Roundtable Discussion: Six Artists from Imago Theatre’s Her Side: Revision to Resist

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiwJsvrBodI]

The Quebec Drama Federation presents a roundtable discussion with six of the artists working on Imago Theatre’s upcoming play festival, Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist.

The Participants:

  • Jen Viens, lead actor in What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband
  • Tamara Brown, director of The Last Wife and lead actor in Fucking A
  • Jen Quinn, director of The Penelopiad
  • Gabriel Maharjan, actor in The Last Wife
  • Oliver Koomsatira, actor in Fucking A
  • Kathleen Stavert, actor in The Last Wife From

 

From October 31 to November 5 at Centaur Theatre, Imago Theatre will present Her Side of the Story: Revision to Resist, a festival of performances, encounters and exchange around women who revision known narratives to reclaim Her Side of the Story from the footnotes.

Tickets are $20 or $15 for students/artists/seniors or Pay-What-You-Decide at the door. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Centaur Box Office at 514-288-3161 or online at centaurtheatre.com

Behind the Curtain: Joseph Shragge of Oedipus Part One: Assembly

By Caleigh Crow

 

“We don’t think of the Greeks as musical theatre,” says Joseph Shragge, “even though the choruses were sung and danced to.”

Joseph Shragge.jpg

Joseph sits across from me at the ubiquitous wooden table that dominates the Quebec Drama Federation’s main meeting space. It’s a large table, long, darker in color; the varnish on it lovingly dyed by the consequence of hands and light on its surface. It’s expansive and weighty. As far as ubiquity goes, I know my dear table would be obliterated by the might of the three choirs portraying the Chorus in Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre’s production, Oedipus Part One: Assembly.

Joseph adapted the text from Lynn Kozak, a professor of classics at McGill University, who wrote the direct translation. It was while Joseph was working with Lynn on the script that something struck Joseph that would eventually lead to the involvement of the choirs. Joseph explains, “Oedipus opens with a mass movement of people supplicating, not just at King Oedipus’ palace gates, but all throughout the city. There’s one line that indicates others are at the marketplace and by the river, and I asked Lynn about it. ‘What do you mean there’s others? Other groups?’ She said yes, throughout the city. I had never thought of that before.”

If you’re familiar with classical Greek plays, you know the inclusion of the chorus can be a hurdle to a creative team, and for Joseph it was no exception. For the Oedipus team, it made sense to “think of the Greeks as musical theatre”. Joseph tells me that in a certain headspace, the question wasn’t how to portray the Chorus, but what even is the Chorus? “It’s like a poem, but if you think of it as a song, it works dramatically so much better than having people chant,” he says. “I’m hoping that having the chorus sung will add a magical dimension to it.”

Rehearsal- Oedipus Part One%3b Assembly- three choirs.jpg

Before the production reached this point, Joseph, Lynn, and dramaturg Anthony Kennedy, had been working on the script in conjunction with director Andreas Apergis, who translated the first quarter of the play before Lynn took over. The entire writing process has persisted over two years. “It’s really closer to translation in many ways,” Joseph says. “The impulse is to tear it apart and do something contemporary, and I’ve done that on other projects, and for some reason with Andreas we’ve always come back to thinking, this stuff is really interesting, the scenes are so rich.” Joseph laughs, “It’s better than what we could come up with, so we just keep tinkering and tinkering away at these sentences.”

Joseph notes that working on the script for so long has made him a little numb to some of the extremes of the play (in a word: incest), especially compared to other classical works. “It’s not like we’re all walking around worried about being accidentally married to our own mothers,” he says bluntly. “It’s so particular, that I don’t even know what kind of feelings that should engender in anyone. It’s a more difficult tragedy because we don’t relate to Oedipus the same way we do to Medea or Clytemnestra, or those power imbalances that are much more accessible.” So, how will audiences connect with the play? Joseph responds, “It begins with a horrible plague, a city in turmoil, that’s easy to understand. The cause of this is a murder, and we have to find the murderer. Now we go into this mystery then we just keep getting all these strange turns. All these turns start to relate back to the initial problem. It becomes this horror detective story.”

If it’s a translation then, it comes with all the quirks of trying to extract meaning from a highly representational art form: language. Joseph recounts the challenges that arose from trying to decipher two words: ‘the same’. In the scene, Oedipus is speaking with Tiresias, whose translated line ‘You’re speaking against the order of the cosmos, so speak no more, and spare me suffering the same’ had Joseph in a tizzy. “What’s the same? There’s certain ways if you order the sentence it seems like it makes sense, but why the same? The same suffering? It means Tiresias is outside the cosmic order or…” he shakes his head. “There’s a lot of that.”

I glean that Joseph is fond of Tiresias (who doesn’t love a blind prophet), from his care in determining what’s ‘the same’, and that he and I agree casting Leni Parker in that role is inspired. When asked what scene he’s most excited to see brought to life, Joseph answers “When Tiresias comes out and tells Oedipus you’re the pollution – and oh my god, that word…” he pauses to think about it. “For now, it’s pollution. But it could be contagion,” he can’t help himself, he’s a writer. He continues, “When Tiresias comes out and says you’re the cause of this plague, it’s such a powerful attack, revelation. That character has so much ferocity, and that is Leni Parker, and I know she’s going to excel.”

As our conversation continues, my once grandiose meeting table now seems increasingly diminutive. There are so many performers, singers, actors, and writers on board, each bringing their own artistry to this massive show. We have Choeur Maha,  Zakynthines Phones Choir, and The Montreal Artists Choir bringing a towering presence to the role of the chorus. There’s an impressive cast, including Leni Parker, Chip Chuipka, Alison Darcy, and Mike Payette to name a few. Sophocles and a crack team of writers, translators, and dramaturgs, present us with a berserk plot built around a horror-murder mystery that intensifies to a dreadful, frightful, excellent climax–  it’s oh so Greek.


Oedipus Part One: Assembly is playing from October 20 – 22 at the Centaur Theatre. Opening night is already sold out! Hurry and get your tickets by calling the Centaur box office at (514) 288-3161. For more information, check out Scapegoat Carnivale’s website here. 

Behind the Curtain: Cultivating Confidence with Gabriel Maharjan, director of Gruesome Playground Injuries

By: Caleigh Crow

For Playground Productions, new swingers on the Montreal independent theatre monkey bars, there’s only the future ahead, laid cleanly before them like white-painted hopscotch squares, still un-scuffed by sneakers and loose pebbles. Their first kick at the can (last playground joke), Gruesome Playground Injuries, offers the story of two characters brought together by injury and illness. The show spans their entire lifetimes and see-saws back and forth in time, and the audience too takes a spin on the merry-go-round of life (okay, that’s enough, for real).

The company was founded by a group of five emerging artists, including Gabriel Maharjan, director of Gruesome Playground Injuries. “It’s really important to the play, the reminder that we all have flaws, and we can all love and be loved despite our flaws,” Gabriel says. “Sometimes we do things we don’t want to do or we do the opposite of what’s best for us. We push people away when we should be letting them in. It’s those kinds of things. It’s not a play of good decisions and bad decisions, but hard decisions for the characters,” Gabriel pauses. “I think everyone’s made a hard decision in their life.”

Gabriel hopes audience members come see Gruesome Playground Injuries to catch a glimpse of the human condition. “I like when a play shakes my perspective of life a little bit, and takes me out of balance, and I feel a little less comfortable on the ground,” he says. The play is “almost existential in the sense that it’s about life. No matter what age you’re at, you always aging, and that’s something that everyone has in the back of their mind, the fact that we’re constantly getting older and nearing a certain end point of life.”

We spend some time talking about the Montreal English theatre community, which Gabriel describes as a “small and feisty”. He’s eager to see the community grow, and has already recruited new member into the fold, Emon Barua, sound designer, who had never worked on a theatrical production before. When reading the script, he asked Gabriel what the playwright meant by ‘beat’ – is that a sound design note? Gabriel counts Emon’s curiosity and willingness to try an entirely new artform as a step in the right direction, saying, “I think it’s important that since we’re quite contained and we like to work amongst ourselves, we need to make sure we get people outside the community in, and part of that is by reaching out to other artists who haven’t worked in theatre, like Emon.”

Working with characters whose entire lives are laid bare onstage and shared with the audience out of time can be a challenge for an actor, as it requires a lot of setting the record straight within the production, another place Gabriel can lend his director’s eye. “We had to make very concrete decisions for ourselves what have the characters going through that is not said. You do that for any show, you make those decisions, but this show has thirty years of making life decisions for the characters,” Gabriel says.

Gabriel and the Playground team have made use of movement in their transitions between scenes, giving the rearranging of furniture and passage of time in the play a performance-based aspect, and to help guide the audience through the misfiled scenes. “For the actors to be able to jump from eight years old to twenty-three to thirteen and back and forth, these transitions help them use the limited time onstage to help switch their acting styles and the characteristics they’re playing with,” Gabriel says. “The transitions offer an opportunity for the audience to reflect on what just happened because what happens next is not a continuation of [the characters’] lives, it will be another side of the story, but it’s not linear in that sense.”

The heightened elements of the show aren’t strictly relegated to scene transitions. There’s a scene towards the end of the show that takes place in a mental facility, and the play didn’t call for much more than chairs, a desk, and some dialogue – a typical meeting setting. “It felt a little empty,” Gabriel admits. “It felt like there could be more for this, we could do something more to represent the characters and what’s going on inside them. So, we decided to play with that and turn that whole scene into a movement piece, and no other scene is like that.” The creative choice to elevate one scene stems from the group’s rejection of style markers as rigid categories that must apply to the entire play. “I like being able to branch out and let the show be more than just one style. I think it makes it a lot more interesting for us as creators to spread our wings out and stretch and feel the different possibilities,” he says, “but also for the audience not to expect the rest of the show.”

It’s a director’s choice to elevate one particular scene in such a way, and though he might not have made it completely alone, it’s up to Gabriel to turn his and his creative team’s visions into reality. As a first-time director, getting used to leadership is an exercise in cultivating confidence. “If anybody who doesn’t do theatre were to watch a rehearsal, they would probably think, what is any of this?” Gabriel refers to common rehearsal hall exploratory exercises, such as “walking around throwing balls around, walking around picking blocks up while turning around, just weird stuff” that might not be instantly recognizable as craft-honing drills but that nevertheless have a place in many actors’ and directors’ toolkits. “As an actor, I love doing the weird stuff, I think if it’s useful let’s do it, but as a director now I definitely have moments where I wonder if the actors will think it’s too weird to be useful.” He explains, “That’s where the confidence comes in. You have to make the decision of what’s going to happen in rehearsal. It’s the difference between being told the wackiness and actually deciding the wackiness for the group. You have to let go of any inhibitions in that sense, and any sort of insecurities about your ability to foster creation.” He pauses to reflect, “It’s a very different role.”

I leave you with a final thought from Gabriel on theatre: “Stories are wonderful, but the story needs to pull at the heartstrings a little bit, or the brain strings or any strings in the body, it could pull at anything depending on the show, but it needs to pull.”


Gruesome Playground Injuries runs from September 22 – 26 at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium, 5801 Cavendish Boul, Cote Saint-Luc. For more information and for tickets, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Curtain: Ira Sokolova of Bites of Life 

By Caleigh Crow 

gleams

“I’m really trying to adjust my approach to the modern style of living. I want my theatre projects to go along with the flow of life. I like serious and deep stuff, but at the same time, my playful mind, my love of a challenge, and also my desire to make the challenge obey me, all that always stimulates me in my search for different forms and different locations that are not the typical stage spots” Ira Sokolova says.  

Staging plays in site-specific places started about 14 years ago, with the pilot production of Ira’s newly founded by her independent theatre Gleams. The monologue play The Guitar Woman by Jon Fosse Ira presented in the Art Gallery of Victoria Hall, Westmount, in 2004. A couple of years after, Gleams Theatre produced Bookstore Theatre series where Ira S explored the ten-minute plays genre in, you guessed it, a bookstore. It was her way of bringing theatre to where people go on a regular basis, the “nowadays style of living” where people routinely go to bookstores to buy books, so why not stay for a ten-minute-plays show? 

Ira produced entire four-show season of Bookstore Theatre and it was her first time using short plays, which she noticed taking off in the United States where 10-minute plays festivals are common. The reception to the series was positive, and the experience would inform Ira’s upcoming series, Bites of Life. “Great experience, it gave me an idea not just of how to do this type of theatre, but it gave me an idea of how people will react to this genre, and they loved it”, Ira says, “This all stays in you.” 

Bookstore Theatre came to an end when the venue went out of business, but it wasn’t the end of Gleams Theatre or Ira’s interest in the forms and philosophies behind her work. Both Gleams Theatre and her friend’s hotel Oberge Manoir Ville Marie were celebrating ten years in 2014, and they held a bash together in the hotel. Ira knew right away she wanted to stage a short play in one of the rooms of the hotel. This was where she first connected with New York based playwright C.S. Hanson, whose play Where Were You When I Was Coming? ran in two adjoining hotel rooms at the anniversary event. It was double cast, with two performances happening simultaneously. The feedback was clearly showing that the audience’s experience was very exciting and very curious. 

Ira took the production to the St Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, in June 2015 where she showed the double cast on the same stage simultaneously, incorporating elements of choral speech – sometimes the actors would speak in unison, or one actor might pick up a line where the other left off.  Ira explains her reasoning as being inspired by the everyday things that happen to everyone. “Sometimes you go on the street and you see the windows of houses without curtains, and you see people behind in similar situations. “This thought came to me and I imagined how many couples in life go through that same things C.S. Hanson’s play was talking about”, Ira says.   

While Ira was working on the hotel show, she was getting her hair done at her salon, her hairdresser, Farida, asked, “Why don’t we put on a theatre show in my salon?” Ira was startled, and said sure, not thinking anything would really come of it, but Farida persisted, and Ira promised to start thinking seriously about such a project and find a material that would be suitable for the venue. Not long after Ira’s idea started to take shape and eventually, she wrote a script titled Bites of Life in which she compiled three 10-minute plays: Customer Service by Philip Hall, Stalk Me, Baby by C.S. Hanson and The Best Is Yet to Come, by Ira S. The later she wrote specially for Julie Barbeau, an actor she wanted to cast in the show, but whom she couldn’t find a suitable partner.  These three short plays formed Episode 1 of the future theatre series. Gleams Theatre produced Bites of Life, Episode 1 for the first time in the fall of 2015 as a salon theatre launch. By audience demand, Ira re-produced that show last year adding to it new elements delivered by two new characters: The Actor and The Juggler.  

This year’s double bill production of Bites of Life, Episode 1 – The Introduction and Episode 2 – Black Coffee will mark the first world theatre series launch, a reproduction of the TV series genre where the audience can follow the stories of the characters introduced in Episode 1 in a different place, in a café.  

Ira’s idea for a polyglot production came from C.S. Hanson’s partner, who mentioned he translated Hanson’s play Stalk Me, Baby into Spanish, which happened to be Sonia’s mother tongue. “I said to her, Sonia, you’re going to do it in Spanish next year!” Everyone took it as a joke,” she recalls. But the idea stuck, not least of all because Bites of Life is to be hosted in Montreal’s neighborhood of Notre-Dame-des-Graces, which has the same municipal office as the most linguistically diverse neighborhood in the city, Cote-Des-Neiges. “It’s so associated with the city we live in, with its vibrant multilingual and multicultural vibe”, she explains.  

Bites of Life polyglot production will be performed in English, French, Spanish, Polish and Bulgarian, Ira’s first language, which she says people often don’t realize even exists. “This will be good for the spectators to hear how Bulgarian sounds, many people think we speak Russian or something else,” she says.  

“Rehearsals are just marvelous,” Ira notes. She sees what big impact acting in their first languages had on her cast right away. “It’s so much more exciting, it becomes funnier and more engaging,” she says. Ira observed that when Sonia acts in Spanish, “her eyes light up, her voice changes, the intonation becomes more genuine  – it’s unbelievable”, she laughs, “Wow!” 

Not only does the show play with multilingualism, unconventional theatre space, and the short play format, there are surprises that Ira wouldn’t even share with me, for fear of ruining the fun. The show promises to be a complete evening, with both venues for Episodes One and Two catering to the customer (or theatre-goer) experience with cozy venues and accommodating hosts. At the Leonidas Café, host of Episode Two, there’s even the possibility of Belgium chocolate!   


 The Bites of Life series opens with Episode 1 on September 15th, and runs every Friday at 8PM until November 3rd. The first venue is Coiffure 3 (5256 Sherbrooke St., W., Montreal).

Episode 2 runs every Thursday from October 19 – November 30 at 8PM. Leonidas Culture Chocolate Cafe, 318 Victoria Ave., Westmount

 

For more information on the schedule and to get tickets, please click here

 

 

 

 

Behind the Curtain: CABAL’s Anthony Kennedy and the Tragic Queens

By Caleigh Crow

“We’re not trying to be rebellious or provocative for the sake of it,” Anthony Kennedy says, “this is just what makes sense to us.”

Anthony Kennedy is the director and one of six founders of CABAL Theatre, one of Montreal’s newest independent theatre companies, whose upcoming production, Tragic Queens, is a collectively devised piece inspired by an array of influences from literary giant Virginia Woolf to Chicana theorist Gloria E. Anzaldua to Instagram artist Audrey Woollen. It’s about Queen-hood and feminism, self-curation and identity, the internet and power. The group are fiercely unapologetic about the provocative feminist subject matter, their rebellious collective approach, or the way they make sense of the world around them.

