Jacq Ainsworth often has to think about the alphabet in reverse to keep a straight face on stage.
The 41-year-old Walnut Grove mother, and her co-stars from the upcoming Langley Playersâ€™ production of Escape From Happiness, couldnâ€™t stop laughing at each other for the first month of rehearsal.
In fact, she said the chuckles and banter â€“ often verging on side-splitting giggles â€“ continued up until a week before opening (which just so happens to be tonight, Thursday, April 16).
â€œFrom the first callback, this cast has felt like family,â€ Ainsworth said.
â€œI hear words come out of their mouths that Iâ€™ve said myself. Words about what itâ€™s like to be a shy person and why we act. How we put ourselves out there. How we suddenly realize on tech week that we are crazy to be doing this,â€ Ainsworth added, elaborating on how her first role with the Langley drama club has consumed much of her life.
Escape from Happiness is a gritty but entertaining dark comedy by award-winning Canadian playwright George F. Walker.
The Quinns are the family at the centre of Walkerâ€™s dark, domestic comedy. Theyâ€™re described by director Helen Embury as â€dysfunctional yet entertaining.â€
â€œAs they struggle against â€˜the world out there,â€™ they are not always successful. And yet as we empathize with their predicaments, we canâ€™t help but laugh at their off-the-wall logic,â€ Embury explained.
Ainsworth is playing one of three sisters, Elizabeth, the family enforcer.
Ainsworth describes it as â€œa wild rideâ€ for her.
Itâ€™s taught her to be more direct and unapologetic in her life. And itâ€™s apparently also taught her to swear â€“ a lot.
â€œPlaying Elizabeth has been a huge challenge for me. One of the things Iâ€™ve learned about myself in [numerous drama] workshops is that Iâ€™m very good at avoiding direct confrontation and I can employ a myriad of strategies to circumvent directly challenging someone. I canâ€™t do that here,â€ she said. â€œIt has allowed me to be vulnerable on a level Iâ€™ve never experienced before.â€¦ I just feel like the luckiest actor ever,â€ she said, recalling her first read through of the script.
â€œAs I read the last scene of this play, I felt my heart rate go up. As I read Elizabethâ€™s lines, I knew what I wanted her to say next. I didnâ€™t believe she would, because, seriously, how could the author, a man Iâ€™ve never met, possibly know what I needed her to say just then. Incredibly, she said it. Said it exactly. And there was nothing fake-Hollywood-neat about it. It was so amazingly cathartic, that I honestly had a hard time getting through the first couple of read-throughs without crying. And laughing. A lot,â€ she said.
While new to Langley Players, Ainsworth is no stranger to the stage.
â€œWatching my mum [June Ainsworth] as Mrs. Anna in The King and I, I used to mimic her offstage. The stage manager thought it was hilarious how closely an 11-year-old followed her performance, and on dress rehearsal night, she pushed me onstage for one of the songs,â€ Ainsworth recounted.
That was her beginning â€“ but not the end. She studied theatre at UBC, and pursued a degree in education at SFU.
â€œI used my theatre training as a teacher and as the coordinator for the VSB High School Drama Festival for two years, but never got back to the stage myself until I moved to Langley,â€ she explained.
Since then, Ainsworth has been involved both on and offstage with Bard in the Valley, Bard on the Bandstand, Surrey Little Theatre, and Emerald Pig.
Sheâ€™s also taken numerous theatre workshops, is studying ballet, and is pursuing her blackbelt in taekwondo. Sheâ€™s taken to competing in both dance and XMA, wa weapons routine of taekwondo choreographed to music.
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â€œI find the acting experience really helps get me in character to pretend to slay foes to music,â€ she elaborated.
The Escape cast has been rehearsing three times a week since mid-February in preparation for tonightâ€™s curtain.
â€œThe hardest part is trying to decide what is going to take a backseat,â€ Ainsworth said.
â€œI am testing for blackbelt in taekwondo at the end of April, so I couldnâ€™t give that up. And then there are my dance competitions, so I couldnâ€™t stop going to ballet class, and I have a dog that needs walking and a son that needs feeding. So, really, Iâ€™m most looking forward to seeing my husband socially again when the show wraps,â€ she explained.
Escape from Happiness runs Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. from April 16 to May 16 at the Langley Playhouse, 4307 200th St., Brookswood. There are also Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15. For reservations, people can visit www.langleyplayers.com/reservations.html or buy tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/133005. Patrons can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-534-7469.
Escape from Happiness will be the Langley Playersâ€™ entry to the Fraser Valley Zone Festival, being held at the Langley Playhouse, May 17 to 23.
The rest of the cast
Ainsworth is joined in the cast by fellow Langleyites Joanna Williams, Philip Hale, and Mike Busswood, as well as Cloverdaleâ€™s Shane Rochon, Mission resident Mahara Sinclaire, New Westminster resident Rebecca Strom, and Maple Ridgeâ€™s Judith Betzler, Brian Johnson, and Chris Carver.
Embury is from Abbotsford, while producer Leslie Gaudette calls Langley home.
HOW TO WIN
A pair of tickets to Escape from Happiness.
A pair of lucky readers will win two tickets to the Langley Players show.
â€¢ Click on the live link in the story about Escape from Happiness at www.langleyadvance.com, and tell us why you want to attend this show. You will be entered into the draw. Preference will be given to Langley residents.
Postings must be received prior to 5 p.m. on April 21, and the winner will be notified by email. No staff or family of the Langley Advance or Black Press are eligible.
This giveaway is restricted to online participants, 19 years or older only. Must include name and phone number.