My Morning Interview with the Company of Written on Water Theatre.
By: Erin Reznick
On a sweltering August day just before noon, I welcomed the company of Written on Water Theatre into my living room. With a full spread of A.M. delectables, I began the interview with Eric Finlayson, Alex Johnson, Darwin Lyons and Lauren Binhammer. ABSENT: Alex Leafloor and Daiva Zalnieriunas
So let’s start at the very beginning, which I hear is a very good place to start.
A: Oh, cute.
How did you guys meet?
D: We met at theatre school in Windsor. We met in first year in the same class.
Was it love at first sight?
E: No, not really. It wasn’t until our very last year when things kind of pulled together. We had worked with each other in different combinations before. It’s kind of cool because I’d never expected this culmination of people to work [together]. It’s really exciting.
L: We didn’t dislike each other! But we never came together until our very last year.
D: That’s because, and I think I can say that we all really love this about the company, is that we’re all very different. In first year those differences were more apparent and now they are more complimentary.
How are you different?
E: There are the extremes. Alex Johnson is the Shakespeare queen.
A: I’m the classical Shakespeare lady. I grew up in Stratford. That’s where I come from.
E: Then on the opposite side of the spectrum is Alex Leafloor, she’s all about musicals and dance. And in between, we kind of round it out. Lauren is the logical one and has a lot of intellect.
D: Yes, Lauren has a very intellectual approach and aesthetic with theatre. [She likes] Howard Barker which sometimes goes above my head. I grew up in Toronto and I grew up with a lot of weird, dance movement-y theatre. That was my aesthetic before I got to school and then I branched out.
E: And Daiva is cirque du soleil. She has had, what, four concussions?
A: She always wants to be thrown off of buildings or something like that.
D: And we’re like, “No really, Daiva, you can use the door.”
I want to jump to I, Claudia. Darwin and Alex Leafloor directed and starred in the production. How did that come about?
D: Well, I saw I, Claudia at the Tarragon a long time ago and fell in love with it. I’d never seen anything like it. In third year, the curriculum at Windsor changes. There came a time when there was less structured, individual composition work which Alex and I really loved. The university has this beautiful studio theatre that at the time wasn’t being used. I gave her the script and we both fell in love with it and we decided to put it on ourselves. We expected that the feeling of creating something ourselves was going to be missed so we put it on together.
What was your experience like with self directing?
D: Uh…it was really….interesting. That’s the first word that I can think of. I, Claudia is usually performed by one person but Alex and I split it up. Alex played Claudia and I played the three people on the periphery of her life so we were never on stage at the same time. We became a team in that way. We would watch each other and then build it together. I wouldn’t say it was self directing so much as it was co-directing, which is also very interesting. Alex and I, though we work well together and I would say that we create good work together, are quite different. And that’s why good things happen – you need that compliment. Sometimes it sucked and we really disagreed but sometimes it was magical.
E: Yes, very often it was magical.
A: It was straight up good theatre. You guys know how to tell a good story.
E: And that was one of our first productions, really [as a company.] Well technically, Laughing Wild was. Alex Johnson and our friend, Caleb McMullen put on that show a week before. It’s funny, we started off kind of separate, but we all had that wanting to create our own theatre in our bones.
Let’s talk about Edge. Lauren wrote and directed the play and it’s about Windsor.
L: Yes, well sort of. It’s set in Windsor.
Why did you want to set a play in Windsor?
L: I think the characters came to me first and Windsor seemed like the right place for them to live. Maybe it was because we had spent four years there but the ideas and the people I had written about, I could see them in Windsor.
Did you write the characters with the company members in mind?
L: Not at first. But as I went along, then yes, especially when we started workshopping the show as a group. I actually found it helpful to have people to imagine.
Can I ask what it’s about?
I think it’s still a work in progress for me. There are a lot of stories going on and I need to narrow the focus. But one of the stories is that of a family, a mother, a young son and husband who has just come home from serving overseas. That was one of Eric’s roles.
D: I was the son!
E: Jon, the soldier left when Peter, the son was a young age and when he came back he had to learn about this new person. It was about that struggle of having his wife’s attention split between two men.