The result? “It’s flowing, its this collage, it’s super frenetic and alive,” as Anthony describes it. “Being ever girl and ever woman. Being born a girl, and being immediately sexualized, but then as you grow into a woman, you’re always infantilized, the double shame of being a woman,” he says. “We wanted to look at these things. Looking at girlhood, teenagerhood, adulthood, and then backing it up with this queen epilogue, which as its own thing speaks to a broader perspective and adds a degree of gravitas, we have these different sources of inspirations for each section.”

The piece was assembled by the CABAL collective, and centers around the push and pull between feminism and femininity in the age of the selfie and late capitalism. We joked about how every woman must have Rosie the Riveter Girl Power professional chutzpah, otherwise you’re just not trying hard enough, but the underlying truth of that joke is what the Tragic Queens team is getting at. “Be assertive, take over in the workforce, make a lot of money, be powerful, practice positivity,” Anthony says. “Which in some ways can be quite good, but it puts the onus on women, rather than acknowledging that the problem with the world is not women being positive enough, it’s patriarchy.”

By no means virgin territory and they know it, which is why Anthony pays due deference to the artists and authors I mentioned above, and others like Mary Beard, Anne Carson, and Maggie Nelson. CABAL use their influences to discuss contradictions of being a woman, the opportunities and disadvantages, and the extent to which women can control it all. “It’s quite simple,” Anthony explains, “there’s a lot of reasons why women and girls are discontent with the world. It’s not a place that’s set up to serve them, in fact it’s quite the opposite, it can be a dangerous place and really unkind. So, it’s perfectly reasonable to respond to a world that is messing with you and to be discontent.” Tragic Queens is one such response.

There are as many different approaches to collective creation as there are collective creators, and that’s part of what makes the theatre style so enticing to theatre practitioners who employ it. Here, process is King- or more appropriately, Queen – though given the typically lateral power structure of the form, maybe any reference to hierarchy is in the wrong spirit. CABAL broke their process for Tragic Queens down into two major phases: the creation phase, and the refining phase. The first phase entails a lot of research; both in the traditional sense and in terms of theatre exploration and exercises around a theme, image, or idea. “We all journal based on our personal experiences, we all bring in articles and share them, pick our favourite passages, we bring in poetry, be bring in excerpts of novels, films, all sorts of media that we think is pertinent. We present it, discuss it, dissect it, journal about our feelings,” Anthony explains. “Then, we might come up with a performative exercise on a theme. We’ll say, as an example, it has to be 2 minutes long, it’s got to have a beginning and end, its needs to have a leap and a fall, a loud noise, and the lights have to turn on and off once.”

At this point, “we” isn’t only performers and directors, it’s dramaturgs, stage manager, light, costume and sound designers – everybody who has an idea is welcome to contribute. The boundaries between disciplines are blurred, with designers acting, actors making the first little bits of costume – whichever idea is strongest, regardless of training or role, comes to the forefront. “Because it’s not for an audience, it’s just for research, even if somebody’s performance isn’t riveting, it can offer up a really powerful idea. If we take the idea, and say that image was really striking, have an actor step in, do that role using their expertise and instrument, it can become even more powerful,” Anthony says. “The burden isn’t on one person to come up with all this stuff. As the process goes on, everybody steps into their specialty because we need to stage the thing, but the full conversation is always there, and the best idea wins.”

Take for example, the lighting operator Niamh Devaney of Tragic Queens. She happens to be finishing up her Master’s degree in playwrighting, has experience directing, designing, and running a theatre company of her own. As Anthony says, “It’s this brilliant thing to have a new collaborator who’s not just a lighting board operator. Why not make use of that resource, and all of that experience?”

As phase one morphs into phase two, the contributors slip back into their specialties, polishing the rough ideas hammered out in phase one. Anthony gives CABAL’s Artist in Residence, playwright Rhiannon Collett, as an example. “For her to weave our journal entries into one voice, and then take a poem we selected, and weave that in, and have it be this completely new piece of writing that has it’s own tone that draws from all these vital places, – ah!” He sighs. “It’s just amazing.” They’ve never worked with a playwright before in this capacity, and they are finding her a tremendous boon to the production.

Anthony makes it clear that the show is not an immersive theatre piece, even though the piece makes use of the entire theatre. If you’re looking for a pillar of theatrical creativity with a wealth of experience and a certain avant-garde sensibility, look no further than the MainLine Theatre itself, where Tragic Queens will be performed. “The MainLine has a rich history, it has a personality. We are embracing the space, one of the characters in the show is the MainLine, and we’re having things happen in a variety of spaces, and drawing attention to it,” Anthony says. The theatrical piece being played onstage will be accompanied by a live feed from other performances occurring simultaneously in MainLine’s other spaces. Anthony remarks on the contrast of the two mediums, “To be able to have that ability to reflect immediately, seeing flesh and blood in front of you and seeing a projection, how it changes your perception of a scene. You see it onstage and then forty-five minutes later the same scene happens but on camera in a different space,” he pauses, “and it can force one to reflect on how one’s agency is taken away by cinema, the camera guiding your perspective.”

One last tidbit to entice you – every night the show features a guest performer who adds something of their own expertise and lived experience to the Tragic Queens piece. Anthony wouldn’t give away any names, but he did indicate that there would be and an opera singer one night and many of the biggest names of Montreal’s main stages. You won’t know what to expect – except the rebellious and provocative.


Tragic Queens will be playing at the MainLine Theatre from August 17 -27. For more information and for tickets please click here.

TQPOSTEr.jpg

Behind the Curtain: Warona Setshwaelo of Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program

18486110_1336200033136705_3372871631388851125_n

by Caleigh Crow

So, you’ve decided to go for it. You want to be a theatre practitioner. Maybe you discover you’re compelled to perform; to tell stories. Or maybe you’ve got a discerning eye for design and you’re great at building models. Maybe directing is your soul-food. You may have attended a post-secondary theatre training program and you’ve been learning about lighting plots. You step out into the theatre world, with all your training and techniques, take a look around for some easy opportunities and one question comes to mind: now what?

