The Theatre of Life
Profile by Jane Ledwell
It is twilight on the south shore when I pull up past the for sale sign at Anne Putnam’s house. The house is, indeed, for sale and only half full, leaving room for rehearsal spaces for The Attic, the Pearls, and Three Fine Girls, being created by a collective of five women. Anne is a stage manager of renown, and she is stage manager for The Attic, but, she says, “All five of us bring more than one thing to the group.” The story about three sisters is, according to Anne, “comic and poignant and true.”
Anne says, “It’s a good sign when people are putting a lot into it and also getting things out of it.” Her years of experience in theatres make her appreciate “sharing the incredibly hard work that leads to success” in theatre and that, she says, “creates bonds that last for years.”
Anne is delighted to be continuing work on good theatre into the fall after doing “wonderful theatre” this summer as production manager at the Montgomery Theatre in North Rustico. “One reason I was enticed to the Montgomery Theatre,” Anne says, “is that Duncan [MacIntosh, the artistic director] is a director of vision.”
“It’s so incredibly impressive when you consider what the Montgomery Theatre doesn’t have—it has a small budget and a small stage, a smaller lighting system and an even smaller sound system, and yet the production of A Doll’s House was the best production I’ve seen in 40 years.” Anne says, determinedly, “I want to continue to be part of what they create at the Montgomery Theatre.”
Anne’s first days in theatre were at the Charlottetown Festival’s Circus Tent children’s theatre. “I auditioned for a part—and they asked if I would be interested in props… I felt a connection with the creativity required to build props and theatre sets. I learned all about how the theatre works.”
Hooked, Anne went on to a BFA in Theatre Production at York University, where they instilled “strong appreciation and respect for what backstage and onstage work entails.” Since then, she says, “I’ve done theatre in different forms almost all across the country, in every province and in the territories except the Northwest Territories.
“There’s sometimes an abundance of work, and sometimes a dearth,” she says. As a result, she says, “I took a lot of side paths,” including eight years in Norway and later teaching English as an additional language after a return to PEI to care for her father after a stroke and her mother in her last years with Parkinsons. “I had to do very little work in the theatre,” she recalls of those fulfilling caregiving times, but, she says, “I got pulled back into theatre while my mother was still alive,” Anne says. “Walter Learning asked me to come back.” She worked on 15 shows in 10 years for Theatre New Brunswick.” When she “reopened doors” to theatre, she walked into work at the Charlottetown Festival and elsewhere.
“People sometimes ask me, What’s your favourite thing you’ve created,” Anne says, radiating pride, “and my answer is Graham,” her talented actor/writer son. “I am so incredibly proud of him. He has always been a source of entertainment, and he has always made me laugh… That he is a performer is not a surprise. To be a voice as strong as he is is sometimes a surprise.”
Work as a stage manager gives Anne a background vantage point on the art being created in front of us every day. “Art in general is part of our lives from the time we wake until the time we sleep,” Anne says. “If you hear a combination of street sounds and children laughing, that is the beginning of a sound composition for someone, whether you know it or not. Everything we see is the basis of a composition for visual art for someone.”
Anne says, “I can’t imagine going through a day without something being created… though I understand some people might not be aware of it.” From behind the scenes, Anne Putnam stage manages the elements that create awareness of art—the art of living and the theatre of life.