A little less than a year ago, CBC news anchor Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld stepped away from her steady gig at the evening news to pursue other projects. This month, her play “Me, Vivien Leigh and The Roller Rink” is on stage at Arts Court as part of the undercurrents festival.
Apt613 spoke by phone to Lucy about what she’s been doing in the past year, and what her play is about.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: What have you been up to since you stepped away from CBC? Any big projects other than this play?
Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld: I’ve been doing some communications work. I’ve been moderating events. I’ve been doing voice work. I’ve been helping people by doing media training. And I’ve been working on this show. So bits and pieces of a lot of different things, which I love.
What is the play all about? What’s the audience going to experience?
It’s a memoir show and I started working on it 10 years ago. The first iteration of it was a little piece that I put together for Magnetic North Theatre Festival. They had a fundraiser called “Don’t quit your day job.” So I wrote this 10-minute piece about this inadvertent, very weird connection I had to Vivien Leigh and Hamilton. It’s a bit of a roundabout connection, but I make that clear in the show. Vivien Leigh and Scarlet O’Hara became sort of my north star, if you will. How was I ever gonna get out of gritty, grimy Hamilton and into some other world?
There was a massive Stelco strike in the eighties. Hamilton was a very manly, tough city. So I was looking for female role models. I was looking for a way outta Hamilton. I was 15. I didn’t know how to do that. And then, into my world, roller-skating emerged vividly. You’ll have to see the show to understand how that happens exactly. There was this amazing skater at the roller rink. She was the head floor guard and I was in awe of her and how glamorous she was.
So it’s a coming-of-age story.
Yes, I’m 15, but I’m looking at that period of time with a narrator’s lens. And sometimes I’m in the present day, and at other times I’m 15 reliving those experiences and some of those goofy things that happened. It’s meant to be funny. There are also some poignant moments. But I hope people will laugh.
I saw that you did the show a year ago in a different format. So how has it evolved over 10 years?
After the first short version, I was working casually on it. And then I was diagnosed with cancer. So it got put on hold. And when I was starting to gear up again, my sister got diagnosed with cancer and she passed away. By the time I got back from that, five years had passed.
I got involved with Ottawa Storytellers and I applied to their signature series and they got back to me right away. They were fantastic. They said that I would be accepted. And part of that was to have me work with a dramaturge who would direct, Kate Smith. That was an amazing gift, ’cause she whipped it into shape. It was 40 or 50 pages and it’s now whittled down to 22 pages. She helped make it into a tight 70 minutes.
I had a really nice first draft and then of course COVID kiboshed the signature series twice. It’s been postponed so many times I’ve lost track. But now we’ve created this theatrical version of it with a wonderful lighting design and the set and costumes and sound. We’ve also taken out a few things and put a few other things in. So if you saw it last year, you wouldn’t necessarily recognize it this year. There are some similar themes, but there’s a lot of fresh stuff in it.
On the undercurrents website, it says “Lucy’s humorous and poignant stories will take audiences on her coming-of-age journey as she is forged in the fires of Steeltown, all while wearing roller skates.” Are you really wearing roller skates throughout the show? Sounds dangerous!
Well, you know what I’d say to that? I’d say yes and no. I would say roller skates are a part of the show. I’m not doing the whole show on roller skates. But roller skates are very much a part of the show.