In Conversation with Will King on Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”
Interview by Ryan Quinn
Ryan Quinn: So, you are directing Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros for Seven Siblings Theatre Company. It’s an adaptation by Derek Prowse. Is it a new adaptation?
Will King: No. So what we’re trying to do is find as many contemporary hooks into the play as possible. A lot of that has been in the staging of it, making it very minimalist instead of its traditional setting. We were rather looking for locations we might find ourselves in in Toronto. The first quarter takes place in a beer garden, something you might see as a semi-interior in one of the breweries in the city. It has a local and very communal feel. So, for a show like Rhinoceros about the spread of populism and sensationalism, it has to start in a very public location. We thought it would be nice if people felt very comfortable and immersed in the setting. It feels very similar to the actual location the performers are in.
From there, it gets more private and the characters get more distant from the audience. So we see it go from public, to a semi-private office, to two different houses, one of which is a terrarium.
RQ: Why this show, right now?
WK: I think we are in an era that deals with sensationalism possibly more strongly than ever on an individual level. We know that this play was written in response to fascism and Naziism in the Second World War, but now we live in an age of facebook, and buzzfeed, a sense of self-propaganda. It’s important that we look at ourselves, and our own sense of what otherness is, and how we deal with constant sensationalism and populism.
I think there are many reasons the last Canadian election went the way it did, but one of the biggest pulls for Trudeau and the liberals was that he was the one with traditionally Canadian values. He was the everyman that we thought shared our same moral compass. So there’s definitely a sense of how politics and new ideas are sold, for better or worse.
But it’s important to me that this play doesn’t become just about the politics. I think it would be easy to slap on something about the Trump campaign and make it about that. I mean, I think people will still make connections to that extraordinary and horrifying bout of sensationalism happening in the States. But I didn’t want that to be what it was about. It’s about intersection in any kind of area, in belief, race, gender, sexuality, politics. Whatever that otherness is for the audience, it’s that otherness for the characters in the play.
RQ: This show deals with the allure of mob mentality…
WK: For sure! We’re trying to play with that theme in our physicality a lot.
RQ: So how do we reconcile that idea with the current idea that the “outsider” is more morally genuine than everyone else? Trudeau, Trump, and Sanders are all sold as outsiders. Not to say that their politics are in any way similar, but that seems to be the campaign that works.
WK: I think in this play we can eventually sympathize with the outsider, while at the same time we see them as (literally in this case, since it’s a rhinoceros) tools of chaos and destruction. I mean, for the people who join the rhinoceros, suddenly their way of living is beautiful and wonderful. I want the audience to question, you know, “why not join the rhinoceros?”. You get to roll around in the grass and be comfortable. We totally understand why it’s so easy for people to want to join them, and I think that happens politically, as well.
RQ: Tell me a bit about the rehearsal process.
WK: This was done as a ten-day intensive. That was inherently challenging and difficult. We go through a lot of work with the Michael Chekhov technique, getting on our feet and finding centers, archetypes, character bodies. We’re trying to break through the text analysis in a physical way, so we’re not banging our heads against the wall. It’s helped us find a really visceral and accessible clarity. Our next step is going to be to really focus on creating an atmosphere in a set that’s constantly being created and destroyed by the actors. We’re using chalkboard paint and different color schemes for individual worlds to really highlight that this is a world that’s constantly changing and shifting.
We also have ten challenges that were assigned to the actors, things like creating a physical rhinoceros from two or more people, or an immediate breaking into tears, things that we’ve used as tools to tell the story. I’m there to make sure the story is clear and everything fits together, but those goalposts, as it were, are there to help the actors work toward a kind of structure on their own as well.
RQ: What can you tell me about Seven Siblings and your mandate?
WK: The company was founded by Madryn McCabe, Erika Downie, and myself. The three of us started the company through the teaching certification program at the Michael Chekhov consortium in Ohio. As a company, we like to do work that sits in the realm of fantastical realism, things that are larger than life. I’d say it’s playful and visceral, and grand, but also very true to life. There’s a lot of work that can still be truthful while really going to strange and conceptual places. For us, the most important thing is joy, that’s the focus even in times of exhaustion and duress. We find that frees performers up to stop worrying about a final performance, to focus instead on the playfulness and discovery.
We want people to be able to look outside themselves and see their lives through metaphor for a while. To take something very personal from an idea that’s absurd or strange. I think we’re lucky that we can do that in the theatre.
We’ve also been trying to extend that sense of play to our promotional campaign as well, doing street-level things that lend themselves to word-of-mouth promotion.
RQ: What do you want people to talk about on the way home from this show?
WK: I hope it elicits a conversation about positive political discourse. Often when we see someone with different political views from our own, we dismiss them, but it’s valuable to have an honest debate about their views. I think that would benefit our society.
I mean, I hope they have fun, too! Without all the allegory, if you saw this show as a farce, it’s very entertaining! There’s something important at the heart of it, but something really fun and alive on the surface.
RQ: Congratulations on the show!
WK: Thanks, Ryan!
Seven Siblings Theatre presents:
A play by Eugene Ionesco
Adapted by Derek Prouse
Directed by Will King
Featuring Veronica Baron, Jim Armstrong, John Lovett, Andrew Gaunce, Erika Downie, Liz Bragg, Margaret Hild, Amrit Kaur, Mardi O’Conner
Assistant Directed by: Erika Downie
Produced by: Madryn McCabe
Production Manager: Kate McArthur
Stage Manager: Jocelyn Levadoux
Lighting Design: Parker Nowlan
Front of House: Gwendolyn Hodgson
Run Time: 90 minutes
When: June 2-5, 8pm, doors open at 7:30
Where: The Rhino Bar & Grille (1249 Queen St W).Our performance venue is on the 2nd floor.
Tickets: Artsworkers $15, General $19, At the door $20 cash http://www.sevensiblingstheatre.ca/rhinoceros/
Performed with Permission by Samuel French Inc.