage and swimming in it during the summer, said Nelson.

Of course now, the water never gets cold enough to freeze solid. Nor is it clean enough to swim in.

That sense of loss, she said, is reflected in the play’s environmental themes.

“The story was created out of a desire to honour and celebrate my life once living much closer to nature and my grandparents,” she said.

Not counting the other costs of mounting the production, Nelson paid $800 to enter in Fringe Festival, and even if every performance sells out, so to speak, she has calculated that she can only bring in $756.

Knowing she has no hope of even recovering her costs, Nelson was nonetheless anxious to be a part of the annual theatre festival, which encourages participants to attempt the out-of-the-ordinary.

Although she’d been involved in other people’s Fringe projects in years past, Nelson “wanted to be the driving force behind it all,” she said.

Bringing busy city dwellers to a peaceful green corner of the city and to think — even if it’s just for 20 minutes — about what it means to have them, was another of her goals.

“Even though Vancouver is a beautiful city, surrounded by beautiful nature, we don’t always get to enjoy it,” Nelson said.

Tickets will be sold at the venue each evening, beginning at 6:45 p.m. for the night’s seven performances, which begin at 7:30 p.m. and run on the half hour until 10:30 p.m.

Weekday performances are $10; weekends, $12. Cash only.