Having questions is one thing, getting answers is another. If you haven’t had the networking opportunities to make connections with people already working in the field, it’s hard to know who to ask. This is where mentorship programs can help bridge the gap between emerging artists and where they want to be in their professional careers. Black Theatre Workshop recognized the need for mentorship in the theatre community, and established the Artist Mentorship Program. The program prioritizes black artists and artists of color and is also geared towards pairing artists with mentors of color. As Warona Setshwaelo, Artist Mentorship Program Coordinator, tells me during our interview, “The fact that almost every racialized artist that has approached me about the program has said they never had an artist mentor of color is a reason off the bat to create a program like this.”

The Artist Mentorship Program is currently accepting applications from emerging actors, directors, stage managers, designers, and playwrights. After the submission deadline on May 26th, selected applicants will be invited to attend an interview at Black Theatre Workshop. From this group of interviewees, twelve are selected as participants. From October to the end of April, the chosen twelve are paired with a mentor in their field and attend workshops, hear guest speakers, see around 10-15 plays, and hold discussions – the perfect place to ask now what? The program is capped off with an Industry Showcase where participants display their skill sets for artistic directors, agents, and other industry professionals. This is a unique opportunity for some face time with some of the industry’s key players.

The program is tailored to the participant in every aspect. Emerging stage managers, directors, and designers take part in an apprenticeship on a professional show. Actors attend workshops on audition skills. Playwrights meet with dramaturgs and editors to support their writing. There’s a workshop on taxes for artists, on grant writing. Everything – even things that seem like details until you’re faced with them is covered by the program. “We’re not here to teach you one way of doing things,” Warona explains, “we’re here to support what’s happening and show you a bunch of different ways to do it, and you can piece something together out of that.” Given that artists are, shall we say, free-spirited, a one-size fits all approach does not work.

It also goes without saying that in arts, the professional and the personal are very close. The Artist Mentorship Program embraces this. “We deal with you as a person, you as an artist, you as a working artist, and what all that is,” Warona says. “We keep our work very close to our hearts and it all blends into the same thing.” The program not only answers professional now what questions, but also personal questions. A participant may not have the support of their family or friends. Now what? I don’t know when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’. Do I have to do everything? Now what? I’ve auditioned three times this week. Now what? As Warona says, “There’s a lot to talk about in this business, and there are lot of questions to be asked.”

There are even more questions if you are an artist of color. It’s important that the participants have a place to talk freely about being racialized in the arts. Warona specifically mentions being tokenised on a production. “If you’ve ever been tokenised you know how lonely and scary that can be,” Warona says. “Most of the time you don’t speak up because you don’t know what’s going to happen, especially if you’re emerging. It’s a strange place to be, and you’re going to have specific problems that people who aren’t marginalized aren’t going to have.”
One of these problems is the lack of representation among racialized groups in theatre generally, and especially in the off-stage realms of directing, stage management, and design. “People don’t enter a profession where it looks they aren’t considered. If you don’t see anything of you, especially when it’s an artistic job it can be extremely intimidating and like I said, nobody wants to be tokenized,” Warona says frankly.

The participants have a sensible and caring set of hands at the helm. When asked about this group of participants, her first as program coordinator, she turns very tender. “It’s my first group so I think there’s going to be some fondness,” she says with a laugh, “but they’re all so talented, generous, hardworking, and all of them are awesome members of the theatre community and the community at large.”

For Warona, one of the best things about coordinating the program is “being able to reach out to these racialized artists who felt like there might not be room for them.” Make no mistake – there is room for these artists, and Warona and Black Theatre Workshop are committed to doing their part to make sure everyone in the community is supported, and Warona’s pride in her work is palpable. “My belief is that you must create the programs that are going to show them that there is a place for them,” she says. “I’m not trying to convince people to do it, I’m trying to make the space that was already theirs, and show it to them.”


If you are interested in applying for Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program please click here. The deadline is May 26th.

Behind the Curtain: In Front of the Lights with Itai Erdal and His ‘How to Disappear Completely’

how to 2

By Max Mehran

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts presents The Chop Theatre’s award-winning production of How to Disappear Completely from April 30th to May 21st at the Segal Studio. QDF had the pleasure to meet with the co-writer and performer in the show, internationally-known lighting designer Itai Erdal. In this emotionally charged interview, Itai answers our questions with sincerity and humour. While the play deals with the passing of Itai’s mother through the beauty and metaphoric use of lighting designs, it is an affirming ode to a mother’s life.

I want to know why he decided to tell this story in the first place. “I thought my mother was really great, and I miss her,” he says sincerely. Even as a teenager, he knew his mother was the ‘cool mom’, and the show helps keep her alive. Someone mentioned to him that he should have called the show How Not to Disappear Completely because “as long as I do the show, my mother doesn’t disappear,” he says. “It helps me keep in touch with my mother and I am proud of her, her personality really shines through the show. She said some profound things and I want everybody to know how great she was.” He also tells me that every time after he finishes a presentation, a line up of people are waiting to talk to him with tears in their eyes. He heard stories of people’s loved ones who passed away, about finding love, about working in palliative care and how the show touched them. “I hear wonderful stories, and every time I meet someone who was touched by the show, I tell them ‘I did the show for you.’”  He discusses how the topic of dying and cancer is very taboo and difficult subject that is often not addressed on stage, but he reminds me that How to Disappear Completely, while dealing with these themes, is not a depressing show, but quite funny. “My mother was a hedonist, she enjoyed life and it would be a sin to make a depressing show about her,” he emphasizes.  “A lot of people say it’s a life affirming show,” he continues, “so it’s a way into a topic that is very difficult to make way in any other way, and I really believe that it is really good to feel things.”

It all started in the year 2000 when Itai received a phone call from Israel telling him the difficult news that his mother was diagnosed with cancer and only had 9 months left to live. Itai was in film school at the time, and decided to fly back to Israel to spend every minute she had left by her side. Being a filmmaker compelled him to bring his video camera on the plane, and his first idea was to use his filmmaking skills freshly learned in school to interview his mother and capture her talking about childhood stories and recipes amongst other things. She suggested that he should do a documentary film that he could call “Towards My Mother’s Death”, which he agreed to work on. Itai became the main caregiver for the last months of her life, filming as his mother was passing in the comfort of her own home. Some people did ask him how he could have filmed some of the very difficult passages, but, as he says, “it was my way of dealing with the situation, of coping by trying to make something creative and beautiful out of a difficult situation.”

