2014 Fringe Preview – 52 PICK-UP with The Howland Company
Interview by Bailey Green
I interviewed Paolo Santalucia, James Graham and Ruth Goodwin about The Howland Company’s inaugural show for the Toronto Fringe, 52 PICK-UP written by TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi. The show tells the story of a relationship, from coming together to falling apart. The Howland Company chose to have a rotating cast of four different couples (two male/female couples, one male/male and one female/female) who each perform two shows over the run.
Bailey: Tell me about the show in simplest terms, what is it about? What’s unique about it?
James: Well it’s about the whole duration of a relationship from beginning to end. The story is told in 52 scenes, some are three pages and some are ten seconds long. Each scene is written on a playing card. At the beginning of every show the actors throw the cards up into the air and then they play out the show in the order that they pick up the cards. If it was a standard production of this show, with two actors for the whole run, each show would still be unique because scenes would be highlighted in a different way with each different order. But The Howland Company is doing something a little different with this piece.
Ruth: 52 PICK-UP is about falling in and out of love. The structure of it is unique (being in a different order every night) but the play stands out because of how relatable it is. Each scene is written like a conversation that any of us could have had with a significant other. TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi have really touched on the universal moments (good and bad) that many couples face. And for that reason, its random order makes so much sense. It’s almost like playing back your memories of a relationship. They come to you in moments or flashes – sometimes when you least expect them to and that’s kind of how 52 PICK-UP works.
Paolo: For co-director Courtney [Ch’ng Lancaster] and I, part of what we wanted to do with this piece is heighten the super-changeable aspect of each relationship. Each night would already be so different and so we thought why not push that further in a theatrical way? Each relationship in and of itself is different, so we thought let’s embrace that and cast multiple groups of people to highlight some different kinds of relationships. The scenes range from the first meeting to the first fight to the first time sleeping together. So what does that mean when it’s two men who just slept together for the first time, what does it mean when you’re actually watching a couple in real life act out a version of their relationship onstage together and what do these scenes mean for two women? It takes the play out of a context of “this is how men and women are in relationships.” It removes that aspect from the production and doesn’t allow the audience to make universal assumptions of how men and women behave. The play itself doesn’t actually go there, it remains open-ended while highlighting the reasons why people come together and fall apart. TJ and Rita, the playwrights of 52 PICK-UP, actually said that no one has done this to the play before and they were excited about that exploration.
Bailey: What has the experience of the rehearsal been like?
James: Well I just get to parachute in and have a blast every week or so and just try to keep my head above water. I think Paolo can speak more to that.
Paolo: It’s been really exciting and very scary for lots of reasons. Each person brings to the table their own set of experiences and absolute truths about relationships. Everyone in the company has a relationship to relationships. [For example] some people are talking about financing a home for the first time, or people are in the midst of moving in together or people are coming out of a relationship or beginning a new one. There’s a variety of experiences that people can speak to with this play.
Ruth: The process has been scary. Scary. And also… scary! There’s a lot to cover…and no order. It’s also been a lot of self-reflection on relationships in general. It’s kind of hard not to put yourself in your character’s shoes. We jump around in the story so much. Some scenes are so short that you really have to define what each moment means to you. Luckily we have really supportive directors who are patient with us.
James: One of the great things about this project is that the actors can all jump into these scenes and this world very easily. We can identify very clearly with this subject matter. On some level that is one of the reasons the Howland Company was formed, for a group of young actors to find plays and projects that spoke to experiences that as artists in our mid-to-late twenties we can step in and offer something (without always having to tear our hair out.)
Paolo: Yet at the same time it is incredibly challenging. The only thing Courtney and I can attribute it to is studying for an exam. On the day you know there’s a task you’re going to have to complete and the variables on that task are going to be something you can prep for. You’re going to know what the questions might be about just as you’re going to know what the scenes are. But the way they’re presented to you and what your emotional response will be in the moment? There’s no way to prep for that. All we can do is help the actors and in turn help ourselves.
Some scenes have one line in them and they’re only spoken by one character. But that doesn’t mean the inner life for the other character is any less intense. For example there’s one scene where the woman calls the man, he picks up the phone and she hangs up. With each couple we’ve explored what that scene means at different moments in the show. We spent a lot of time on text work. Each couple created a timeline for themselves so they had a linear progression of this play for themselves. Each group is different, some scenes that people have at the beginning of the relationships others have at the end. What James and I have as our storyline, and what it’s based on for two men, is completely different than what for example Ruth and Alex are finding as a man and a woman coming together. A man and a woman have had many relationships of this kind and this is just one along the way that really sticks out for them whereas for us [James and I], and with Courtney and Kristen, we’re exploring that it’s the first time for one of the lovers that they have been in a same sex partnership. The text lends itself to that. Rehearsal has been really like four different plays.
James: It makes the run an experience. One of the things we discussed is how are people going to review this play, because of the way that it is structured? It didn’t bother us because one of the challenges is that we’re offering a whole experience, as opposed to each individual show or couple being self-contained. The experience of the whole seven shows is the experience of 52 PICK-UP. Whether you see one, two or all four couples if you’re a Fringe all-star, you will get your own experience of the show. That’s where our focus is and we hope, for those that do come more than once, to hear about their experiences!
Bailey: Tell me about The Howland Company, how you came together and for what purpose?
Ruth: James and I met in high school doing awkward tween theatre. When we both moved back to the city after school we decided to start something that we both wanted to be a part of. That’s how The Howland Company’s Reading Group got started. Then James brought Paolo in—who he met doing slightly more sophisticated tween theatre—and we each approached actors in the city that we wanted to work with to invite them to join us.
James: We began to recruit people and each of us went off and looked for people of a similar mind, people who wanted a chance to work, work together, a chance to make theatre about our generation, which spoke to us more, and hopefully contribute to a new generation of Canadian stories. And what does that mean? Not that we’ve figured it out, by any means, but to join the conversation. Most of all we wanted people who were willing to be patient. We wanted to create something with long-term aspirations. The idea was that we would take our time to build an ensemble and establish a relationship with the community. We wanted to start a dialogue between the next generation of theatre companies and hosting the play reading series every two weeks was part of that. We had no idea what we were going to do for our first show and then this show just fell into our laps. That patience has really paid off.
Paolo: How do we as a group of young actors take these artistic tools and keep working without always saying what’s the next production? What’s the next thing? It’s not about the production, it’s about how do you contribute to the community and use your artistic voice to further the conversation. 52 PICK-UP is absolutely about hopes and fears for the future.
James: What happens from here remains to be seen. On the simplest level, we’re a group of young actors who wanted to make work together, to find a community where we could practice our craft, take risks and contribute our voice.
Presented by The Howland Company as part of The Toronto Fringe
Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Paolo Santalucia
Where? Tarragon Extra Space
When? July 3rd-13th, 2014
Tickets: Can be purchased via http://fringetix.ca/ or by calling 416-966-1062
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