By Janine Eva Trotta, April 9, 2013 in GayCalgary Magazine
‘Intriguing and powerful’ are the words actor Paul Welch uses to describe the script and 36 roles he will take on in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning show I Am My Own Wife by playwright Doug Wright.
“I have never acted in a one-man show before and, in the past, the thought of portraying so many complex, unique characters was a daunting notion,” Welch says. But when director Kevin McKendrick – best known for his lively Ground Zero and Hit & Myth productions – approached Welch with the challenging script, the seasoned thespian could not refuse.
“I knew immediately that it would tie in beautifully to what we’re trying to accomplish with Third Street Theatre,” Welch says.
The theatre group envisages putting to stage a stream of thoughtful, provoking shows that explore queer history and ‘the stories of our past’.
Set in Nazi Germany, I Am My Own Wife resurrects the life of Charlotte von Mahsdorf, born Lothar Berfeld, who, as a child growing up in pre-war Berlin, longed for nothing more than to garb herself in pretty frock and maintain her collection of antique furnishings.
“She would have made a perfect house wife, but she was born a boy,” says Welch. “With a bravery and resilience of spirit unlike any other, she managed to preserve queer history by surviving the oppressive regimes of Nazi Germany and the communism of East Berlin by creating a museum, doing whatever it took to find her way in a challenging, unwelcoming world.”
Welch says working with McKendrick was a goal he harboured for many years; a goal that was mutual, and this exciting script was just the right catalyst to solidify the artistic union.
“…the fact that Kevin approached me with such passion and desire to see me portray Charlotte put aside any reservations I might have had about performing in a one-man show,” he says. “[The script] is a fantastic, beautiful little story about one incredible transgendered woman who survived in a world we can barely begin to comprehend. And she did so with dignity and pride. She was a true survivor.”
Welch hopes that this is the kind of production that will shed a bright light on a piece of dark history in most in Calgarian minds.
“Perhaps it will result in interesting conversations or, perhaps, it will give us a little bit of perspective about how much we have accomplished and how far we have come – while simultaneously highlighting how much has stayed the same,” he says.
If anyone has the expertise and endurance to last 36 roles in one production – which means tackling German and Texan dialects among others – it is Welch. The actor of 13 years began his theatre career in Ottawa before moving to Edmonton to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alberta. Upon graduation he spent three additional years based out of Edmonton but found that all of his work opportunities were coming from Calgary.
“When a long-term relationship came to an end, I decided it best to start afresh in a vibrant, exciting theatre community – and I have never regretted it,” he says.
Welch played his first professional role at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre, starring in Darrin Hagen’s festive, comedic treat With Bells On, for which his performance was nominated – and later won – a Betty Mitchell Award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.
As a sidecar to performing Welch writes his own plays – four in total – and has also completed a fantasy novel, all of which, he says, explore queer issues and themes. He also helped co-create This is How I Left, Third Street Theatre’s most recent show by the Queer Theatre Creation Ensemble’s, which performed to virtually sold out houses receiving standing ovations at every show.
“But as an actor, I am… alone on stage; there is no one to save me if I get lost, and no one to bring my energy up if I am feeling a little under,” he says. “One hundred per cent of the storytelling falls on me, and it is my responsibility to make sure that everyone is engaged and enjoys the performance.”
‘One actor. Thirty-six characters. One astounding life.’