With in-person theatrical performances still on the backburner as Nova Scotia continues its COVID-19 re-opening plan, sometimes you have to look for opportunities elsewhere. Halifax’s Page1 Theatre is doing just that as it looks beyond our borders to present Isaac Mulè’s new one-person play, Mr. Wonderful and I at this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival.
But while the company, dedicated to producing, presenting, and developing original professional queer theatrical work, may be “performing” 1,800 kilometres away, Halifax audiences will still have an opportunity to see the show as it is being offered as part of the Southern Ontario festival’s digital series, presented online for audiences regardless of their location.
The relationship between Hamilton and Halifax makes sense. Having operated in Ontario for six years, Page1 Theatre‘s artistic director Isaac Mulè and his partner pulled up stakes earlier this year to make a move to Halifax, bringing their theatre company with them.
“With all of our bigger projects on hold, we felt that pivoting into the digital exclusive category and presenting this project would still give us the opportunity to create and present something. To highlight the work that we are interested in as a company,” says Mulè, who also wrote the show.
A dark comedy inspired by Mulè’s personal journey with mental health, Mr. Wonderful and I is the story of a character known as Man and his dog Sheldon (aka Mr. Wonderful), exploring mental health, thriving beyond a diagnosis, and the power of unconditional love.
“I had been thinking about this project for about two years,” Mulè says. “And it wasn’t
until last summer that I finally started to write about my experience. It’s a bit scary to put
yourself out there like that and yet I also felt it was something I had to do. This project is
very much a ‘second coming out’ so to speak.”
In addition to working in theatre, Mulè worked as a child and youth worker and with
adults with disabilities. It is from these experiences that he has drawn inspiration for his play.
“I have seen first hand a variety of experiences and know how challenging mental health can be, how much it can consume your life and how much of it is misunderstood,” he says. “For myself, I finally reached a point where I felt it was important for me talk about my own experience.”
Originally developed through grants from Toronto’s Roseneath Theatre and the Waterloo Arts Fund, Mulè says the grants were instrumental in the play’s creation. They allowed him to focus on his own work.
“I’ve been working very hard for the past six years to grow the company and have not had as such time to develop my own work, let alone a story so personal to me,” he says.
An online reading in February helped to solidify Mulè’s story.
“Many of the folks in attendance know friends or family who share a similar diagnosis as me and to hear them say how validating it was to see my show, even at this early stage, meant the world to me,” he says. “To know that they could see their friends and family through the character and to know how much my own work validated those experiences, I can’t explain how humbling that feeling is.”
The project is also getting a boost from award-winning actor Allister MacDonald, who won the 2020 ACTRA Award for outstanding lead performance as drag queen Joan of Arkansas in the feature film Stage Mother from Halifax filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald.
“As a queer artist, I am constantly seeking work that I feel accurately represents myself and my identity,” says MacDonald. “Upon reading Mr. Wonderful and I, I found myself totally caught up in the honest portrayal of living with certain mental health circumstances through an unapologetically queer lens, recognizing the harsh yet funny moments of what that realistically looks like. I am honoured to bring my own insight and instincts to this wonderful story, and hope you enjoy.”
As for the challenges of pitching a show about mental health during a worldwide pandemic, Mulè sees it as a wonderful opportunity.
“I think all anyone wants is to feel connected and to feel less alone, especially now,” he says. “The heart of this show is about connection and love. I’ve spent years producing queer work because our patrons and artists are looking for a space to connect with other queer people. This is exactly the same when it comes to mental health. I want people who see this to feel seen.”
Mr. Wonderful and I will stream online July 15-25 as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival Digital Exclusives series. Visit hamiltonfringe.ca for tickets and information.