Rebecca Parent has starred as Anne Shirley in five different productions of Anne & Gilbert, The Musical. The award-winning show is based on two of the sequel novels to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and premiered in 2005 on Prince Edward Island in Canada. It tells the story of Anne as a young adult as she begins her first job as a teacher and follows her tumultuous relationship with Gilbert Pye.
Parent will direct the 2020 production of Anne & Gilbert in Charlottetown, PEI. As she prepares for her first time directing the musical, Parent talked about the enduring appeal of Anne Shirley.
The original Anne of Green Gables novels were published a hundred years ago. Yet today in print, on stage, and in various television productions, Anne Shirley remains a popular character. Why?
I think everyone loves an underdog. She’s flawed, not to mention rather unlucky, but still manages to find her place in the world, in a community and as part of a family, despite all her challenges. She has nothing to lose, and gains much by being brave in every situation.
Her confidence and determination have always had an appeal, especially to young women.
I’m personally compelled by the way Anne is never held back by the fact that she is a woman. She knows what she wants and what she is capable of and never seems to doubt herself just because of her gender. She’s certainly aware of her shortcomings, but being a girl is not one of them, even though her adoptive parents had originally sent for a boy.
Having performed the role of Anne early in your career and then returning to the role these past two years as a much more experienced performer — can you describe any new insights in your approach to the character?
I’d say the biggest difference is in not just trusting my instincts, which I always have, but in allowing them to breathe every day. I was immovable as a young performer — once something was set I didn’t mess with it. I have the experience now to know how much flexibility I have. I can explore Anne’s truth of the day, while still respecting the objectives and my scene partners. This is especially important in a run as long as ours.
Audiences know Anne for her directness, her unabashed passion for things, but is there a quality of hers you think is often overlooked?
There is a softer side to Anne which she seldom lets people see. She presents herself to the world with a certain bravado that I believe masks her fear of vulnerability. Anne is known for dropping the mask in anger, but in this play, it also slips for love.
Prince Edward Island is where the story of Anne & Gilbert, The Musical is set. What’s it like playing Anne in Anne’s land?
I enjoy a nice level of anonymity when I leave this show and wander around my hometown of Charlottetown because my hair is very dark brown. It’s always a pretty funny look on people’s faces when they realize who I play.
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(Photo: Louise Vessey
Rebecca Parent as Anne Shirley