If This is Our Youth, we’re in pretty good shape

Sean Gilchrist's reassembled cranium, complete with titanium upgrade. But don't offer any "Alas, poor..."s yet.
Sean Gilchrist's reassembled cranium, complete with titanium upgrade. But don't offer any 'Alas, poor...'s just yet...

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the future of our theatre lately (as have others, it seems). I’m thinking it’s probably too late to turn my generation into a legion of demanding and critical theatre fans (my generation being that of Donkey Kong, Adidas bags and Frankie Goes to Hollywood), we’re all pretty much set in our ways, we like what we like, and for the most part have finished with our search for new paths to enlightenment or entertainment, or both, depending on our respective world views. But there is a new force assembling, a new generation equipped with more access than we ever had to information on their increasingly messed-up world, and a gnawing need to express themselves, to stand up and be heard. And some of them are going to do it from the stage.

I never went to plays when I was a kid. Didn’t have a clue as to what black-box theatre was. It just wasn’t part of the language of the community, relegated as it was to the fringes where we’re still trying to pull it in from today. Oh sure, I was taken along to Swan Lake, Phantom, blah, blah, blah; and they were interesting enough to my young eyes but far away, remote like a movie your parents wanted to see. Experiences easily forgotten. It wasn’t until my early twenties when I found myself in the unlikely experience of an acting class that I was exposed to true contemporary theatre, up close and personal, and it grabbed a hold of me and never let go. That feeling of being in the room with the living emotions as they occurred was something dangerous and new, one entirely different from the movies, from TV, and so I dove headfirst into this world that I was allowed to grow up ignorant of. I remember feeling like I had been denied something truly wonderful and necessary, and strange. Eighteen years later and I’m still trying to figure it out. I wish I’d been able to start sooner.

So, I’ve been thinking about the generation coming up behind us lately, about how we can expose them earlier to that unique nerve-searing kind of experience that we know theatre can be. And then two things happened. First, I got an email from the publicist for a local youth Shakespeare intensive last week, asking if I could shoot a video listing for their upcoming production of As You Like It. We set a time: mid-afternoon after their rehearsal, and I headed down to their outdoor Granville Island stage at the appointed hour. The large cast of teen and pre-teen actors were just finishing director’s notes, and it was hilarious to hear this crew discuss their process, it all sounded oh-so familiar. (“I just have problems sometimes with pronouncing some of these words.” Hee. Don’t we all.) The three kids selected for the V-listing were called over and introduced to me as cast members, and the oldest, Keegan (the one on the left in the listing), had also taken on the role of sound designer for the show. Of his own accord. He asked to do it. They listened patiently as I explained the concept to them and what we were looking for – short and sweet, free from slickness, tell us why you think your project is so great – then arranged themselves on their stage and, on action, nailed it on the first take. Exactly what you see in the listing. Articulate, impassioned and funny. Suddenly I was feeling really good about theatre’s future.

That night I got another email requesting a listing, this one from a twenty-year-old local named Sean Gilchrist, an acting student from the Vancouver Film School. Sean had come across Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth, fell in love with it and decided to up and produce and star in it. We met for the shoot, again at Granville Island, and banged off his promo without any complications. “Nice job” says I, “that was easy”. “Yeah” he replied, “I’ve been through a lot of interviews with police lately, because I got jumped and had to have brain surgery, so I’m pretty comfortable with it.”

I cannot over-stress the matter-of-fact manner with which this was delivered.

I’m sorry, what?

Oh yeah, I got jumped on my way home one night and had my head cracked open, so I had to have brain surgery. I have a titanium plate in my head now.

Oh. Um, when was this?

This past April.

Four months ago, Sean went out after rehearsal for a few drinks with his friends. He left the bar sometime after two and walked homeward, but three blocks from his west-end apartment he was jumped by “2-4 guys”, beaten severely, and bottled in the back of the head. In Sean’s own words:

I must have been able to run away, when I came-to again I had called a friend and she told me to call 911. The cops just happened to be driving by when they saw me in front of my house. They were just going to keep going thinking I was just wasted, but then they saw that my cell phone was red with blood and decided they’d better stop. So after talking with 911 on the phone and the cops at the same time they said hang up ’cause 911 was just going to send them there. Then apparently, once they told me help was on the way (fire truck first, then ambulance), my survival mode shut down, and I pretty much became incoherent. I had at least 2 cuts on the back of my head, one needed 7 stiches, the other 8….there might have been some blood where they crushed my skull.  My mum had to come over from Nanaimo to release me from the hospital. And I have gotten bottled before, back in Nanaimo, so I thought it was the same thing, no big deal, you know, just stitch me up and let me go. But once she showed up they said I had to be transferred to [Vancouver General]. After being looked at by a doctor I was told that they needed to open me up. I just collapsed into tears. It was the scariest day of my life, I hated it. Waiting in that emergency right beside the psych ward. Almost every time they talked to me it got worse, letting me know I’d have to have a catheter, etc. I had a lot of family love and support which made things easier. I was in the hospital for 5 days, which is crazy fast. I was trying to get out of there and on stage because I was doing a sketch show. I actually went out after rehearsal the night it happened. So the doctor wasn’t too stoked on the fact that I wanted to be on stage 8 days after, but I said I wasn’t doing anything too physical, and then he said; well, it’s up to me, just take it slow and work up to the show. I had uploaded new pictures to casting workbook on Monday, the day it happened. On Tuesday morning when I woke up I called my agent to let her know. The first thing she said was “your new pics look great”.  I followed with “too bad we can’t use them anymore, they are shaving my head for surgery tonight”.  It’s growing back, but still taking a while.

All I remember is [the attackers] saying “hey”. The feeling I had was it was just a group of drunk people walking home still in the party mood, as was I. After that I remember the nurse saying that the needles would sting and getting my head worked on.

Sean was back on stage 8 days after his surgery, and back at work on This is Our Youth. He still had to find a director, you see, and he had already secured a loan to pay for the deposit on the theatre. This is Sean’s first full-length play, both as an actor and a producer, and hearing him talk about it it’s easy to tell how thrilled he is about becoming part of the future Vancouver theatre scene.

Both appear, at this point, to be in pretty good shape.


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