Fourth-year York University fine arts student Sarah Chahley is starring in Theatre @ York’s The Beggar’s Opera, at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre Jan. 28 to Feb. 1
Originally staged in London, England, in 1728, this version of the play by John Gay is adapted and directed by Gwen Dobie.
This production unfolds as a play within a play. It tells the tale of corruption, social inequality and wrongdoings.
“The Beggar’s Opera was written by John Gay as an anti-opera to satirize what his colleagues were doing at the time,” says Chahley. “Instead of having beautiful arias, they are much more folk arias. It takes place in a prison, [and] outlines that people with money can get away with anything, even when they are in lock-up. If you have money, you have freedom in this world.
“Gwen Dobie chose to modernize it by making it set in a modern- day jail and having us as prisoners putting on The Beggar’s Opera, so that we can make it relevant to the financial situation that we are in now.”
Chahley plays Mrs. Peachum. She and her husband are the “pimps” of the criminals. “We send out highwaymen and they work for us to bring back money, goods and anything we can make money from on the black market, and as a result, we prevent them from being hanged. So, as soon as they are no longer of use to us, they are on the block to be hanged.”
She says the play shows that money doesn’t really buy happiness, but the manipulation of money gets you into horrible situations.
Chahley caught the acting bug early, attending local drama programs as a kid. Her first foray into performing in theatrical productions was at Camp Wahanowin in Orillia, Ont., and she appeared in a number of high school productions. At York, she has performed in a range of plays from August Strindberg to Shakespeare.
The actor says being Jewish affects her art a lot. At school last year, she played a Polish Jewish girl who has to pretend to be German in the play Our Class.
“My family are Polish Jews, and I, in the play, as a result of a German officer being fond of me, had to completely let go of all my beliefs, to be a German, essentially.”
She says that really brought it all home to her, “just in the realization of what my ancestors went through to get to Canada. I got to bring and offer to the class the real revelation and my grandfather and grandmother’s knowledge and experience of that time. Our Class wouldn’t have otherwise had that perspective.”
In addition to her theatrical work, she has also studied film acting, and she was able to work on independent films by the university’s film students.
“I realized how much I have to learn about that side of performance,” Chahley says. “My first step is to get as much experience on film as possible. I love theatre, but I have a love for the perfection that can be obtained in cinema. I would like to learn and master that as much as I can.”
For more information about The Beggar’s Opera, visit: http://finearts.yorku.ca/beggarsopera.