Some lawyers seek acquittals. Others dream of Tony awards. Who would you rather spend an evening with?
Legal eagles from across the city are giving back to the community — despite their demanding careers and family obligations — by performing in the upcoming 20th Annual Lawyer Play fundraiser, presented by the Great Canadian Theatre Company and the County of Carleton Law Association.
“When I see people who are so busy in their professional and personal lives donating, literally, hundreds of hours of volunteer time, year after year, I’m humbled by their dedication,” said GCTC's artistic director, Eric Coates, in an interview.
This year, a cast of 23 local lawyers and judges are paying tribute to a radio classic by performing War of Two Worlds, a new work and adaption by Coates and GCTC’s managing director, Hugh Neilson. The production is a radio-play-within-a-play following an ensemble of voice actors in the late 1940s as they attempt to save their radio station while recreating Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds.
Directing the cast is Kate Smith.
“What I wanted was something that would really evoke that period of madcap family comedy, with a big cast of eccentric characters, where everything is always chaos,” said Coates, who was inspired by the works of great comedic playwrights George Kaufman and Moss Hart. “I thought it would be fun to try our hand at something like that.
“One of the real joys was being able to write certain scenes with particular lawyers in mind,” added Coates, who, once casting was sorted out, adjusted some of the story and text to suit the personality of certain lawyers.
“I can’t tell you how much fun that was, and that’s because I’ve gotten to know some of these people so well over the years. I know what their strengths are, and I know that they’re going to enjoy it, also, if we poke a bit of fun at their own quirks.”
The annual Lawyer Play is one of the legal community’s longest running and most successful fundraisers. It has raised more than $2 million since 1999. It also raises funds for a different local charity each year. St. Mary’s Home, an Ottawa-based social service agency that provides a full range of programs and services for young pregnant women, young moms and dads, and their babies and young children, will receive a portion of the proceeds this year.
Co-chairing the Lawyer Play committee are Tara Berish, who works for the federal Department of Justice, and Dan Hohnstein, an international trade lawyer and partner at Tereposky & DeRose LLP.
Berish has been involved in theatre since she was a kid growing up in Montreal. She performed in her first Lawyer Play in 2007 as an articling student. The production was Tina Howe’s comedy of absurdities, Museum. She hasn’t missed a play since. “I love it,” she told OBJ.social of the experience of working with the other lawyers and with a professional theatre company like the GCTC.
The co-chairs say they’re happy to make the productions a priority in their lives each spring. “It’s not a hardship,” said Hohnstein. “It is a privilege and a joy to be part of it.”
Hohnstein said he’s deeply grateful to the Ottawa theatre community for welcoming him and his peers “and for putting up with the fact that we are amateurs in their world.
"“They are absolutely wonderful in the way that they train us and coach us and turn us into something that we’re not — which is actors that actually look professional and put on a very good show."
“They are absolutely wonderful in the way that they train us and coach us and turn us into something that we’re not — which is actors that actually look professional and put on a very good show. All of that credit needs to go to the director, Kate Smith, writers Eric and Hugh, costume designer Vanessa Imeson, stage manager Jess Preece, and lighting and sound. All of them are what makes this show a success and we’re just lucky to be part of it as lawyers.”
Hohnstein’s connection to the Lawyer Play can also be traced back to his articling year. He decide to sign up for an audition, based on his experience in community theatre while living and working in the U.K.. But, he came down with a case of cold feet on the eve of his audition for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and was tempted to back out.
“I said to myself, ‘Why am I even attempting to audition? I am just an articling student. I know absolutely nobody from Ottawa because I’m not from Ottawa. I don’t have a chance, so why am I wasting my time and everybody else’s time?”
He convinced himself to go through with it, if only for the chance to meet new people. He landed the role of the angry John Proctor, and has been hooked every since.
“From a professional standpoint, it’s an opportunity to work with lawyers from a range of different fields that we would otherwise never have an opportunity to interact with,” said Hohnstein, who has along acted side such seasoned lawyers as Janice Payne (Nelligan O’Brien Payne), Mitch Charness (Ridout & Maybee), Ted Mann (Mann Lawyers), along with younger lawyers.
“In a lot of ways, the camaraderie is like being on a sports team. You’ve got a group of people all working together with a great deal of intensity toward a common goal. And, it is extremely enjoyable and very rewarding when you achieve those goals.”
War of the Two Worlds has its preview night on Wednesday, June 5th. It continues with its gala evening performances from Thursday, June 6th to Saturday, June 8th. Audiences can expect an opening night catered by award-winning Coconut Lagoon, complimentary tastings from a selection of local wineries, breweries and distilleries, a silent auction with gift certificates from various businesses in Wellington West, as well as passes to Bluesfest and The Ottawa Jazz Festival.
Tickets for the gala evenings as $110, with a $60 charitable tax receipt.
The Thursday night performance will feature cameo appearances by Sheila Bayne, Ted Mann and Brian Parnega. On Friday, expect to see judges Lise Parent and Heather Williams pop out on stage. On closing night, Ian Stauffer and Justice Giovanna Roccamo will make a fleeting theatrical appearance.