Behind the Curtain: Sapientia

By Benjamin Chafe

This past week I went and visited the team behind the upcoming production of Sapientia. Running at Mainline Theatre from August 16- August 26, Scapegoat Carnivale’s Sapientia is sure to spark conversations. I met with Alison Darcy (playing Sapientia in addition to Co-Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale), Mia van Leeuwen (Direction and Conceptualization), and Joseph Shragge (Co-Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale and adapted from a literal translation by Lynn Kozak). We sat down at Mainline Theatre, surrounded by the objects that add to the vibrancy of Sapentia. Our dialogue focused primarily on the process of Object Theatre, religion and gender.

QDF: Can you tell us a little bit about what Object Theatre is and why you chose this technique?

Mia van Leeuwen- So, Object Theatre is a form I came in contact with and then eventually trained with and under the tutelage of Grant Guy in Winnipeg, MB. When I was thinking about how to stage Sapientia after Joseph had brought the script to me, I was like ‘oh my gosh, how are we going to do this piece?’ It’s super violent and has all of these miracles in it. With my background in Object Theatre, I put it all together and thought- this is something I can investigate with objects.

Object Theatre is in line with puppetry. Instead of using any form of face, you are using household objects or domestic objects. Sometimes the objects are more designed, which is along with Grant’s work. He would design, do a bricolage or assemblage of objects. In this style of Object Theatre, I learned from Grant, the performer is very much a part of the picture. For people who are new to Object Theatre, it can take a while to get into because they have to see the performer and object move together.

QDF: What’s it like as a performer, negotiating your role while operating the object?

Alison Darcy- I came to it brand spanking new, so everything I’ve learned has been through Mia. I’ve directed puppetry before so I understand it from the outside eye. Looking through the object rather than looking at the person holding the object so a lot of your focus is in placing (the object). Putting your energy into that object. I was struggling a lot with understanding how to do that with an object that doesn’t have a mouth and like googly eyes or hands. I had to get over the idea in my head that I am not trying to animate it to be a person. I have to find a way for the object to move itself or it wants to move itself. If it were to have life, how would it express its life.

I’m playing a hand mirror. She’s very pretty. She has a way to flip her head around, pivot and turn. The way I place my hands can express a lot through the flick of a finger. If I pick her up and move her, is she jumping or flying, what is she doing? It’s a language that I had to find a whole other vocabulary with Mia.

QDF: You’ve referred to the mirror as ‘she’ and ‘her’. So the object as a character then becomes gendered.

AD- Oh yeah. She, the mirror, is a part of me. We’ve had a lot of fun with like, is it the mirror? Is it me? Or is it Allison performing the mirror?

Joseph Shragge- I also think there’s a way the objects reflect gender. Initially, it seems very gendered like this woman and her three little girls displayed with femininity of a vanity mirror and teacups versus this very rugged flashlight. 

QDF: Has Object Theatre changed the way that you view potentially mundane objects in your daily life? Are you seeing objects with a new perspective and how to bring them onstage? 

MvL- As the director, I often work with objects. I am always looking for an object’s potential. Maybe that object could function in a theatrical space, not just as a prop.

JS- It’s really about the performer and the object. Sometimes people get confused about, ‘I don’t know where to look’ and really it’s just about following the story. The performers are in their way telling you when they’re in the objects and when they are themselves.

 

 

QDF: Can you describe the process in selecting the objects that you use in the production?

MvL- When I started the process in 2014, I was studying a religious theatre course in University of Alberta. I started considering how objects could be applied to Sapientia. I started thinking about the teacups. The characters Faith Hope and Charity are each portrayed by teacups. They can be fragile and yet beyond their body is much stronger than the appearance of them.

Sapientia was the first character I chose and I did a lot of reflection in her, and I knew right away that a mirror could function. Because of her actions and the extremism of them, I am not a religious person but I was curious to reflect that character in myself. With Rome, I wanted someone who surveyed the land and decided to use a mechanical flashlight.

AD- We found a lot of fun ways within the text that can be interpreted as literal reference. Words like ‘reflecting’, are literally in the text that we can play off of.

QDF: The production has included a trigger warning. Is there anything you would like audiences to know before coming to the production?

AD- There are also flashing lights we would like to include in the trigger warning. There is violence towards the representation of women or particularly girls in the show. That can be a very upsetting idea. It kind of lies in the genius of choosing to do Object Theatre that we can have a distance from it and witness the act without actually having to watch a woman being tortured on stage. Within this modern climate I think people are asking why we would ever need to see violence against women because we’ve seen it for so long, since antiquity. This is an interesting way to address that and tell this story, while recognizing that we are doing work that is rarely done by the first female playwright. A playwright who’s been forgotten overtime for her male counterparts. So in honouring the piece and the original words but being aware of the society we’re in now and how to intelligently marry those worlds rather than ignore the fact that this will be an issue. 

QDF: Can you tell us about some of the other themes Sapientia explores?

MvL- Violence and miracles. The violence I knew I definitely didn’t want to portray in the piece with realism because it would be way too much and over the top. I was curious how to deconstruct the violence. In Object Theatre you can deconstruct everything. You use mechanics in order to display the actions. As opposed to a more psychological approach.

The miracles, are more difficult to show to stage. The investigation of violence and the feeling of pain in relation to how they feel miracles is really what made me buy into this piece and how to stage both.

 

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Thank you to Alison, Mia, and Joseph for taking the time to meet with me during your busy rehearsal schedule!

 

The talented cast includes Alison Darcy (Sapientia), Robert Leveroos(Hadrian), Alexandra Petrachuk (The Daughters—Faith, Hope and Charity) and Paul Van Dyck (Antiochus), with foley sound performed by Evan Stepanian. Vancouver creator/performer Robert Leverooshas designed a set resembling an industrial kitchen to draw a parallel between the bodily carnage onstage and food preparation. Bruno-Pierre Houle tackles the lighting and costume designs. David Epstein stage manages. Dramaturgy by Anthony Kennedy.

About Scapegoat Carnivale: Scapegoat Carnivale is an award-winning company reflecting the diverse talents and extraordinary creativity of the Montreal artistic community, presenting innovative new work, with an interest is in the carnivalesque, the roughly-hewn, and the highly theatrical. Whether producing new works or adaptations from the classical repertoire, they strive for theatre to be an unruly, visceral and authentic shared experience.

Sapientia

Scapegoat Carnivale at MainLine Theatre, MiniMain Space, 3997 Blvd. Saint-Laurent

Thurs. to Sat.—Aug. 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25: 8pm; Sat. Aug. 25: 2pm; Sun. Aug. 19, 26: 2pm

Ticket prices: $20, $15 student/senior/underemployed; Pay-What-You-Can Aug. 19 at 2pm

Box office: 514 849-3378,www.mainlinetheatre.ca/en/spectacles/sapientia

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*Please note there will be talkbacks on August 17, 19, 23 and 24.