It’s Your Funeral: debut for playwright Jamie Williams

Jamie Williams (The Leader/Gibb photo)

MORRISBURG – He’s been a professional actor for 26 years.

Playhouse audiences already know him as a talented performer from such hits as Run For Your Wife, It Runs in the Family, The Affections of May, and last year’s Norm Foster classic comedy, Halfway There.

However, Jamie Williams is embarking on a new and exciting phase in his career.

He is author and director of the first production of the upcoming 2018 Upper Canada Playhouse summer season, the new comedy, It’s Your Funeral.

Williams is both a first time playwright and a first time director.

He sat down with me to talk about these new aspects of his “life on the stage.”

“The idea for my play had been in my head for quite a while,” Williams explained. “It originally came out of conversations I had with Richard Bauer (the late actor), some years ago. And they do say you should write about what you know.

Well, I’ve acted in many well-constructed farces, and I know the way that genre works. I think I understand the elements of a good farce, the high stakes, the miscommunications, the fears of ‘being caught’, and the high energy farce involves. About two years ago, I suddenly thought, I’m going to write this farce from beginning to end.”

Williams finished the first draft of his comedy, (“at that point, I knew it was poor,” he laughed), and sent it off to playwrights Norm Foster and Tom Wood.

Their constructive criticism, and Wood’s willingness to continue to be a sounding board for Williams as his play developed, took him through several drafts. With a very full acting schedule, it was hard for the first-time author to “steal” time to creatively write, to mentally work on ideas, and to run scenarios in his head.

However, the play continued to develop. The characters became distinct personalities. The plot took firm shape.

Williams was selected to be part of a new development workshop, ECT (Essential Collective Theatre) with a theatre company in St. Catherine’s. Actors and dramatists worked with him, and helped him refine the final drafts of the play even more.

“I appreciate the necessity to create ‘real’ characters within a farce’s comic confusion. Relationships matter: like those between a husband and wife and between old friends,” Williams said. “The audience has to care about these people. And I also incorporated the idea that in farce, less is more. Let the actions speak for themselves. Every line should progress the story or the character development.”

It’s Your Funeral, with its wonderful, bumbling, hilarious characters, desperately caught up in “comic confusion,” will debut at the Playhouse on June 7.

The main character, George Cranston, a ‘reformed gambler’ has given up the ponies to focus on running his new business, Heaven’s Door Funeral Home. He and his wife are under tremendous pressure to make this endeavour work, despite the drawbacks of a decidedly “wacky” collection of employees and the unexpected arrival of Rodney, George’s former bookie.

Toss a major ‘do or die,’ high publicity funeral into the situation, throw in a demanding senator, then add some decidedly shady ‘silent partners’, and before long the stakes for the Cranstons and Heaven’s Door Funeral Home are hilariously high.

Williams is thrilled that the play is making its debut at Upper Canada Playhouse.

“To tell the truth, when I was writing it, I actually visualized the Playhouse stage,” he explained. “I can’t think of another theatre I’d be more comfortable in. When I sent Act I to Donnie (Bowes, the artistic director), he loved it ‘as long as the wheels don’t fall off in the second act.’ Apparently they didn’t,” Williams laughed. “He has faith in me and the show.”

Williams will be directing his play.

This is also a first for him.

“I may have had some misgivings initially about directing, but I know the space at the Playhouse, and I know the audiences here. I trust Donnie to lend me his expertise: and over the years, I have worked with many outstanding directors,” he said. “My hope is to direct this play in a way that the actors and crew feel that they’ve had a good experience. I want to direct in the same way that I like to be directed when I’m acting.

I want to give the audience an afternoon or evening filled with laughter,” Williams said. “Laughter is valuable and important and I want the audiences to have lots of fun.”

It’s Your Funeral is a good-hearted, hilarious comedy, and comes to the Playhouse featuring a stellar cast. Starring in the show will be Brian Young, Kate Gordon, Derek Moran, Aidan DeSalaiz and Zoe Sweet.

“It’s a real pleasure to debut Jamie’s play here at the Playhouse,” said artistic director Donnie Bowes. “Jamie has acted in many of our previous shows. It’s great to have him with us as a playwright and a director.”

Tickets for It’s Your Funeral, by Jamie Williams, June 7-30, are on sale at the Playhouse.