Meet the HAT’s ‘Particularly Excellent’ Hilary Scott

Since its inception two years ago, The Highland Arts Theatre has featured topnotch dancing, acting and singing but a special joy for me has been the consistently delightful work of actor Hilary Scott. Her memorable recent performances include “a bewitching Robyn” in Wesley Crawford’s Dream and “a particularly excellent Marilyn Monroe” in Lindsay Thompson’s Herstory, to quote just one critic.

And while all local critics have praised Scott’s acting, for me, nothing less than wild enthusiasm and gushing superlatives will do. Boardmore Theatre Director Todd Hiscock comes close to the mark when he says of Scott’s Monroe, “It was perfect,” and singles out her exhaustive attention to every detail of her performance.

Hilary Scott as Marilyn Munroe in Herstory.

Scott as Marilyn Munroe in Herstory

Scott disappears into her characters, whether it’s All in the Timing’s Charlie, a blue-collar construction worker from New Jersey who thinks he is really the Lindbergh baby; or the same play’s May, who (being a mayfly) has tragically discovered she literally has just a day to live; or the touching and vulnerable Monroe in Herstory. Scott doesn’t look like she’s having fun performing because Scott doesn’t exist on stage: there’s only the character she’s playing, usually sweet, often confused, displaying varying degrees of perplexity and pain. But for the audience, what great fun it is when Hilary Scott is on stage!

Puck just served me a beer!

To get some idea of how she does it, I met up with Scott last week at Doktor Luke’s, the popular coffee shop just down the street from the Highland Arts Theatre—the HAT, Sydney’s wonderful new theater on Bentinck St, in the former St. Andrew’s Church. The designated historic site was bought and renovated by a visionary local businessman, Kevin Colford (also a fine musician, he recently played in the orchestra for Dream). Colford wanted to see a first-rate theater in downtown Sydney. His son Wesley J. Colford, the kind of multi-talented theater fanatic required to make such dreams reality, is the HAT’s artistic director—also serving as a writer, director, and outstanding performer in his own right. Scott, only slightly less zealous than Wesley Colford in all things theatrical, is the theater’s assistant director.

Scott arrived for the interview 15 minutes early, which, I speculated, was just the kind of professional habit that comes from showing up on time for rehearsals. She told me that as well as acting and carrying out her duties as assistant director at the HAT, she is involved with promotion, art work, co-directing, and “helping out wherever help is needed.” This includes front of house where she can sometimes be found working the bar, causing a customer to exclaim: “Puck just served me a beer!”

I’m also a big fan of her artwork, I tell her, praising the brochure for the HAT’s fall season. It features gorgeous autumn foliage under a cream sky. Floating above the trees is a hot air balloon constructed from an upturned top hat suspended from a dandelion, its seeds starting to drift away. It’s beautiful lighthearted work, but Scott, always practical, says it simply reflects her love of seventies artwork.

“Well, whatever it reflects, it first-rate stuff,” I insisted.

“I’ve been a visual arts fan from five,” she said, “long before theatre came into the picture. There’s so many mediums and styles which I love and countless artists. It was a big deal for me when I got to marry my love of drawing and theatre in the form of theatre posters.”

She’s equally practical and down-to-earth when it comes to acting.

“For me, it always comes back to laying the fundamental foundation of ‘character objectives, obstacles, and active verbs’ when analyzing a script. Then layering everything else on top.”

For the role of Marilyn Monroe, she did some research (watching Monroe movies, which she greatly enjoyed) and checked out some interviews with the actress, trying to learn about the woman behind the performer. It’s the kind of detail that pays off, leading to the surprising but natural moment in Herstory when Monroe breaks out of her little-girl voice to speak in her natural voice. Said Scott, “With acting, there are myriad tools you can pepper into a performance.”

Fall Season

From Oakville, Ontario originally, Scott studied theatre at George Brown in Toronto.

Fall Season poster Highland Arts Theatre 2016

Highland Arts Theatre fall season poster. Artwork by Hilary Scott.

“It was stressful,” she recalls, with a smile that suggests satisfaction with the three-year program. On stage it is immediately obvious that she is a well-trained actor, and it comes as no surprise that she is a hard-working one as well.

Training, technique, self-critical discipline, and hard work: all necessary and yet, none of it explains the charge Scott carries on stage, the fun and excitement of her performances. That, I realized, simply comes down to talent—there would be no mysteries of the creative process unlocked today. We’re lucky to have her as part of Cape Breton theatre, I sensibly decided.

So, with great anticipation, I ask what is coming up—which leads to some upsetting news. First, though, the good news. She mentions Annie, which she is co-directing with Wesley Crawford, and which will play at Glace Bay’s Savoy in November. And in December she’ll reprise the role of Robyn in Holiday on Christmas Island, a sequel to Dream, the HAT’s popular musical.

All very good, as is the possibility that she might yet be involved in another project or two this fall. But then, Scott announced that at the end of the year, she will probably be returning to Toronto, where she keeps an apartment. I don’t want to think how I sounded bursting out “You still have an apartment in Toronto!” But I got in return a laughing, “Well, I am letting it out right now to a Cape Bretoner.”

“I came her for two months and it turned into two years,” she continued, somewhat defensively, noting the crestfallen face and accusing stare across from across the table. She has been, she said, very happy to be part of the HAT and of what she sees as a resurgence of theatre in the area.

“There’s a lot of heart and community. There’s been huge growth. When we started at HAT, we played a couple of times to an audience of two. Now people are getting excited about theatre again, of following a season of plays and having a night out that includes seeing a play.” And then there’s the people she’s worked with, and the upcoming talent, “So many so brilliant at so many things, like playing six instruments and great at dance. And the willingness to learn is really encouraging.”

“Personally, I’ve been very lucky to be here and to get to play so many different types of characters.” A favorite memory and role for her was Brenda, the Saddest Girl in the World, in Punch Up by Kat Sandler. The play, which also featured Wesley Crawford and Nicholas Porteous, was an audience favorite that was even more popular among theatre people. HAT took the production to the 2015 Atlantic Canada Fringe Festival where, in a crowded field, it won the Best of Festival Award.

A bit subdued, I thanked her for her time and we say good-bye. Gathering her things, Scott added that the HAT is also enthusiastic about the theatre’s Resident Company. “It’s a learning program for people of all ages, at all levels, that we’re very excited about” she said, adding as she rose from the table, “I’m a student.” She is focusing on dance right now and has to run if she’s going to be 15 minutes early and on time for her lesson. Her rushed departure is a reminder of the kind of dedication, talent, and passion that is necessary for making successful and good theatre.

Ken Jessome

 

Ken Jessome will be covering the cultural scene for the Spectator.  A playwright, he was born and raised in Whitney Pier.  His play Reading won the Best Production at the 2003 Boardmore Festival and Best Canadian Production at the 2004 Liverpool International Theatre Festival (LITF).  He’s currently working on his newest play, a one-act called The Girl Out Back.

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