St. Mary performing George Orwell’s 1984 to send a message: ‘We need to watch out’

Aimee Grenier (right) rehearses her role as Julia in St. Mary's 1984 production on Nov. 18, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“I’m excited and thrilled and scared—all of the emotions all tumble into one.” – Aimee Grenier

École St. Mary High School in Prince Albert is putting on a play of a story from the 1940s that the director says in some ways depicts society today.

George Orwell’s 1984 is a dystopian novel imagining a completely government-monitored future. St. Mary’s production runs at the school from Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“The key line in the show is that if the Party, the government, says two plus two is five, then that’s the truth,” said Director Jason Van Otterloo. “Don’t question it, just accept it.”

The main character, Winston Smith, goes through a series of rebellious acts to overthrow the Party.

“(Orwell) envisioned the possibility where we would live in a society where the government would surveil everything. There would be video screens in every room that could see you and you could see them,” said Van Otterloo.

Ironically, he said, there’s some similarities between society in the book and in real life.

“When Orwell wrote this, he had no idea that this could happen and now…our phones listen to us when we’re not even paying attention and then next thing you know, you’ve got an advertisement for what you were talking about, not even what you were searching. There’s cameras everywhere, satellites watching us,” he said.

“The whole purpose for us doing it was to say ‘We need to watch out and be advocates’ to not let that be what our future turns into.”

For the first act, the set has phrases on the walls that read ‘Freedom is Slavery,’ ‘War is Peace’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength.’ (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Van Otterloo has been a drama teacher at St. Mary for 13 years. He alternates the play’s genres so the students are challenged throughout their high school careers.

“Rehearsals have been hard because last year we did a comedy, so a lot of the kids who were here last year remember how light and airy and happy the rehearsals were,” he explained.

“It was difficult at times to always remind ourselves (that) yes we can smile while doing this in rehearsal without letting the weight of the show get us down. But that’s been one of the challenges, especially working with these actors, is teaching them how to separate when I’m acting and when I’m not acting.”

Grade 12 student Aimee Grenier plays Julia, who falls in love with Winston. She’s been in all of St. Mary’s productions since Grade 10.

Aimee Grenier (right) rehearses 1984. The show runs at St. Mary High School this Wednesday to Saturday. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“I’m excited and thrilled and scared—all of the emotions all tumble into one,” said Grenier about how she feels leading up to the performance.

“It’s a bigger role that I’ve never had before, so it’s a lot of line memorization. But with the right leadership and organization, you can take on a task just fine.”

This is grade 11 student Marcus Raas’ firs time in a St. Mary play. He plays Syme, who works with Winston at the ‘Ministry of Truth.’

He said once he’s memorized his lines, the most challenging part is projecting loud enough.

Raas has been reading 1984 asthey’ve rehearsed the play.

“It’s helped me notice a lot of the differences between this and the book. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s different, like in the book Parsons (a member of the Party) is a man instead of a woman. Julia and Winston meet in a completely different way.”

Raas said it’s exciting to see everyone’s hard work coming together to form the story.

“Most of the time we worked section by section, so at any point I wasn’t in it, I just wasn’t there.”

Marcus Raas (left) rehearses for St. Mary’s production of 1984 on Nov. 18, 2019. Raas plays Syme. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Van Otterloo said there’s 11 students in the cast and 11 in the crew.

Adult tickets (19 years and older) are $10 each and student tickets (18 years and younger) cost $5 each. They’re available at St. Mary’s main office or at the door.

The play is two hours and 10 minutes long.