November 2011: Header image: Michigan Upper Peninsula Falls by Kym Inabinet
Header image: Michigan Upper Peninsula Falls by Kym Inabinet

Featured Artist: Lee Ann Pearson

Last updated: November 3, 2011

Albertine in Five TimesOne of the most distressing aspects of the current emphasis on border security has been the impact on the rich cross border interaction and sharing among the various art organizations. This sharing is beautifully exemplified in the realm of the theater arts, and heading the list of cross-border pioneers in that department is Lee Ann Pearson. Lee Ann is currently directing Albertine in Five Times, written by Canadian author Michel Tremblay, which played the Sault Theater Workshop’s Studio Theater October 12 through 16, and will open Thursday, November 3, in the Chippewa Theater Guild’s Guild Theater. The production was conceived from the first as a co-production and auditions for the five-woman cast were held in both the Guild and the Studio Theaters.

Lee Ann has been active both as an actor and director, in both theater groups for almost all of her theatrical career. The first play she ever directed was The Melville Boys, a Sault Community Theater production, which played in Crawford Hall Auditorium and featured David Markstrom, Gary Deuman, and Ann Mullin. Asked about her favorite roles, Lee Ann cites Susie in Wait Until Dark. This was another Sault Community Theater production which played the old Attic Theater about twenty-five years ago. Gil Cymbalist played her husband and the cast also included her real husband, John, and her daughter Jennifer. She cited one performance in Wait Until Dark when asked about her worst theater “disasters” (our term). The cast had traveled to Newberry and performed in a space that was not only over a noisy bingo parlor, but equipped with a door that jammed so badly she couldn’t make her entrance, forcing the “bad guys” onstage to adlib wildly while she hunted down a custodian to pry open the door.

Lee Ann counts Eleanor of Acquitaine in A Lion in Winter as another favorite role. Also a Sault Community Theater Production, it took place in Crawford Hall Auditorium, with Richard Jennings as King Henry and David Markstrom as one of her sons. And, in a change of pace, she loved playing Olive in The Odd Couple, Female Version, with Mary Ann Harrington—also in Crawford Hall Auditorium. She later directed this play as the Sault Theater Workshop’s Quonta Festival entry.

Lee Ann Pearson grew up in Stratford, Ontario. She worked in the box office at the Stratford Festival, but at that time her excitement was limited to experiencing theater as a member of the audience. She met her husband when both were attending the University of Western Ontario in London and they married in 1967. Two of their four children were born in London and two after they moved to Sault, Ontario in 1972.

Lee Ann’s first experience with the production side of theater came about as a result of her husband’s role in Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Jean Keating. Keating gave her the job as prompter, so that she, too, could be involved. Following that experience, Lee Ann took the role of Moonbeam McSwine in Lil Abner—her one and only singing and dancing role. She says that “in 1980, after concluding that I could not sing and would not dance, I became involved with the Sault Theatre Workshop.” She started off there with a bang—her very first role was that of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Michael Hennessy. She went on to play in another Tennessee Williams epic, taking the role of Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She also played Stella in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. For thirty years she has been acting and directing on a regular basis, in both Sault, Ontario and Sault, Michigan and her involvement is total and committed. She has attended at least twenty-five Theater Ontario Summer Courses in Acting, Directing, Lighting, Adjudication, Clowning and Mask, as well.

We asked her about challenges. What has been her greatest challenge as an actor? She said that it used to be in learning lines, “but a great teacher once told me, ‘If Lee Ann walks onto the stage wondering “what’s my next line?”, she’ll never remember it, but if Stella listens to what Stanley or Blanche is saying to her, Stella will know exactly what to say’.” Lee Ann says that that advice hasn’t failed her yet. Her greatest challenge as a director is having enough confidence in her own skills to be able to assure the cast that she knows what she is doing; to allow herself to “get on and just do it!”

In her future plans is directing The Legend, a historical drama involving Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, for the bicentennial of the War of 1812. She adds that “Peter DeCourcey and his late wife Susan, have been great friends and an inspiration through all my years in theatre over here. Peter, of course, is a natural John Johnston and I hope he will agree to be a part of this next year. The project will involve both sides of the river and was partly why I wanted to do a co-production between Chippewa Theater Guild and Sault Theatre Workshop with Albertine”.

Which brings us full circle. Albertine in Five Times takes place in a retirement home, where Albertine, at 70, is spending her first night. She is visited by ghosts of herself at the ages of 30, 40, 50 and 60. The ghosts are played by four different actresses. This isn’t the first time Lee Ann has directed Albertine—the first time was twenty years ago at Algoma University. Jean Keating played Albertine at 70 in that version, and has the same role in the current production. Albertine at 60 is played by Patricia Pielow; Albertine at 50 by Debbie Rouleau; at 40 by Kim Cyr and at 30 by Patricia Pulcine. Albertine’s sister Madeleine is played by Melissa Pianosi. Keating, Pielow, Rouleau and Cyr are all from Sault, Ontario; Pianosi from Sault, Michigan. Like Keating, Rouleau was also in the 1991 production; in that version she played Albertine at 40.

We were curious as to why Lee Ann chose to direct Albertine again and she said that seeing a new play by Tremblay at Stratford last summer reminded her of how much she enjoyed his work. When she went back over his plays, she decided that Albertine was still her favorite. She feels she brings a greater maturity to this production: “older eyes and some life experiences certainly provide a different point of view and perhaps more empathy than was possible when I was forty-five.”

When asked if she had considered taking one of the roles herself, Lee Ann replied that she would love to play Albertine at 60 or 70 but “never while I was the director. Michael Tremblay’s latest play, For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, is about his mother, a part I would die for if I could find someone who wanted to direct it.” Lee Ann likes newer plays, especially those of Canadian playwrights, since she naturally identifies with their plays. She also likes dramas, “since they are often very funny and very sad at the same time.” She enjoys both acting and directing—the entire process, from the initial choice, through the rehearsals to the actual performance.

Albertine in Five Times opens Thursday, November 3, at the Guild Theater on Eureka Street. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students and may be reserved by calling 632-7090 or bought at the door. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. for the Sunday matinee.

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