Celebrate and rejoice for Mark Harrigan’s first-ever original production Marred Bliss, premiering at In The Soil this weekend. As a third-year Dramatic Arts student at Brock University, Harrigan is humbled to have his first production be professionally produced at In The Soil. Marred Bliss is entirely student based, showcasing the talents of Brock University students Josh Sanger, Emily Ferrier, and Raylene Turner as they explore the notion of marriage and all the implications that accompany it. Audience members attending this show are encouraged to bring their own insights into holy matrimony as this show raises the question “what if?” After working on this concept for over a year now, Harrigan is excited to get engaged with the St. Catharines community.

As our first piece of coverage for this year’s In The Soil Arts Festival, Alex and I sat down with fellow student Mark Harrigan for a conversation about his first production. Here are some of the highlights.

Alex: We’re interested in your participation with In The Soil.  How did you become involved?

Mark: Last year [In the Soil] were looking for volunteers so I signed up. I was overwhelmed by the amount of art in St. Catharines. And so, last September, I saw that they were looking for artist submissions and I decided I’d throw my hat in. The whole festival is so inclusive and Suitcase in Point makes it work in a wonderful way. So, a lot of happy accidents I guess.

Elizabeth: What has been your experience with In the Soil as a student?

Mark: Suitcase in Point, they don’t treat me like a student.  They treat me like a professional just like everyone else in the festival; they don’t give us special treatment [or] make exceptions for us.  We are responsible for what we are and they are responsible for what they are. It is a very nice relationship.

Elizabeth: The topics in “Marred Bliss” are clearly close to your heart.  What was the inception point of this piece?

Mark: It’s stemmed from a lot of different things.  I’ve always had this opinion on how our society has this mentality of climbing the ladder. You’re born, you go to school, you get the grades, etc. I’ve always wanted to write something about what happens when one of the pegs in the ladder isn’t there. How does that affect how we move as a society and as individuals? I honed in on marriage. Marriage can be a good thing, but I’ve only ever seen it as a reason to party, to essentially put two people up in front of everyone and say “okay, we’re married now.  We promise to support each other.” I wanted to poke at that to see what happens.

Alex: So “Marred Bliss” is a critique on marriage?

Mark: I’d say it’s my little critique on marriage.  Marriage versus what actual love is. There [are] instances where we see [that] the characters’ marriage is just another chink in the chain.  But when we see them really love each other it becomes something a lot more beautiful. Initially marriage was a financial transaction. ‘I’ll give you ten cows and a pig, and you’ll give me part of your land.’  This whole concept of marriage doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

Elizabeth: Can you talk to us a bit about your writing process? You wrote the play as well as directed it.

Mark: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten about writing is: if you show a gun in Act I you have to fire it in Act II. A lot of [writing] this play was making sure that all the guns I show in the beginning of the play are properly fired in the second half. Even then, as we were starting rehearsals I was still making little tweaks and changes.  Eventually Oriana Marrone [company stage manager] and Kelli Sitarski [company producer] had to stop me and say “no, you’re not allowed to make any more changes.”

Alex: Seeing an original creation come to public fruition must be quite the experience.  Can you articulate what it is like seeing something move from your head to the page to the stage?

Mark: From head to page? Anybody will tell you, it’s a frustrating process. But seeing it go from page to stage makes it all worth it.  I have an amazing crew and they have made this vision come to life in ways that I hadn’t expected.  Raylene [Turner], Josh [Sanger], and Emily [Ferrier] – what they bring as characters blows me away.  Seeing Jen [Dewan, Sound Designer], Kevin [Langendyk, Light Designer], and Oriana work the technical aspects and make everything look the way I want is surreal. 

Elizabeth: Do you want to talk a little bit about what role dance and music played in the show without giving too much away?

Mark: There are moments where we tap into the inner thoughts of the characters.  Initially I wanted to achieve that with video and when I had to make [technical] compromises it became more a matter of using dance and voiceover.  Where the dances are, we see a window into what the characters are thinking.  Katelyn Lander [also a Brock University student] is the choreographer. Katelyn has been able to work miracles and bring together something wonderful in a very short period of time.

Alex: What do you hope audiences will take away from your production?

Mark: In the show there is an aspect of ‘what if things had been different?’ I want people to consider what the path less travelled [is] for them and realize that at any moment you can stop moving in the direction you’re going and completely change gears.  That’s the dream, I think – for people to consider that.

Elizabeth: Anything else you think audiences should know before seeing “Marred Bliss”?

Mark: I want people to know that the play moves backwards. We see a couple move from the very last moment of their relationship to the earliest conception of their relationship.

Alex: Thanks for having us Mark. We look forward to seeing your work come together.

Say “I do” to attending Marred Bliss, premiering on Friday the 24th at 6:00 pm and Saturday the 25th at 10 pm. Admission available at the door or with a festival pass.

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