After she passed, he flew back to Vancouver and made a trailer of the documentary hoping to attract the interest of producers, but for various personal reasons, he ended up not making the film. A few years later, Itai found himself working in theatre and this is when he decided to use the footage of the passing of his mother and create a theatre piece. Not being an actor but already a successful lighting designer, he and his creative team came up with the idea of doing a lighting demonstration. Teaching about the technicalities of lighting designs and talking about this art form is one of Itai’s passions. Therefore, creating this piece around lights was an easy task for the performer. His team and himself workshopped the piece and presented it in various places. The audience responded well to the work, and he explains that “lighting suddenly became a metaphor for many things about my mother’s life that I would have never imagined possible.” He tells us that the show “became something between a lecture about lighting and telling stories about my mother while covering many aspects of my life.” A real catharsis, the show was premiered in Vancouver in 2010 and was a critically acclaimed success.

Itai and his team started pitching the show and selling it internationally. How to Disappear Completely went through 23 remounts and was presented over 250 times in many cities in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Itai remembers when his mother was telling him how filming the footage “was her contribution to my future.” He adds, “if only she could have known how much she contributed because this show changed my life, made me start my own theatre company, made me create more shows since, made me realize that I can perform and opened me up to another direction in the creative arts.” While Itai still is a professional lighting designer, he has the freedom to develop his creative skills and create more work for himself and his company.

When asked if along the years performing the show if he could recall major changes it underwent, he stops for a second and tells me, “the show hasn’t changed much, but what changed is that I am much more relaxed as a performer.” Itai, while not being a trained actor, became more and more comfortable being himself on stage, being real. “I realized something about acting,” he points out, “the more that I do, the less the audience feels and the less I do, the more they feel.”

Itai was trained in film which piqued my curiosity about the bridge from film to theatre and what motivated this passage. He reveals that he worked in theatre before even starting working on film. He started as a teenager working on the technical side for a puppet show in Jerusalem, doing just lights. As he accepted more and more work on the lighting design side, he quickly picked up on the responsibilities and creative aspect of this work by looking at good designers’ work. “I’ve never went to school for lighting design, I am completely self-taught,” he confesses. However, he always knew he was a storyteller and felt comfortable about speaking in public, so transitioning to the stage wasn’t difficult. He became more and more excited about working in the theatre industry and he found his passion in the lights and through his work, became a well established lighting designer. He was particularly fascinated by how lighting can affect the mood of a scene in a very subliminal way and evoke a certain emotion to an audience member. “I think once I started realizing that,” he says, “I loved the subtle ways I could influence a piece and sometimes without the audience noticing it.” Itai is obviously very passionate about lighting designs, and he conveys that passion through his work and discourse. The transition between film and theatre was, therefore, not difficult, and he even adds that How to Disappear Completely being a verbatim theatre piece resembles documentary filmmaking. “It’s not that different,” he explains.

I asked Itai, why does he continue touring the show and sharing his story with audience members, and he tells me without an ounce of hesitation that “it’s because it is the most exciting and rewarding thing I have done in my life and because I don’t think there is anything else I would rather do.” The show has universal themes and every audience member can connect with the story because we all have or had a mother. “I think you can expect to see nothing you’ve ever seen before” he confidently states.

Itai will be very busy once his show closes as he will be traveling to Stratford, Ontario and Florida to work on productions as a lighting designer before flying back to Vancouver to work on original works produced by his own theatre company, The Elbow. You can follow more of his future works on www.theelbow.ca. QDF thanks Itai for his sincere answers and for sharing his stories with us. You can find out more about the show and ticket information by following the link.

Behind the Curtain: Dwellings

1475765723272

By Caleigh Crow

“I feel like I’m wrangling a carriage of ten horses and they’re all going in different speeds and directions!” Ulla Neuerburg-Denzer says affectionately. She is Associate Professor at the Department of Theatre at Concordia University. She’s referring to Dwellings, the multi-department, multi-disciplinary, multi-venue, multi-everything performance piece Concordia is presenting this weekend. “The piece itself is co-directed; directed or co-advised by the visiting artists, partially student created, with undergraduate and graduate students as supervisors, directors, or choreographers, partially collaboratively worked on,” she explains, “each of the roughly 10 pieces is put together in a different way and uses a different theatrical medium and is in a different space. The idea that the audience member journeys through a variety of environments and settings to broaden this idea of what is a dwelling and what is encompassed by that idea.” During our interview, Ulla referred to herself as a facilitator, organizer, sometimes director, checker and balancer, overseer, and joker; a scope as far-reaching as the project itself, which connects undergraduate and graduate students alike with local indigenous artists, speakers, and storytellers; and research laboratories like the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, Matralab, and SenseLab. That is a lot for anyone to wrangle, but the way Ulla speaks about the project, gently and fondly, it’s laborious and worthy work, and not just for Ulla, but also for the numerous collaborators involved in the project.

The undergraduate course presenting Dwellings is worth twice as many credits as most undergraduate classes and has a bigger time commitment to match. The term was divided into three four-week long phases; beginning with research, moving into four weeks of creation, and another four weeks to refine the performance. What they ended up creating was an immersive performance tour sojourning at several venues from the library to Guy-Concordia metro station, comprised of several theatrical pieces. “I like these types of immersive travelling shows,” Ulla remarks, “because it’s a different type of focus, you’re not sitting in a regular theatre space and in a sense, I think it heightens the sensual capacity of an audience member, you become more alert to small details and small changes, and I hope we are – and I believe we are – giving different tastes and flavors that people can pick up on and different levels of intensity.”

