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UPEI professor emeritus plays dictionary writer Samuel Johnson in 'Yr. Obedient Servant'

Terry Pratt will portray Samuel Johnson in the Kay Eldridge’s play, “Yr. Obedient Servant”. Presented by Vagabond Productions it will be staged at the UPEI Faculty Lounge on Jan. 5, 7:30 p.m. Admission is by donation of cash or food for the Campus Food Bank at the Chaplaincy Centre. - Sally Cole
Terry Pratt will portray Samuel Johnson in the Kay Eldridge’s play, “Yr. Obedient Servant”. Presented by Vagabond Productions it will be staged at the UPEI Faculty Lounge on Jan. 5, 7:30 p.m. Admission is by donation of cash or food for the Campus Food Bank at the Chaplaincy Centre. - Sally Cole

Terry Pratts stars in a play coming to the Faculty Lounge of UPEI’s Main Building on Jan. 5

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Terry Pratt has spent much of his life looking up to Samuel Johnson.

He’s the 18th century author, conversationalist and personality who, in spite of facing countless challenges, put together the first true dictionary for English.

“He is my literary hero. I’ve been reading him since I was 18. I’ve also taught him in my classes,” says the UPEI professor emeritus who, like Johnson, is a lexicologist.

“I admire him for that. His influence has been enormous,” says Pratt, general consulting editor of the “Gage Canadian Dictionary” and author of the “Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English”.

Besides sharing a love for words, they share a few character traits.

“I certainly don’t have his brilliance, but (like me) he’s very hard on himself, prone to depression and yet he fights on to achieve his goal.”

Terry Pratt appears as Samuel Johnson in “Yr. Obedient Servant”. Costume designer for the show is Pam Jewell. - Bunty Albert/Special to The Guardian
Terry Pratt appears as Samuel Johnson in “Yr. Obedient Servant”. Costume designer for the show is Pam Jewell. - Bunty Albert/Special to The Guardian

So, it’s not surprising to hear that Pratt is achieving his dream of starring in a one-man play about his hero. “Yr. Obedient Servant’, co-produced by Vagabond Productions’, will be performed at the Faculty Lounge of Main Building at UPEI on Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Described as a “slice of 18th century life” its most recent performance, last January, was in Johnson’s own house in England, featuring Olivier Award-winning actor, Matthew Kelly.

“The play is about Johnson’s life. It’s fun. It’s also a little bit intimidating because this time I’m doing the whole play,” says Pratt, who presented the first act only, “Dictionary Johnson” from 2004-2007 at schools and seniors’ community homes on P.E.I., as well as at the P.E.I. Theatre Festival and a conference at Boston University.

Returning as director for the full-length play is Ann Boyles.

“Terry described it as being on his bucket list. So, I’m all about helping people achieve the things on their bucket list,” says the UPEI English professor.

“Being a dictionary man and a gifted actor when this script fell into Terry’s hands, he was very pleased. So, when he decided to do this remount with both acts, I was quite interested in it.”

Pratt says his interest in the play, written by Kay Eldridge, came after studying Johnson’s life.

Born on Sept. 18, 1709, Samuel was the son of Michael Johnson, a bookseller, and his wife, Sarah.

“He was a frail child. They baptized him that same evening because they didn’t think he was going to life through the night. When he survived his parents hired a strong wet nurse, so he would be well-nourished. But, when it was too late they discovered she had tuberculosis and gave him various scars on his face, made him blind in one eye and deaf in one ear.

“It more or less weakened his health,” says Pratt.

But, somehow, he manages to rise above his issues, marry and lead a successful life.

“He just makes his way by sheer effort and intelligence and becomes the man of words, after whom the age is sometimes named.”


Fast facts

“Yr. Obedient Servant”: An Evening of Chamber Theatre with Samuel Johnson, as performed by Terry Pratt is available as a fundraiser to groups and organizations.

For more information, call 902-675-3672 or email tpratt@upei.ca.


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