On the phone, Mary Harvey is bursting with energy. She rambles on in long sentences as she tells stories about her past and her feelings about being back in Ottawa after 30 years.
She came back to Ottawa “because my very best friend in the whole universe lives here,” and, by her own account “it was a total serendipitous moment” that landed her a part in Toto Too’s new production, Kilt, which opens on Sept 1 at the Arts Court Theatre.
Harvey plays the role of Esther, mother to a gay stripper. Esther is a Scotswoman with old-fashioned values that dominate her nurturing side. According to Harvey, Esther is of a generation where mothers did the best they could, even when they didn’t make the right decisions for themselves or their families.
“I love being Esther, although I am accustomed to being a more likable character, so that’s a challenge. I am not the person people are going to leave the theatre in love with,” says Harvey.
Harvey fell upon the role of Esther by luck. She had been persuaded to participate in Girls Want to Know, a Lesbian Information Exchange (LIX) trade show where she met Toto Too’s board members Mark Webster and David Ferguson. Harvey auditioned for the role and found herself back in community theatre after a long hiatus.
Harvey is a Second City alumni — hence her love for improv — and spent the ’70s touring with the company. After leaving, Harvey continued to act professionally, doing improv, children’s theatre, TV commercials and a couple of short films.
“Then I got a real job, as my parents would have called it,” says Harvey.
Harvey’s “real job” is communications — coaching people in public speaking, corporate training and teaching improv for non-actors.
“First of all, it’s big fun — nothing wrong with that — and secondly, I just believe improvisation to be so empowering for people, because you just let go without such a fear of looking stupid. Because in improv, you are fully expected to look stupid at some point,” says Harvey.
It took turning 50 to get herself back on stage, after a friend invited her to do a solo show.
“So I brought myself back to the stage and did that. I hadn’t been on stage, at that point, for about 10 years,” says Harvey. “When she invited me to do that, I saw my 50th birthday looming. And I like to mark each decade with something significant, so I decided, ‘Yes, I will do that.’ It was a real challenge, and it was great fun to be back on stage.”
Ferguson has been looking for lesbian plays to produce, and in Harvey he has found a lesbian who is writing a play, called The Last Word. That show will now premiere in Toto Too’s 2011 season.
The play needs to be workshopped, staged and rewritten before it comes to full production — a daunting task for Harvey, who is a little unsure of her new hat as a playwright.
“I do love writing and I do love theatre, and this has been a really nice connection for me,” says Harvey. “This is, to me, what community theatre is supposed to be, very representative of the community of Ottawa. There are so many people involved, from all walks of life, and I just feel that there is an openness here, which is what I think community theatre is supposed to be about.”
Catch Harvey in Kilt from Wed, Sept 1–Sat, Sept 4, 8pm. $25. Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave. tototoo.ca