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In Conversation with Jennifer Brewin about “The Public Servant”, on stage now until April 3

by Bailey Green

“A healthy, strong civil service makes for a freer, diverse and inclusive world, and that is just my world view,” says Jennifer Brewin when asked about what she hopes audiences will take away from the upcoming production of The Public Servant (presented by Common Boots Theatre and Nightwood Theatre). “We vote for politicians and those are the people who determine what kind of civil service we’re going to get. An accountable robust civil service is best for everyone.”

The Public Servant began about 6 years ago, shortly after Brewin was made Artistic Director of Common Boots Theatre (formerly known as Theatre Columbus). Brewin knew she wanted to work with Sarah McVie, Haley McGee and Amy Rutherford and she was drawn to the idea of exploring the strains of public life. “The people who work in admin or in management are often these unsung heros,” Brewin says. “Literature tends to mock them or reduce them, and they haven’t had their place in the sun. So it was an important idea to me, especially because so many people who work in administration are women. Where are the songs about the heroic work of that, getting a report in on time or completing an audit. Those things create foundation, support and innovation.”

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

The team (Brewin, McVie, McGee and Rutherford) interviewed a wide range of women working in the public service in Ottawa. Over the course of their interviews, they encountered three generations of women working in the public service. There were the women who had worked during Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s time, who had been given responsibility to create new policies and laws for a more inclusive society. “They told incredible stories of fighting for equal pay, for changing maternity leave laws and regulations,” Brewin says. Then there were women who were currently working and were nearing the mid to end point of their careers. These women had worked during Mulroney, Chretien and Martin’s terms as prime minister. “They had faith in what they were doing but their faith was strained,” Brewin says. “Jobs were cut under the Harper administration and people were let go. And then we met young people going in to public service, which was a very different experience. They wanted to be good administrators and managers, but didn’t have particular ambitions to change the world.”

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

The women wrote the play through long form improvisation. Each of the actors was drawn to a different generation of public service and each character became a composite of the different people the team had met. The character of Madge, a young and eager public servant, originally created by McGee, brings us into the world of The Public Servant. The play originally premiered in Ottawa, where Brewin found it was incredibly exciting to watch a play about women speak to all kinds of people. For this run, McGee had booked a contract in London England, and the role of Madge was taken on by Amy Keating. “Amy’s understanding of the script and the story has really helped reveal new things about the play and the character,” Brewin says. “It’s been really exciting working with her and clarifying her intentions.”

When asked about Brewin’s joys and challenges when working as a director on the piece, she said, “The joy was experiencing Amy, Sarah, Haley and, later, Amy [Keating] interpret the entire art of the play/production. It’s incredibly exciting to throw up all our rules of engagement and just dig into it.”

The Public Servant

Written by Jennifer Brewin, Haley McGee, Sarah McVie and Amy Rutherford
Directed by Jennifer Brewin
Produced by Common Boots Theatre (formerly Theatre Columbus) in association with Nightwood Theatre

What: The Public Servant is a comic-tragedy about women and administration. Step inside the halls of power as Madge, a young, idealistic and enthusiastic civil servant, gets ready to write her first official memo.
Based on the interviews of some twenty civil servants who shared harrowing tales of navigating the fuzzy divide between individual need and public good, The Public Servant reveals a journey of heroic dedication and professional betrayal, of overcoming cutbacks, bad managers and incompetent ministers. And how in the end, the demands of accountability and transparency seem to defeat even the best bureaucratic soldiers.

Where: Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs
26 Berkeley Street

When: March 13 – April 3, 2016
Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday: 8pm
Friday: 7pm
Saturday-Sunday: 2pm
Wednesday March 30: 1pm

Tickets: Regular price $35


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