Interview by Ryan Quinn
I had breakfast with three of the wonderful collaborators of Rarely Pure Theatre, all three of whom are working on the current mount of As You Like It being shown at The Storefront Theatre. I spoke with Spencer Robson, who is playing Orlando; Christina Bryson, playing Rosalind; and Monique Renaud, one of the company’s Artistic Directors. All three are also involved in the production of the show.
When deciding on a show after the success of their previous productions of The Pillowman, We’re Lovers, and Until Our Paths Cross Again, they decided to focus on doing classical text. “We’ve wanted to do a Shakespeare for a while, because a lot of us have worked together with this text and we had access to a lot of great resources and actors for Shakespeare”, Robson said. Bryson explained why As You Like It was the perfect choice for them commenting that “It’s a fun, high-paced show. And you need a light comedy in the middle of January”. Though, it’s not just out of love for the show itself, but it was also a matter of feasibility, explained Renaud: “Part of it is, as a non-union company, we couldn’t get any older, union actors, so this youthful show is one of the best Shakespeare plays to go for.”
There is also a kind of magic in the lack of magical elements in this Shakespeare show. For one of the light summer comedies, there are no ethereal forces at work in As You Like It. “Some of the characters are pretty extreme and big, but it’s still real. There are no faeries, or magic. It’s focused on these human beings and what they want. It’s not the forest that changes them, it’s their experiences. It’s about driving your own narrative, which is very similar to what we’re focusing on as a company.”
As far as concept, the team decided to keep it fairly simple, while flipping the usual setting of the show to make it take place in the winter. “There are actually more references to winter than summer. We added some of the songs back in. There are a lot of winter references in those especially”, Bryson explained, while Robson added: “We thought it would be a nice subtle thing we could do without it being overbearing. Also, it’s really supported by the text. A lot of the pivotal moments of character realization are described in kind of wintery terms. I mean, we’re not going to have snow falling on the audience or anything like that. It was more of a subtle atmosphere choice.”
The show is being directed by Rosanna Saracino, an experienced director who has worked with young casts many times. “It was also important for us to get an established director on board, someone to help guide us. I still feel like we’re learning a lot, but I don’t feel spoken down to”, Bryson told me. “She works with young actors all the time, so she knows about a lot of the struggles we have,” Robson elaborated. In fact, Rarely Pure populated their production with people who specialize in those different areas of production instead of letting friends and acquaintances handle offstage duties, as many young companies tend to do. “There’s a reason people have different jobs, because they’re good at it”.
The company isn’t content to just get lost in the shuffle, though, as they’re looking to help unite some of the disparate parts of the culture in Toronto. Robson told me that he “was talking to Caleb McMullen from Mnemonic Theatre, and he said that there are a lot of small upstart companies right now, and if we could just pool our resources and work together, we’d make some amazing work. This is kind of proof that we’re all on the same level. If you’re putting something on and people are showing up, and you’re proud of it, that puts you on even ground with the whole community. You’re all contributing to the same cause. Nobody is above each other, we’re all just doing different shows.”
For the new year, Rarely Pure is taking a bit of a paradoxical move, by both zeroing in on what they’re best at, while also expanding the scope of what the company is capable of. While still maintaining a bit of the company’s original motive that “if you have a good idea, and you want to execute it, we can help you get it off the ground,” the company is also looking into new and innovative ways to experiment with performance and theatre: “We have a Fringe spot, and a playwright to write for us, which is great. I’m hoping to start Rarely Pure Productions to do things with webseries and short films, so we’re really doing some exciting things.” Renaud asserted that while this many seem like the company is going off on a few tangents, they’re not going to lose their focus: “When we started, our mandate was a lot looser, but now we’re finding exactly what we can bring to an audience. So, next year, as a company, we’re going to be more specific and organized in our focus. We have to be more picky with what we put on because there is a lot of theatre in this city and nobody wants to see crap.”
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre
When: Thursday-Sunday January 9th-26th
Where: The Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West
Tickets: $20 General Admission / $15 (students/arts workers/seniors 55+) / PWYC Saturday Matinee www.secureaseat.com
Specific times can be found on Rarely Pure Theatre‘s page on Facebook.