Award-winning actress Mary Grace Weir makes her debut as producer and director in Vitals at The Shadowbox Theatre March 8-9th and 14-16th.

“Vitals”, a one-woman show by Canadian playwright Rosamund Small comes to Windsor audiences this March at The Shadowbox Theatre. The play follows the daily life of Toronto paramedic, Anna, as she grapples with the stresses of her job as a first responder – dealing with life, death and bureaucracy. Based on interviews from real EMS workers in Toronto, this play deals with the harsh and often disturbing realities of working as a first responder.

Mary Grace Weir, who plays Anna in the show, also directed and produced the production, embodying the one-woman essence of the play. When speaking with Weir about the production process she discussed the initial inspiration that drove her to choose this play, “I started working on this play at the beginning of the pandemic, when images of the haunted faces of front-line medical staff were all over the news – I just wanted to be able to do something to repay them even in a tiny way. I think I had never thought much about the impact that working in such a job would have on people, even in “normal” times.” In fact, a paper published in 2018 by SAMHSA estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioural health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (“First Responders: Behavioral Health, Emergency Response, and Trauma”).

Weir’s production will see a portion of the ticket sales going to the organization We Help First, an organization that promotes mental health services for first responders and is working to coordinate mental health programming across the county. “A portion of your $25 goes towards
Supporting the mental health of the people who will be helping you when you have a heart attack, or a car accident, or a miscarriage – People don’t really think much about the emotional, mental health impact of this job on the paramedics who do it,” said Weir.

When discussing the importance of “Vitals” she touched on her process preparing for the role of Anna, “As an actor this was also a bit challenging, just to be on stage on my own for an hour and a half with nobody to back me up. I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of people believe in me over the past four years to allow me to know I can, in fact, do this play justice.” Weir had originally been working on this show in preparation for a 2023 run but had to postpone, “I was blessed initially to have the help of Tova Perlmutter and RoseAnne Palazzolo, who were co-producing with me and co-directing when we were working on the production last year. They did a lot of the initial shaping of the show. When I decided to get back to it in the fall, they were no longer available, so I decided to forge ahead on my own.”

As “Vitals” is Weir’s debut as both director and producer, she touched on the support she has received from colleagues and family, “I had a lot of moral support from a lot of people, so even though it was a bit scary, it seemed manageable.”

Weir is producing “Vitals” in association with Windsor Feminist Theatre, a theatre company that historically produces shows that shine a light on the lives and experiences of women. When discussing her personal connection to the play, Weir spoke about her feelings on society’s views on women as caregivers and how that blends seamlessly with the show, “I feel a real connection to the character of Anna, because she is driven to help others even to the point of it being detrimental to her own well-being. As a mother, I felt that I often have done that, as well. I think it is something that our society kind of expects of women disproportionately, too. To do the emotional work of being caregivers, even when it means neglecting our own needs.”

Weir also spoke on organizing talk back sessions with first responders after some of the performances to discuss the play’s themes and allow audience members to talk with paramedics and learn about their lives. Windsor Feminist Theatre recently saw great success with post-performance talk back sessions during their production of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in January.

While this is an important play to produce, it isn’t for the faint of heart. “Vitals” features painful and difficult stories that touch on suicide, sexual assault and other traumas witnessed by real first responders. Weir explains, “This isn’t a play for the squeamish. There are some pretty graphic, harrowing descriptions of the situations Anna encounters. These are balanced by some quite humorous stories, too, but audiences should be forewarned. It can be heavy at times, but it is not without hope”.

While “Vitals” may be too much for some viewers, Weir is adamant that the show will resonate with a diverse group of people, “Anyone in the healthcare field, or any profession that does emotional work would probably feel seen by this story. But it is a riveting story that would
appeal to anyone who is interested in seeing how another human being reacts to extreme pressure”.

When asked what Weir would like audiences to take away from her performance of “Vitals” she spoke on the mental health crisis saying, “If you are struggling, please ask for and accept help! Human (and even non-human companion) connection is so important to our mental health, but in our society there is so much stigma around admitting to mental health struggles”. She reiterated the importance of keeping an eye on our loved ones, “If you see someone struggling, stay connected, be supportive and help them get help”.

“Vitals” will run from March 8-9, & 14-16 at The Shadowbox Theatre at 1501 Howard Ave, Windsor, with doors opening at 7:30 pm and tickets available online or at the door.


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