L: There is a parallel story too.
E: I love it!
L: It follows a detective who has a lost lover. You can see how it becomes a little complicated. [The lover] was Darwin’s other character.
A: It was kind of perverse. She went from playing a little boy to this sex bomb.
Now that’s range!
E: Literally for that show we had so many back to back scenes so we would have to find the most economic and most interesting way to change that character.
D: I think we only had one black out.
E: I really like that though. We choose very artfully when we want to take things away from the audience.
A: It’s magic at that point. You can’t hide it. Brian Taylor always used to say that scene changes [looked like] someone was robbing your house. ‘Yeah, I loved that scene where somebody stole your TV, man.’ You’re not fooling anybody. Some of my best moments in rehearsal was when we decided not to have a black out and how we did it and how we figured it out.
L: Those are the most rewarding moments.
A: We have a phrase where we say, “Fuck it, we’ll do it live.” It’s from the Bill O’reilly video. We stole that for Edge and we actually put it on the backs of sweaters. Literally, there were times [during the Ottawa Fringe Festival] when we had no rehearsal time and we just had to do it live. Just fuck it, go! It was so much fun.
E: It was very electric. You couldn’t sleep.
L: I appreciated how we were constantly changing things to make the show better. If someone saw the show and said X, Y and Z weren’t clear, we would go into rehearsal the next day, and we would say, “How can we fix this?” before the show. Within two hours.
E: That’s what I like about this company. I trust everyone so much. If I was cast with other people in this show, I wouldn’t know if we could “do it live.” Everyone is not only going to take care of themselves and the space but each other.
D: I think it’s really great when people use Fringe as an opportunity to see how a show plays out in front of an audience, and I think we really used that. We workshopped it the whole time. (To Lauren) And I would love to do it again, Miss playwright.
Possibly coming to a theatre near you?
A: Edge 2.0
D: No. More like Edge 7.9
The next show you guys put on was Twelfth Night or What you Will. Alex Johnson directed that. What made you want to do a Shakespeare next?
A: Okay, I will be absolutely honest with you. I was doing Resurgence’s Hamlet at the time and I was playing Guildenstern. And there is a way of thinking that the male parts in Shakespeare get that the women don’t. And I was really falling in love with the brain pattern of playing a guy in a classical piece. And I really, really, really wanted to play Feste. The antithesis, the wit, the rhetoric – I just fricking love that stuff. But we couldn’t find a director. No one wanted to take it on. By that point, I loved it so much so I said screw it. We cast a new Feste and I’m really glad that I did. I had a great time directing.
Was directing something you took to naturally?
A: Very much so. I will always love acting but right now my main focus is directing. I would say I’m a better director than I am an actor
D: I would say that you’re great at both!
A: I don’t always like the person I am when I’m acting. I become very stressy and neurotic and as a director, having that objectivity to be on the periphery, I find I’m more creative. My brain works better and I’m just a nicer person. And I like that.
When you do pick a new show, how does that come about? How do you choose what comes next?
A: That’s a very interesting question, especially right now. We’re kind of in that flux zone of ‘How do we move forward together?’ It’s hard because we are six completely different people. It’s difficult finding a project that we all feel equally passionate for.
Are there any hints as to what’s to come?
A: It’s not a for sure thing but we’re really into the Peter Pan story. I have an instinct that it’s a story that we all sit well in and is part of our aesthetic. It’s just dark and twisted enough but still…
E: And that’s a word that always comes up when we talk about what makes us us. We all agree that we want to make theatre magical. Kitchen sink dramas are great, but if there is not that little bit of magic there then what’s the point? I think the stage is the opportunity to make something out of the ordinary happen. It doesn’t have to be flying, it can be the littlest thing.
A: When extraordinary things happen on stage, and because we’re not spoon feeding the audience information, there is breath and air in the work for the audience to participate and put their own imagination in it. That’s something that’s important in the 21st century when we’re battling movies and youtube.
D: And it’s real people. There is a real connection there.
A: Exactly. Don’t shut your audience off. More and more I see that fourth wall come down and more and more I think that’s a good thing.
Keep up with the company at www.writtenonwatertheatre.com