By Bhavana Gopinath –
Fran Pearl, theatre aficionado and organizer of more than 50 theatre tours, is busy planning her next bus tour, this time to the Stratford Festival. Her tours have taken fellow theatre devotees to festivals like the Shaw Festival, Stratford Festival, and to theatre hotspots like Toronto, Montréal, and even London, England.
Pearl is a trip coordinator with the Friends of English Theatre (FET), a voluntary organization that supports the activities of the National Arts Centre. Pearl tries to make the tour experience as easy and enjoyable as possible — by blocking good seats in advance, offering flexibility to patrons in terms of accommodation at the destination, or the shows they want to watch — and adds her inimitable personal touch.
Pearl and her childhood sweetheart and husband Paul, share a love of theatre. Both grew up in art-loving families in Australia, in which music and theatre performances were a normal part of life. They pursued their interest in theatre during stints in Paris and London and settled down roots in Ottawa in 1974. Pearl inevitably got involved in the local theatre scene. After retiring 15 years ago as a special education teacher, she threw herself into the FET.
Not a performer or a reader by temperament, Pearl watches plays to internalize literature — as an “enthusiastic consumer” of dramas. Theatre, she says, helps her to think, to feel, and be moved. She derives a sublime pleasure from meaningful scripts, whether Shakespeare or modern writers. Her favourite plays, gleaned from watching more than a thousand performances, encompass a broad range of themes. To name just a few: “Tribes” by Nina Raine, “The Crucible” and “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller, “Portrait of an Unidentified Man” by Pierre Brault, “The James Plays” by Rona Munro, “Equus” by Peter Shaffer, “Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss, “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” by Ray Lawler and “Kings of Kilburn High Road” by Jimmy Murphy.
“When a play moves me, I have to just sit there when it finishes. I want that feeling to live forever,” Pearl enthuses. She wants more people to share this magic of live theatre, and regrets the younger generation’s dwindling interest in fine arts. Everyone wants instant gratification, she feels, and nobody puts in the effort that a deep understanding of good literature or music requires.
Pearl and her fellow theatre lovers at the FET work hard to support the NAC to encourage quality theatre in Canada. Pearl’s theatre trips alone have raised more than $85,000 over the years, and these monies help programs like Family Day (interactive displays and special workshops for kids), a theatre-exposure program for underprivileged children, and outreach programs for schools and seniors’ homes.
Pearl’s experiences as a mother have only strengthened her beliefs in the soul-sustaining power of the performing arts. She recalls her daughter blossoming into a confident and assertive person after drama classes in high school. Both her daughters are, in fact, involved with the fine arts. Davina is an aspiring professional musician while Judy works with the NAC.
If the theatre speaks to you, as it does to Fran Pearl and her family, then FET (fetnac.org/Volunteer.html) offers several ways to get involved. Alternatively, if you want to watch some great plays, then Pearl is currently accepting bookings for a September tour to Stratford. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 613-726-9330.