When Mark Crawford, an actor, playwright and U of T Mississauga alumnus, wrote his first play, he stayed true to his small town roots and that decision has paid off. This summer, his work debuts on two different stages to positive reviews.
Crawford trained with UTM’s Theatre and Drama Studies joint program with Sheridan College, where he studied under Leslie Thomson, Bruce Burton, Nancy Copeland and Patrick Young. Since graduating in 2004, Crawford has appeared in productions from Manitoba to New Brunswick, including the Blyth Festival, Thunder Bay’s Magnus Theatre, Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre and more.
This summer, the actor will be watching from the wings as his first play, Stag and Doe, makes its stage debut. The comedy recently began a month-long run as part of the Blyth Festival’s 40th anniversary line up. The production will be staged again this summer at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre—an unusual feat for a new play.
Stag and Doe is set in a small-town community hall, and begins with Bonnie and Brad making Jell-O shooters with their maid of honour, Dee, as they prepare for their stag and doe party set for that night. Things get complicated when another bride shows up. Her tent has blown away in a tornado and she wants to use the hall that night for her own wedding. The guy she’s marrying? He left Dee at the altar a few years ago. The brides attempt to share the hall and—well—it’s a comedy, so you can imagine that things don’t go smoothly.
Crawford grew up in on a beef farm just outside of Glencoe, Ontario, where stag and doe parties are a standard part of wedding plans. Thought to be a tradition unique to Ontario, the parties are pre-wedding fundraising events hosted by young couples about to be wed. Friends and family purchase tickets to attend the party, along with drinks, food and raffle tickets, as a way to help the bride and groom defray the costs of the big day.
For Crawford, the play is a love letter to small communities like his home town. “On one hand, the fundraising parties are there to pay for your big, giant wedding that you can’t afford because you’re young and you’re broke,” he says. “But it’s also about a community coming together and helping people, and that’s beautiful.”
He says that it’s exciting to hear the audience reacting to his story. “There’s lots of laughter from the audience,” he says. “They know who these characters are and they recognize this as real human behaviour. They’re laughing because they see themselves. For me, that’s a big payoff.”
This is a busy year for Crawford, who is rehearsing his upcoming role in To Kill A Mockingbird with Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, and appearing in a supporting role in the Port Stanley production of Stag and Doe. He is also at work on his next play, another comedy titled Bed & Breakfast. Crawford revisits small town life with the story, which sees city-dwellers Brett and Drew relocate to the country to open a bed and breakfast. The play had its first reading this spring as part of a theatre incubator program with the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario. “I wrote Stag and Doe in isolation,” he says, adding that working on Bed & Breakfast through the playhouse theatre incubator has meant showing his early drafts to other playwrights, a process he describes as “freeing, and really positive.”
Crawford hopes audiences from towns like Glencoe will see themselves on the stage in his plays.
“Here’s a story for you, and it’s actually about you,” Crawford says. “There’s something very exciting about seeing who you are, your people, your place, on the stage.”
“It’s a part of Canadian theatre that we do quite well,” he says. “There’s a desire to see ourselves. I hope that I’m writing in that tradition.”
See Stag and Doe at the Blyth Festival until September 6, 2014.
See Stag and Doe at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre until September 13, 2014.
See Mark Crawford in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Young People’s Theatre from October 6 until November 2, 2014.
Watch a scene from the Blyth Festival production of Stag and Doe: