She is honouring her mother and entertaining the masses with her one-woman play.
© Submitted photo
Melody Johnson performs a scene from Miss Caledonia, her one women play that will be coming to Prince Albert this November.
Melody Johnson, a playwright and actress out of Toronto, will be performing her play Miss Caledonia at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on Nov. 1.
“It is billed as a one woman play but I also have a fiddler with me on stage,” Johnson said.
The play is based on Johnson’s mother, Peggy Ann Douglas, who as a teenager in 1955 wanted to spread her wings and get away from the farming lifestyle.
“She wanted to escape the farm so she discovered by watching other actresses and models at that time -- one of which was Debbie Reynolds who was an icon for her -- perhaps what she should do to get off the farm was work the pageant circuit,” Johnson said.
Following in the footsteps of her idol, Johnson’s mother started entering pageants in local fairs and winning.
“It is about her journey of trying to escape the farm to maybe move to Hollywood one day,” Johnson said.
As a child, Johnson was always involved in the arts. She was taking dance classes as young as seven and started acting in her teenage years.
Since her mother was into acting and pageants, Johnson feels she was destined to be involved in the arts.
“I guess it stems off my mom’s love of theatre and musical theatre and show business,” Johnson said. “She named me Melody because she loved the musical theatre. I guess I was kind of destined to do it in some capacity.”
Johnson loves acting on the stage because of the feeling you get on the stage.
“It is quite exciting, especially in this day and age where so many of us watch DVDs or stay at home,” Johnson said. “I think just being in front of people, in the moment, is really exciting to me.”
Johnson remembers growing up with all her mother’s pageant items around the house -- there were batons, tap shoes, trophies and sashes.
“One day I was like, ‘what is all this stuff?’” Johnson said. “We created a dialogue about it and I started to ask her questions about why did you do this and what is so tough about living on a farm because I lived in (a city).
“I never lived on a farm so I was curious about what is so bad about being on a farm because my only experience of a farm was Oklahoma, which looked pretty sweet to me,” Johnson laughed.
During their conversation, her mother took Johnson through what the daily rituals on the farm were, what was involved when she was a child and the struggles of running a farm in the 1950s.
“After my mom answered all these questions, I tried to make those answers, her responses, into scenes,” Johnson said. “I started writing the play that way. I got up on my feet with my fiddler and two directors. We improvised a little bit with what I had written and that was how we started to create the play.”
Miss Caledonia is not strictly a drama or comedy, Johnson said.
“I think it is a comedic tale, but there is a love drama in it that I enjoy seeing people’s reaction to,” Johnson said. “It is fun how they discover it along with me the whole time.”
Although Johnson has written other plays in the past with a team, this is her first solo venture.
“It was a little simpler because there wasn’t all these other people whose ideas I had to take into account,” Johnson said. “It was just my ideas, so it was easier to focus in a way. Instead of the too many cooks in the kitchen, I was my own narrative.”
Johnson’s main inspiration is her mother, but she feels inspired by many other artists all the time.
“I went to Les Mis here in Toronto, which is an epic musical that might be fun to be in at some point, but those people they are just awe-inspiring,” Johnson said. “If I go to see a concert or go to the art gallery here, I am constantly inspired by other artists. That is what keeps me moving forward and creating is seeing other people’s work and reading other people’s writing.”
Many older T.V. and movie stars have also inspired Johnson to continue acting.
“I always loved Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett as well as Al Pacino for dramatic acting,” Johnson said. “It is an odd combo with Al Pacino in there.”
She also enjoyed Gene Kelly, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall’s performances.
The play has been well received in the east. It had long run at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and has even been performed in the Maritimes.
“I think it strikes a cord with a lot of people, whether you live in the city of not,” Johnson said. “A lot of people in the city come from smaller towns and farming communities.”
When the play debuted at the Summer Works Festival in 2010, Johnson was told she should to bring it to Western Canada.
“We think of Saskatchewan and Alberta as being more farm and people it would really resonate with,” Johnson said. “We are really happy to get it out there.”
Although she has been to the Prairies before -- she performed at St. Albert, Alta., last year -- but has never been to Saskatchewan before.
“I think it is the only province that I haven’t been to,” Johnson said. “I am happy to finally make it there.”
The farm Johnson talks about in the play still exists today and her uncle lives there.
“We go there whenever we can,” Johnson said. “It is a working farm.”
She not only enjoys visiting the farm, but also acting as her mother, grandmother and grandfather in her play.
“My mom saw the play at the Summer Works version in 2010, which is good,” Johnson said. “She passed away in 2011, so I’m glad she got to see it (because) it really is an homage and celebration of her young years.”
Every time she performs the play, she feels closer to her family members.
“Every night before I go on, I kind of nod to them because I think they are with me in some way,” Johnson said. “It is in honour of them and more special in a way.”