By Alicia Ward
We all know that girl — you know, the one who’s still with her boyfriend from Grade Eight and finds herself contemplating more white dresses than Fibonacci squares during midterms — and the one that you may have tried to talk out of leaving school in pursuit of the nuclear family.
Director and playwright Brooklyn Ritchie was also concerned about some of his female friends who were dropping out of university to pursue romantic relationships. For Ritchie, who graduated from Mount Royal University three years ago, there are two conflicting “Calgarian Dreams” — big-business success versus suburban domestic bliss. In his play The Homemaker, he explores these two very different lifestyles and the desires behind them.
The Homemaker, presented in Calgary by emerging-artists company Ronin Theatre, involves two sisters whose grandmother has recently passed away and left a sizable inheritance for both of them. The younger sister intends to use the money to finance an education at a ballet school. The eldest sister, however, strikes a deal with her father that will allow her to keep all the inheritance money for herself if she gets married soon.
“What’s more important: Settling down with a family early or [obtaining] post-secondary education and starting your career?” asks Ritchie, both vocally and through his play. While he does not attempt to give a definitive answer to the question, he does offer up his own opinion on settling into domestic life too quickly.
“You can always get married,” says Ritchie. “You’re only in your early twenties once. If you’re in your early twenties, why don’t you do ‘early-twenties’ things? Why don’t you travel or get your education while you are young?”
Perhaps the prevalence of couples willing to devote themselves to each other for a lifetime is a good sign for humanity — or perhaps the option of divorce has made early marriage too easy.
“[Divorce] is so common,” says Ritchie, whose own parents are divorced. “[Young couples] think, ‘Oh, we’re never going to get divorced.’ I think that’s one half of it, and I think the other half of [them] thinks, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work out, there’s an easy out.’”
Ritchie has found creative inspiration in both this grim reality and the contrasting ideals of settling into domestic life early or pursuing an education and career first — a choice faced by himself and many Calgarians.
“People can essentially be whatever they want in Calgary. It offers a lot of opportunities, as opposed to, say, a smaller centre,” remarks Ritchie.
“[People] want that suburban life. They want to live 45 minutes away from the city and they don’t want to go downtown very often. They want the white picket fence, they want the spouse, two-kids-and-the-dog sort of thing. I have noticed that even more in Calgary than other cities that I’ve visited,” observes Ritchie.
He hopes that the Calgary performances of The Homemaker will inspire dialogue among those who view it and cause young-adult audiences to reflect on their own life choices.
“Theatre is so intimate,” comments Ritchie. To him, “theatre calls [the audience] to action in a more direct way” because of how viewers are physically present for creative dramatic performances.
More than just inspiring those who view it, theatre gives narrative power to those who realize it. “There are a lot of emerging artists in [Calgary] theatre. They’re bringing in the younger demographic,” says the 26-year-old Ritchie. “When these emerging artists are being allowed to write plays and direct plays . . . we’re able to tell our stories.
“The creators of theatre have a responsibility. It’s about creating story,” he explains.
Although Ritchie himself has a strong personal opinion on the young-marriage debate, his art serves a broader purpose. The Homemaker is part cautionary tale, part social commentary — and all parts unmissable.