Romantic Christmas comedy had a long journey

Patti Flather is sitting at a coffee shop talking about how much fun it is to write strong roles for actors over 40. “There’s just not enough of that in theatre or film.”

She sometimes wonders who tells their stories.

“I love seeing actors who are a bit older grapple with dating in the same way that younger people do. The ways we seek love are universal. And I don’t think it gets easier.”

So she decided to write The Soul Menders and, yeah, she admits she had a lot of fun writing it. A few of the leads are “a bit zany” and it carries a lot of nostalgia for her because it’s set in North Vancouver.

“But everyone has Christmas traditions we’re attached to. And Yukoners know this real well. They have to create new ones because they’re so far away from friends and family.”

The Soul Menders took years to get to where it will be presented for Yukoners in a world premiere Nov. 19 … a journey of many steps from idea to stage.

The Idea: “One day, I decided I wanted to write a romantic Christmas comedy,” Flather says, laughing.

The First Step: She drafted a few scenes around 2004 and, thanks to Nakai Theatre, worked with Celia McBride as a dramaturg. Up in Alpine Bakery’s loft, Tom Schulte and Brian Fidler helped act out, and flesh out, those scenes.

Perseverance With an Idea: She developed a first draft and took those to the Playwrights Theatre Conference around 2005, and later to the Banff Playwrights Colony in 2007 where she worked with dramaturg, Bob White. “He was great . I showed him what I had. He was blunt and to the point. And then I would go write for a week.”

Banff provided professional actors to read the play out loud, helping her even more.

At the end of that time, Flather had a new draft.

Fine Tuning by the Playwright: Chris McGregor, the director, saw that draft, pretty much unchanged, when he considered the play this summer. But Flather had been busy on drafting a screenplay of The Soul Menders, and had created a couple of scenes not in the play version. When she and Chris met to talk about producing the play, she added those scenes in.

Fine Tuning by the Director: And then they looked at all the drafts, screenplays, etc, and took the best from each and broke the play into new scenes.

“It’s very good not to rush the process. It allowed discovery and getting to know the characters on a deeper level.”

She admits every writer is different. But for her, it took a “layering process”. “I get more and more layers if I take time away and then come back.”

And the product: “I think this is a very funny story — but one now with deeper levels.”

Fine Tuning by the Cast: “They are very respectful,” Flather beams. “Sometimes I will change a line, and they might try it out to see if it works. They aren’t coming to me a whole lot requesting changes. But it is a collaborative process.”

And, right now for Flather, seeing The Soul Menders through rehearsal is cracking her up.

“I love watching the actors find their own moments.”

About the process, she admits it’s a long one, and sometimes complicated with drafts … and readings … and revising … and playwright boot camps … and input from others. But she’s thrilled to see the play now coming together.

“It’s valuable to get the script as good as it can be — whatever the process.”

The Soul Menders is at the Guild Theatre from Nov. 19 to Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at Whitehorse Motors.

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