The intensity Ulla refers to is linked to the issues considered in Dwellings. The project was initiated in response to the alarming and dangerous housing situation on the Attawapiskat reserve, which has seen it’s fair share of media attention – for better or worse – since the issues were first brought to public attention in 2012. Since then, Floyd Favel, Cree theatre practitioner, writer, and Ulla have developed the project further. The title Dwellings reflecting this evolution. “We chose this open term to include all kinds of dwellings, not just houses or tipis, or traditional homes,” Ulla says, “but also the idea of the earth as a dwelling, our natural habitat as a dwelling. One of the pieces is called the womb,” she continues, “We know there are many issues about indigenous housing, not just in the country and up north but also in urban areas, including homelessness, incarceration, lack of housing on reserves, insufficient housing on reserves. It has contributed in its own way to the ongoing colonial structures in Canada that put indigenous people on the less supported side.”

Indigenous issues in Canada have seen more and more coverage not just in newsrooms or on the political campaign trail, but in the artistic world. “We chose housing as a lens to look at the Indigenous-Canadian relationship,” Ulla considers, “It’s not the only lens, there are many others, but perhaps because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission drew a lot of attention to the residential school issue, the current National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is drawing attention to that particular issue, it seems like housing is connected to all of these issues in a way.”

I feel compelled to ask the question of the suitability of Concordia for a piece like this. When Ulla mentioned ongoing colonial structures in Canada and the harm they cause to Indigenous communities, you can count Universities among them. “Different pieces look at it in different ways, with the very conscious knowledge of where we are, who we are, what we’re doing here, how we acknowledge where we are,” Ulla continues, “Many of the students are very concerned about these questions and have found different means of responding to them. Some of them have been proactive in learning some indigenous languages; we have been looking very hard for someone to do a traditional Mohawk opening, which is becoming more of a custom to have a traditional honoring of the land and the hosts. That is an attempt to acknowledge where we are.” The way this project has gone about mitigating some of the exclusionary aspects of a University theatre class producing an Indigenous themed performance piece is to put the effort into prioritizing collaboration with Indigenous people in the Montreal area. Ulla speaks of the contributions of this community with great respect and admiration. “The key is to be able to work with indigenous collaborators.” Ulla explains, “Having [Anishinaabe/French artist] Emilie Monnet and Floyd Favel is key to getting this to work. To have their generosity and openness and inclusiveness be a guide to us has been invaluable,” she pauses, and opens her palms in offering, “All my thanks go to them.”

Rather than brush off questions about authenticity and good faith, Ulla embraces the ambiguity of gray areas, and doesn’t fight against her material circumstances, for better or worse. “The play starts in the library which in and of itself is, if you want, a very colonial institution,” Ulla gives as an example, “On the other hand, nowadays libraries have a very different function, especially in remote communities, they allow access to computers, printers, and certain services that aren’t readily available on reserves, for example,” she continues, “So, the library seemed like a good place to start, both in its problematic and its positive function,” she says frankly, “There are pieces that are clearly evoking this tension between colonial institutions and Indigenous perspective, and other places where it isn’t as prominent.” The purpose is not to create a politically pure piece of theatre, I get the sense Ulla doesn’t believe that exists, instead the purpose is to make the attempt, and perhaps share some well-sourced stories that might not have a chance to be heard, especially by the audience at Concordia University, and settler audiences generally. “It’s always hard to say what theatre does in terms of actually changing anything,” she acknowledges, “I think it’s more making room for a story and making room for people’s awareness to broaden.”


Dwellings runs from April 20th-23rd at Concordia University. For more information on the venue and where to get tickets,  click here.

Behind the Curtain: Michael Egan’s Time Travelling Design for Clybourne Park

By Caleigh Crow

“They have streets called Whacker Boulevard or Wabash Avenue,” Michael Eagan says, swinging his fist and chuckling, “Whacker!” We’re talking about Chicago, where Centaur Theatre’s current production Clybourne Park takes place. Michael, Set and Costume Designer for show, visited Chicago to help inform the design of the titular house. “Perfectly legitimate names, but they made me laugh because where else are you going to find Whacker Boulevard?”

With Clybourne Park, playwright Bruce Norris has created a unique opportunity for set and costume designers to demonstrate the passage of a significant amount of time to demonstrate the parallels and contrasts between two eras, the late 1950’s and the more contemporary aughts, to expound on the themes of the play. “During the 20-minute intermission, you have to get rid of that [set] and replace it with an architecturally identical unit that has had 50 years of pretty serious living and a lot of abuse near the end,” he leans forward in his seat. “It wasn’t as if you could just light it differently. It needed more than that.”

Later in our conversation, Michael recounts his time teaching at the National Theatre School, and as I write this now, I am reminded of what he said about his approach to design. “I have quite an architectural approach to designing; the built environment has always been a source of inspiration to me,” he said, “There’s a certain vocabulary to it. Even subconsciously, it affects my work.” For Clybourne Park, that approach strayed from subconscious to very intentional as he planned his trip to Chicago. The playwright gives the address of the house as 406 Clybourne Street, and though the street itself is real, there is no 400 block. “Not that I was going to copy the house, I didn’t even see the appropriate house,” he explains, “but I’m glad I went because I got acquainted with Chicago, which has a certain kind of muscular energy.”

Eagan_Michael.jpg

Michael Eagan

So, Michael went to Chicago. “It’s a big city but different from New York City or Los Angeles. It’s a middle American city, and it seems much more American somehow, although there are many immigrant factions to the population, it seems more integrated than it does in New York, for example, where a lot of times immigrants stay in their own areas – the Italian neighbourhood, and the Irish neighbourhood,” he recalls. This is an apt observation, as the current homeowners in the first act of Clybourne Park cause alarm throughout their lily-white neighbourhood because they sold their house and the new family moving in happens to be black. “In other words, the idea of ‘there goes the neighbourhood’,” Michael explains, “They’re trying not to be racist, but their motives are racist, but the way they get around it is clever depending on which individual is doing the convincing.”

