Prince George audiences are in for a unique experience when Theatre North West kicks off its 2013-14 season on Wednesday.
Acclaimed Canadian actor Rod Beattie will bring his best-known character Walt Wingfield to the city for the first time with Letter from Wingfield Farm.
The comedic one-man show is the first in a series of seven plays about the Bay Street stockbroker who moves out of the city to the fictional Persephone Township where he sets up on a hundred-acre farm.
Wingfield tells of the wacky people he meets and the events of his first year as a city slicker turned farmer through a series of letters to the editor, with Beattie playing every role.
It's a conceit that takes some getting used to, Beattie acknowledged, but the team behind the show - including writer Dan Needles and director Douglas Beattie - discovered that audiences are up to the challenge.
In the year of work put into the show before its first public performance in 1984, the trio thought they would have to re-introduce each character each time Beattie returned to them so that the audience would understand who they were seeing.
"But that's not true at all. The audience can instantly see after one introduction who's speaking and who they're speaking to and even keep track of who else is on stage," Beattie said. "And that was a delightful thing to discover that audiences can do that, and like doing that."
Much like the way a reader can create their own image of a character in a book, so too can audiences form their own understanding of the people who make up Perspehone Township. In an age where the arts are so easily graphically rendered, Beattie said he believes they are at an advantage with their show.
"I sometimes think we are the beneficiaries of that in a way, because people still have imaginations and they still like to use them," he said. "I give them clues to [what the characters look like] by the way I act them, but they're really the audience's creation."
A Stratford Festival veteran, Beattie has logged more than 4,500 Wingfield performances - quite the milestone for someone who didn't originally think that one-person shows were really considered plays or acting.
"I even remember thinking way back in the beginning, this is something I might do for a while instead of acting. But I stopped thinking that," he said. Instead, over time, Beattie no longer felt as though he was alone on stage and could feel the presence of the surrounding characters.
After a successful run of Letter from Wingfield Farm performances in 1986 in Victoria, Beattie returned home to Ontario with the realization the show had a far broader appeal than originally expected. To build on the success, the group decided to create a trilogy of Wingfield plays.
"None of us were very good at math," Beattie said. "So we did the three and thought that was the end of it. It turned out, we might have thought that but the characters didn't think that."
Letter from Wingfield Farm runs Oct. 2-23 at Theatre North West (dark Mondays). Tickets are available at Books and Company.