By Christine Leonard
CORRECTION: The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook play’s character James is played by actor Karl Sine, not Carl Stein as originally spelled. We apologize for the error.
CALGARY — There’s an undeniable thrill that accompanies the sound of the “Imperial March” composed by John Williams, whether you’re a diehard nerf-herder or aspiring Padawan, it’s easy to understand why legions of fans snap to attention at the mere mention of the Star Wars universe. So, when it came time for Ryan Luhning, artistic director of Calgary’s Ground Zero Theatre, to take his own daughter to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the magnitude of the cultural milestone was not lost on the longtime devotee of the Lucasfilm franchise.
“Obviously, I was a young boy myself when the original three movies came out,” says Luhning. “Fast-forward to when The Force Awakens opens and I’m taking my daughter who’s 11 years old and remembering how I felt when I first felt saw it in the theatre. I looked over at my daughter and saw this expression of absolute wonder, joy, and surprise on her face and I thought, ‘This will be her Star Wars.’”
Coincidentally, while shifting through the company’s records in search of his next inspiration, Luhning came across materials going back to the first time Ground Zero presented award-winning playwright Steven Massecotte’s work The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook (and The Girls Strike Back) in early 1999.
“At the same time worldwide fervour was swirling over The Force Awakens coming out I was looking at revisiting some of the old works that had brought us into the game of theatre. Back when I was all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed about the world. I had been going through the archives when it hit me like ton of bricks. Why not go back to that play that inspired me so much as young artist? I wondered what it would be like to revisit that work 15 years later. Would it reinvigorate my spirit with the same feelings I had as a young artist? Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook was the perfect choice; it’s all about releasing your inner child and recapturing that time in your life when everything seemed possible.”
Already a cult-favourite, the play was remounted as a Trilogy under the direction of Johanne Deleeuw in 2002. Featuring a dramatic third chapter known as The Return of the Jedi Handbook, this hilarious production saw lead actor Christian Goutsis laying claim to the pivotal character of “the kid.” A role he was born to play.
“When I came up with the idea, the first person I called was Christian Goutsis. It’s such an iconic roll and the only I wanted to revisit it was if Christian was available to play ‘the kid.’ Not only because he’s a natural storyteller and one of the most diverse characters actors I’ve ever met, but because of the connection he has to playing it in his mid-20s and now again in his mid-40s. He was quick to agree and didn’t hesitate in asking to bring on Karl Sine, a great young fight director and an incredible actor, to play the role of James.”
Calling upon a diverse selection of emerging theatre talents and established artists who have been with the company since its inception, Luhning hopes to bring balance to the Force behind Ground Zero’s beloved flashback-steeped fantasy.
“We have the privilege of working with the amazing JP Thibodeau [Storybook Theatre], whose set designs have created a whole new world for Jedi’s actors to explore. Part of our vision is to incorporate elements of the actual film through the use of video and projections. In the past we didn’t have the technical capabilities we do today. It really is a new show from top to bottom. We asked Steven to do some brush-up work on the script, and he has written a piece that will appeal to the old fans as much as the eight-year-olds in the audience. It’s a dynamic combination of reviving the nostalgic flavour of the past and looking at the process through fresh eyes.”
The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook plays at Vertigo Theatre Feb. 11-21.AB, Alberta, Ground Zero Theatre, live theatre, The Boy's Jedi Handbook, Vertigo Theatre