Michael based his design in the style of houses common of the post-war housing boom that spread across America as soldiers were expected to return from abroad and start having families. “These houses are not elaborate or very expensive,” he describes, “but they were designed by a lot of architects who were devotees of Frank Lloyd Wright and used a lot of his architectural principles. They were modest homes, but they have good bones, and nice finishes inside.” How does one show fifty years of life in a house without tampering with the original “good bones”?

“And, it’s not just the ground floor, but you have to do the stairs too,” he points out, “Part of it had to move off so the new part can move in, the staircase is central so that remains, but the balustrade is raised up, and I have another balustrade in its place, and the stage right part moves out so another part can come in, and it all comes together so it’s the exactly same architecture, it’s just a different color, and more broken down.” He uses a lot of hand gestures to sketch out on the table exactly which parts move in and out and where and how.

His inspiration for the design of the first act came from a much more personal place, this time the journey Michael had to make to inform his design was backwards in time, through his own memory to his childhood home. “I wanted to make the first act look like how a lot of people remember the ‘50s. I certainly remember as a kid growing up,” he recalls, “but the set that I did looks very much like my Mom’s living room. I just tried to capture the same ambiance, the same wallpaper, the same floor lamp,” he pauses, “I wanted it to be a very comfortable 1950’s house.”

The house in the second act was not meant to evoke comfort; in fact, the second act’s design is very much in contrast with the first. “The house is a wreck,” he says bluntly, “This house has even been abandoned for a while.” While we don’t know exactly how long the incoming family from the first act lived there, they didn’t stay the fifty years. Michael posits that the house changed hands several times over the last half of the 20th century. “It had homeless people living in there, and it has graffiti on the walls and no furniture left really,” he reflects, “It’s beyond repair in a lot of ways.”

Maquettes by Michael Eagan. Photos by Vanessa Rigaux.

However, it’s not just the house that’s changed. “Each [actor] has a massively different character to play, so it’s an interesting dramatic situation,” in Michael’s words. He was responsible for ensuring the echoes of act one are heard in act two, or more accurately, seen in the costume design. As he describes his costume design to me, his articulate speech turns increasingly onomatopoeic and gestures become more prominent. “The guy who plays Albert [in the first act], is now playing a really cool dude with shades, and the thing,” he gestures to his hip and hits a short pose, miming a belt, then quickly moves a hand to his head, to represent the shades finally he mimics a vest, “and the woman who played Francine [in the first act], the maid, is now a very hot, glamorous, activist, with hair out to here,” he shows me just how far out, “and she’s got it all going on, this woman,” he says boyishly, “You know what I mean?”

After we talked all things Whacker, Clybourne, and Chicago for nearly forty minutes, the National Theatre School for another twenty, Leonard Cohen for fifteen, Michael pauses. “Do you have enough stuff there now?” he asks me, smiling. I laugh and reply if he’s got nothing more to say about it then that’s enough. I never even asked him a question during our discourse and thankfully Michael, perhaps by virtue of being a designer, didn’t gloss over any details.


Clybourne Park runs until April 30th. For more information and to purchase tickets click here.

 

Behind the Curtain: Glen Robinson’s ‘Dream Project’ Balconville

By: Caleigh Crow

At the time of our interview the full moon was just behind us and the ides of March were just ahead of us, and outside the window the beginning of the last flurries were fluttering into Montreal. We don’t expect that those flurries are the onset of a record setting snowfall that will precede six days of snow removal. I met with Glen Robinson on this grey morning for the most no-nonsense interview I’ve conducted in my first month at QDF.

Glen is the director of Balconville by David Fennario, which first hit the stage in Montreal in 1979 to rave reviews. The play was so successful the title has entered the Montreal vernacular. There are even three businesses in Montreal called Balconville; two pubs and, perhaps a little more surprising, a legal entity dedicated to landlord-tenant relations. Glen is not immune to Fennario’s charms either, and admits he’s “always loved the play” and wanted to work on it for a long time. “It impacted a lot of people,” Glen reflects, “It speaks to a lot of people. It attracts people who don’t go to the theatre regularly.”

While, according to Glen, Balconville is the least political of David Fennario’s plays, it does address the political atmosphere of Quebec at the time, and includes Marxist themes of class struggle and Francophone/Anglophone language tensions. “Class struggle unites French and English interests,” Glen explains, “the language might be a divide, but the struggle unites.”

The play takes place in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a historically working-class Montreal neighbourhood, which was and continues to be a “hotbed”, per Glen, for community and political groups. The setting is important because “the set is a character too, in its way,” he says of the two-storey structure they have been building since January. He laughs and explains, “we’re building it in a barn.”

Outside, the snowflakes are swirling ever the more menacingly, in stark contrast to the heatwave afflicting the city as the events of Balconville unfold. The play’s summer season is punctuated by a high-stakes Expos game. In the real world, the beloved Expos live in Washington; though the Habs are on their way to clinching their division. So, things change.

The play’s writing has been described as simple, which Glen indicates is a boon to actors as it “gives [them] an opportunity to be more rich. It opens the door for more creativity.” The cast is, of course, bilingual as Balconville is estimated to be Canada’s first bilingual play. The play’s ‘everyman’ and working class themes are reflected in the casting. The actors’ experience level varies, from veteran to virgin, and Glen himself is employed outside the theatre industry. The direction is rooted in realism. I ask Glen if he’s willing to give some insight into his directorial process. “It’s about character development,” Glen divulges, “We do a lot of metaphor work. I want the actors to have clear intentions.”

Glen calls this production a “dream project” for him and lauds Hudson Player’s Club for creating the opportunity to see his dream realized. He credits HPC for taking on such a “big project for a community company” and cherishes the trust and support that comes from the organization. “I’ve set myself up so I can pick and choose which projects I work on,” he says.

Glen concludes by letting me know tickets are already going fast, and mentions again that this is a show that even sporadic theatre-goers will make an effort to go and see. “Plus,” he says with a wry smile, “there’s a bicycle onstage.”


Balconville runs from April 6-16 at Hudson Player’s Club. For more information and to buy tickets click here.