Festival superstar Mark Crawford returns with 'Chase the Ace'
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Mark Crawford, a name well-known to Blyth Festival audiences, is part of the inaugural season on the Festival’s new Harvest Stage with Chase the Ace, his first-ever one-person show.
Crawford wrote the play entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning last fall ahead of the world premiere at The Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover in July, a rather quick turnaround for a new production. He says it all began with a quirky story out of Atlantic Canada.
A Chase the Ace fundraiser (a progressive draw in which the jackpot grows every week until the ace of spades is found) for two fire departments in Margaree Forks, Nova Scotia created quite a stir when its grand prize kept growing week after week, eventually reaching over $1.2 million. The draw, hosted in a small community of just a few hundred people, began to attract people from all over the province as the grand prize grew. Crawford read the story and filed it away in his mind, laughing at the quirky details of people parking on the highway and walking into town for tickets and the bathrooms in the town’s one restaurant being completely overwhelmed on ticket sale days.
(The real life story of the draw would take a sad turn after the winning ticket was drawn, resulting in a lawsuit among family members and a dispute over the rightful winner of the money.)
Crawford mined that memory last year, but put it together with a desire to write his first-ever one-person play. Thinking ahead to the return of live theatre in the era of COVID-19 - knowing that smaller casts would likely be called for - Crawford began work on Chase the Ace. He tells the story of a newly-hired small town radio DJ who’s running the town’s Chase the Ace draw, while investigating municipal corruption at the same time. This is all going on when the COVID-19 pandemic strikes, adding yet another wrinkle.
Crawford is well known at the Festival and across the country for his comedies that have been hits with audiences, like Stag and Doe, The New Canadian Curling Club, Bed and Breakfast and more. Chase the Ace, he says, should provide laughs at a time when audience members will sorely need them.
It will be the first one-man show he’s ever written, but Bed and Breakfast, which he performed with his real-life partner Paul Dunn, followed a lot of the same principles, with the two men each playing a number of characters for the duration of the show.
Crawford said that, with Chase the Ace, he wanted to create a number of unique characters, so the play isn’t just one guy talking, despite the fact that it is, in fact, one guy talking. But being able to flesh out a world with developed characters, even with a small cast, is a skill Crawford certainly possesses. The goal with Chase the Ace, he says, is to provide the audience with a big, full play, even though there’s only one person on stage.
The play didn’t premiere in Blyth, with production runs planned for Port Dover, Gananoque and Prince Edward County before Crawford and director Miles Potter make their way to Huron County. However, Crawford said he has a special relationship with Blyth and is excited to be part of the first-ever season on the new Harvest Stage. All four of the show’s productions, he said, will be different, which is a great way to return to the world of live theatre.
As for Chase the Ace, Crawford hopes to impart a number of emotions on audiences who come to see the show.
First, he hopes the show will provide a fun night out. For many people, seeing Chase the Ace will be the first time they’ve seen a live theatre show in over two years, so he wants to make sure it’s an experience that lives up to the anticipation.
He also said he hopes to provide some context on our approach to the truth and how complicated that relationship has become in recent years.
Chase the Ace opens on the Blyth Festival’s Harvest Stage on Wednesday, Sept. 8 for the first of 11 performances, closing on Sunday, Sept. 19.