Isaac Li credits his drama teacher at Cariboo Hill Secondary School for setting him on the path he’s on today.
Li is the director for Saint Joan, the upcoming inaugural production of a new Burnaby-based company, Promethean Theatre. Currently a student in the Studio 58 theatre training program at Langara College, Li says his Cariboo Hill years were formative. It was teacher Trevor Found, with his penchant for choosing less-than-traditional offerings for high school productions, that got Li hooked on the idea of exploring all kinds of drama.
Li discovered some kindred theatre spirits in Emily Wheeler and Matt McCarron, both of whom were onstage with him in Alchemy Theatre’s Love’s Labours’ Lost at Bernie Legge Theatre in New Westminster last summer. They brought in Li’s sister, Trisha – an SFU theatre student – and friend Vivek Lal, who serves as producer.
Together, the founding team sat down and batted around their ideas of dream plays and dream roles.
It was Wheeler who suggested George Bernard Shaw’s classic Saint Joan.
Li acknowledges the play is a tough choice but says it’s a good one for their first outing. He’s intrigued by the story of Joan of Arc, who’s often seen as a feminist figure – but who, he says, wasn’t really feminist in the accepted sense.
“She wasn’t doing all the things she did for women; she did it for her faith,” Li says. “She’s more a spiritual extremist, I might say. It’s an important story because it teaches us about standing in our faith, standing in what we believe in … and also seeing the extremes of absolutism.”
He says it’s a message that still resonates in today’s world – where, he says, political correctness has become the new “virtuousness.”
“It illustrates how far your conviction can and will take you,” he says, adding it also illustrates how to depend solely on your conviction and your pride can be your downfall.
In Wheeler, he says, the company has found its perfect Joan.
“She’s a very strong person, very strong in what she believes in. She’s very courageous and very warm, with also a bit of a snark to her. That brings out a lot of character in Joan,” Li says. “The trap in playing Joan of Arc is playing the saint and not Joan.”
Wheeler, he says, avoids that trap by always playing Joan’s humanity.
“She doesn’t try to divinate Joan of Arc,” he says.
Where the company will go from here, Li isn’t yet certain. But he says the team is hoping that Saint Joan will be a success and allow them to move into a regular schedule of productions – for now, only annually, since they’re full-time students and only have the time to devote to producing a play in the summer.
Moving forward, he says, he’d like to see the company tackle anything and everything that shows it’s a company “that values the art of theatre and not just the performance,” and to continue to focus on diversity, both on- and off-stage.
“I guess what sets Promethean apart is I don’t want to have boundaries,” he says, rather than choosing to focus on just musical theatre, or just classics, or just contemporary theatre. “I want to do whatever is needed in the community, and I want to fulfill my actor friends’ dreams.”
CHECK IT OUT
What: Saint Joan, presented by Promethean Theatre
Where: Cariboo Hill Secondary School, 8580 16th Ave., Burnaby
When: June 18 to 28, with shows June 18 to 22 and 25 to 28 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12 to $16. Buy through www.prometheantheatre.ca