In the playwright’s shoes
The front half of the shoe store was lit as people were filing in and purchasing tickets. The back half of the store was dimmed behind the rows of 20 folding chairs filled with audience members surrounded by dozens of shoes on display.
Thursday, July 21, Bellingham Theatre Work’s production of Quality: the Shoe Play, written by Elaine Avila opened in 12th Street Shoes at 1204 Harris Ave in Fairhaven, Thursday, July 21. It closed Saturday evening, August 6.
Quality is a dark comedy about two women’s struggle for power in the world of art and buisness; particularly in the world of women’s shoes.
The play features two actresses: Brie Turoff Mueller and Jacki Campbell. It is directed by recent Western Washington University graduate Kayla Adams. Run time is approximately one hour and 20 minutes without intermission.
Rather than performing the play in a traditional theatre, they are taking an approach known as environmental theatre, theatre where there is little to no distinction between the audience and actors space. In this case, it is performed where the plot is taking place, in a shoe store.
The stage is the front section of the store, feet away from the audience. The sound effects and transition music is played on a small speaker behind the audience.
The actresses use the store’s actual door for their entrances and exits, and use the store’s cash register, computer, and shoes on display as props. The outside of the store is their backstage area, complete with costume changes and scene transitions.
“Jody[Finnegan], the owner and the staff [of 12th Street Shoes] have been nothing but welcoming and accommodating,” Adams said.
Elaine Avila, the playwright currently lives in Vancouver but this past year she was a playwright in residence at Western and taught Advanced Playwriting substituting for a professor on maternity leave.
“This was a lot of fun and challenging. I got to work with some really great people.”
Lead actress Brie Turoff Mueller
Avila’s plays have been performed in the United States, Canada, Europe, Central America. She has been the recipient of several awards including The Victoria Critic’s Circle for Best New Play in Canada and the New Works for Young Women Award in Portugal.
In February 2016, Western performed the world premier of Avila’s play, The Ballad of Ginger Goodwin, based on the true story of Goodwin, who led a strike for coal miner’s rights during World War I.
“I had a wonderful time with the students and the people just put so much heart in my play and did a wonderful job,” Avila said.
Avila was not involved in this particular production of Bellingham Theatre Work’s version of her play, Quality, but she said she is really looking forward to seeing it.
While Avila said she would be delighted to teach at Western again when a position is available, in the meantime she plans to continue writing other plays. She hopes to try different genres, explore her Portuguese roots, and continue to tell untold stories.
“I notice that there are too many stories missing [in theatre], especially for women…Quality: the shoe Play is actually very Portuguese to me. There’s this sort of pride in femininity there. My Portuguese aunt really loves shoes so I think it’s dedicated to her.”
Quality first premiered in 2007 first in Edmonton, Canada then London, England. The Edmonton Journal said it was “full of surprises” and the National Post in London called it an “art installation itself.”
“This was a lot of fun and challenging. I got to work with some really great people,” said lead actress Brie Turoff Mueller.