An interview with Amy Wallis, the Festival’s latest Anne Shirley
by Pan Wendt
Charlottetown Festival Artistic Director Anne Allen (seated) surrounded by five newleading cast members of this year’s production of Anne. From left: Amy Wallis, Charlotte Moore, Sandy Winsby, Janet MacEwen and Natalie Daradich
Amy Wallis, the British Columbia born actress chosen to play Anne in this year’s Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables—The Musical™, has only been on the Island for a few weeks, but she is already well aware that she is taking on a unique challenge. In a casual interview at Mavor’s, the young actress showed all the qualities that she plans to bring to the Anne character: intelligence, poise, clarity and determination. She gave an immediate impression of being ready for whatever is thrown at her.
“People have told me that playing Anne in Charlottetown is like becoming a local icon,” says Wallis, though she admits that she has yet to really experience the pressures that will come with representing Anne here, where she was invented. This is Wallis’s first visit to Prince Edward Island, but her journey here seems to be a natural culmination of her career so far. She first read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book at age 9, and has dreamed of playing Anne in Charlottetown since she first heard about the Festival. Coming from a theatrical family, with a mother who choreographed for musicals and television, and a father who acted in straight theatre, Wallis has a long-standing connection to musical theatre; she didn’t go to theatre school, but developed her acting, singing and dancing through early exposure to the stage, and to a paying audience. There is something of Anne’s own determination to make it on the Island in Wallis’s story as well. She recounts that when she got the audition for this part, she dropped everything in Vancouver, where she was well-established in a strong theatre scene, and flew out on the same day. She is now a “person with stuff in storage,” and plans to try her luck in Toronto this winter, English Canada’s theatrical centre. “It would be easy to settle in and become complacent in Vancouver,” says Wallis, “so I look forward to the challenge of this show.”
What does Wallis want to bring to the production? She is well-aware that an established, annual show like Anne is not going to change in very obvious ways. The production team at the Confederation Centre knows what works. But in keeping with the nature of her role, she does have her own take on Anne, and she feels it is in keeping with changes the director has made this year. She says the show will be a little more character-driven this time around, “a little less played for laughs,” and that the new lighting designs and quicker scene transitions will create a subtly different feel overall. Since Wallis’s love for the musical stems from her love of the book, and the somewhat serious, odd, but imaginative and intelligent Anne, who hit a quiet, staid community like a lightning bolt, she wants to perform a strong, independent Anne. Based on first appearances at least, I have no doubt she will.