Director Chris Stockton is holding all the cards at Lunchbox Theatre’s annual showcase

Lunchbox Theatre’s season is drawing to a close, and it’s finishing strong with a play thats storyline is determined by scenes picked randomly from a tossed deck of cards, leading to different outcomes each performance. 52 Pick Up was chosen by this year’s RBC emerging director, Chris Stockton, who has 12 years of teaching theatre to his credit, but, despite his love of teaching, decided it was time to take his career further.

“I’ve always loved directing, I’ve always done it within my job (teaching theatre) and I think life presents all sorts of weird circumstances for us,” he says. “And it came to a point where I had encouraged my students to follow their passion my entire teaching career and I realized I maybe wasn’t taking my own advice, so I thought I would follow my passion.”

As this year’s emerging director, Stockton has been assistant director for Lunchbox’s entire 2017/18 season, an experience which he has found invaluable, not only learning from other directors, but also learning about the collaborative process of theatre.

“It’s been an amazing learning curve,” he explains, “because when you teach and you’re doing directing, you’re teaching the students what they need to learn to be successful, but you’re still sort of doing everything.

“I also run a small company, Birnton Theatricals, so when you’re doing that you’re sort of doing everything, so it’s been lovely to just focus on directing and being able to watch someone do that part of it and then learn about what it’s like to collaborate with designers, what it’s like to do a proper cue, to cue with people where you’re not setting the light cues and doing the cues yourself, you’re actually working with people in collaboration … It’s about the collaboration of voices and creative minds in the room and I believe the best idea in the room wins – I think that all of the directors that I have worked with this season have had that same idea, which I think is a great place to start from because it means that everybody’s got equal weight and the director’s just the set of eyes that’s making sure that all the pieces look good together.”

Working with Lunchbox in particular in this capacity has been rewarding for Stockton. “Everyone at Lunchbox has just been so warm and open to me being involved in so many capacities within the process, the directors that I’ve worked with — you know, Karen Johnson Diamond, Tevor Rueger, Shari Wattling, Samantha MacDonald — all of them were welcoming me with open arms and really allowed me to have an equal voice in the room. So for me to now be able to take everything that I’ve learned from watching four different directors and now to put it into practice is a challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

The play, itself, doesn’t follow the typical parameters for theatre, either – the premise being a bit of a “choose your own adventure” for the two actors, the two actors (Ayla Stephen as Woman Christopher Duthie as Man) in that the direction of the play is dependant on which cards the actors pick up, and which section of their relationship is indicated on each card. This makes preparing for a performance a bit more challenging, but Stockton explains that he had a good foundation to work from.

“(The playwrights) had written a very good script and they’ve created it in a world that leaves a lot open for interpretation, so it’s been neat to be able to then creatively look at the script and go, ‘OK, where does this scene take place?’ … The story is not told in a chronological way, it’s told in a random way, so in rehearsals I took the script and I came up with what I felt was the best chronological order that we could have, so that, as a starting point, we all started with telling the same story from beginning to end, and then we’ve been pulling it apart and putting it together in different orders.”

And how do the actors prepare for a scripted performance which is different every time? “With practice!” enthuses Stockton. “It’s a lot of putting into muscle memory as to what or where each scene starts and what each scene means, it’s about setting (the actors) up on stage relative to familiar landmarks … they’re able to get into their bodies as to what they where they have to go and then what those lines are, so it’s about really defining what their movement and actions are so that it’s identifiable to that card, that scene.”

Part of the fun of 52 Pick Up is not really knowing what relationship scenarios will come up for the actors and putting together the pieces of their relationship through these random scenes. “It forces you to think,” says Stockton, “and to maybe hold some pieces off to one side in your mind for a minute and then allow them to be connected back into the story in another way because (the playwrights) have done a great job of connecting things through so that it does make sense, it’s not just random things.”

He also believes that the story is one that everyone can relate to, whether in a long-term relationship or a shorter one, it is a story that audiences will be able to easily identify with. “The relationships really are that relevant, the scenes are so universal that I think the play could take place in Britain, it could take place in Germany in Russia, it could take place in Medicine Hat or it could take place in Toronto or New York it really could take place anywhere.”

(Photo of Christopher Duthie and Ayla Stephen courtesy Scott Reid.)

52 Pick Up is presented by the RBC Emerging Director’s Showcase and is taking place at Lunchbox Theatre May 8-12. For tickets and more information please click here.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at