More than skin-deep: Northern Light Theatre sashays online with The Look

By Fawnda Mithrush

Last fall Northern Light Theatre (NLT) opened its 45th anniversary season at the Arts Barns last fall with We Had a Girl Before You, an actual in-person play, perhaps one of the last we'll see for the foreseeable future. 

The NLT season was programmed to feature stories about women "of a certain age" — that is, mature beyond their 20s and 30s. Though artistic director Trevor Schmidt was initially reluctant to pivot online, as told to your correspondent in an early 2020 interview, NLT is now shifting to digital delivery for its upcoming production of The Look by Australian playwright/screenwriter Alexa Wyatt. It is set to stream Jan. 22-31.

Linda Grass stars in The Look, by Alexa Wyatt. (Northern Light Theatre)

Linda Grass stars in The Look, by Alexa Wyatt. (Northern Light Theatre)

Simply hitting a record button is definitely not what Schmidt wanted to do for The Look.

"It's hard!" he says, of mounting the show for film. "With We Had a Girl Before You, we had to adjust to different audience/actor relationships within a much larger venue than we intended, as per COVID safety regulations and restrictions. But the actual show was pretty much the same, with a larger, grander set and scale."

"With this one, knowing (shortly) beforehand that we were going straight-to-video meant a lot of extra planning for shots, lighting, editing, and sound. It's been like doing two shows, the play and performance itself, and the ballet that is camerawork and editing. It's been exhausting!"

The show stars actor Linda Grass as Marilyn, a former cover girl reminiscing about her glory days gracing the pages of fashion magazines. Many of the fictional campaigns were recreated for the show.

In a Director's Circle video, Schmidt notes that despite being written back in 1992, The Look indeed predicted beauty industry trends, like the insurgence of eyelash culture and edgier cosmetic brands like Urban Decay. 

"I think we should just be honest about things, and that's what the play says as well," he says, noting that COVID has perhaps helped people accept their aging appearance — and their grey hair — a little more easily. It's a darkly comic look at an identity crisis, with a twist at the end.

"Well, we always play a trick, a little bait and switch," he says. "I think people will be coming for the comedy and we'll sucker punch them with the drama, which is always my favourite thing ever."