For playwright Michele Riml, the first show with an audience is nerve-wracking, to say the least. The North Vancouver resident describes the excitement experienced as akin to that split-second moment when you reach a rollercoaster's apex and are struck by the realization that, like it or not, there's no turning back.
Lucky for Riml, her talent for bringing relatable characters to life continues to not only please audiences but leave them wanting more - so much, she's willingly jumped on the ride once again to bring back two of her most beloved personalities.
Riml's Sexy Laundry first graced the Arts Club Theatre Company stage in 2004, introducing theatre-goers to middle-aged couple Henry and Alice. Interested in spicing up their marriage, they check into a spa hotel armed with a copy of Sex for Dummies. The play, a romantic comedy, explores why people stay together or drift apart.
Its sequel, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, first played the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage last April. This time, the duo gives camping a whirl. Grappling with Henry's recent job loss - and an uninvited guest - they discover how to survive a mid-life crisis, and confront truths about their lives and lifestyles. Now on tour in the Metro Vancouver region, the play hits Surrey Arts Centre's main stage from Jan. 15 to 26.
Like its predecessor, Into the Wild is very much a comedic romp, though at its heart is an important message.
"Right now a lot of people are struggling," Riml said. "With the economy, there are a lot of people who've been laid off or maybe their pension is less than what they thought it was going to be. While the play's a comedy, I think there's a real dramatic undertone and it's about questioning what matters in life and what do you do when everything goes sideways."
Before making its Arts Club debut, Sexy Laundry premiered at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival in 2002. It's since been performed across the country, as well as translated into a number of languages and performed internationally.
Riml never planned on penning a sequel; however, a personal camping trip gone wrong at Osoyoos' Haynes Point Provincial Park planted the seed.
"It's a beautiful place, but we had a real windstorm," she said of the resulting disastrous vacation.
Riml, who has been writing since she was 16, was active in theatre at her alma mater, Handsworth Secondary in North Van, and was a big fan of the Arts Club productions her mother took her to. She went on to study at Simon Fraser University and received a degree in fine and performing arts. While she was at one point drawn to acting, her true passion quickly became clear. Her plays include Miss Teen, Under the Influence, RAGE and Poster Boys.
The Arts Club has so far produced four of her works.
"The Arts Club has been a very nurturing relationship," she underlined.
Riml's one-woman play, On the Edge, was mounted at Victoria's Belfry Theatre early in 2012.
"All my plays usually feature women who are sort of middle-aged, either on the verge of breaking down or breaking through."
Riml, who was nominated for the Siminovitch Prize in 2008, also writes for young audiences through Green Thumb Theatre for Young People, and mentors youth through the IGNITE! Mentorship Program at Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
Last spring, she got working on In the Garden with Emerson, which depicts an older woman in conversation with poet Ralph Waldo.
"I feel incredibly grateful that I get to make my living as a playwright," she said. "It lets me work at home, it lets me have more time with my son (Christopher), who's 12.. So I feel grateful for that in terms of making a living.
"But also, it's neat to know that you've written something that moves you and moves other people. And what's really gratifying about Sexy Laundry, and hopefully about Into the Wild, is it's a play for average people. It's not high art, it's not for just theatre aficionados, it's for normal people. And they seem to relate to it, and I like that. When we saw Sexy Laundry, the audience would kind of nudge each other and talk to each other. It was clear that the issues were relevant to them."
With that in mind, Riml encourages audiences to take in a performance of Henry and Alice: Into the Wild.
"If you're going to come and pay your hard-earned money to go see a play these days, you should have fun," she said. "I would hope that there's something in the play to think about, but I promise that (you'll) have a good time."
The current touring version of the play coming to Surrey next week stars Andrew Wheeler (as Henry), Beatrice Zeilinger (Alice) and Deborah Williams (as Alice's free-spirited younger sister, Diana).
Tickets range from $25 to $43 for the run of Henry and Alice: Into the Wild at Surrey Arts Centre, via 604-501-5566 or tickets.surrey.ca. For those with impaired sight, an audio-described performance of the production will be staged on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m.