Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘canadian theatre’

Women in Theatre, The Canadian Canon & Finding Humour in Dark Subject Matter – In Conversation with Tyler Seguin, director of The Trial of Judith K

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I had a chance to talk to Tyler Seguin, director of The Trial of Judith K., presented by Thought for Food about humour in dark subject matter, women in theatre and the Canadian canon.

MM: Tell me about the Trial of Judith K.

TS: It’s a modern, Canadian take on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, set in 1980s Vancouver, with a female protagonist. It’s fast, funny, sexy, dark and violent.

MM: What made you want to direct this show? What drew you to it?

TS: The first thing that drew me to The Trial of Judith K. is the way it mixes comedy and darkness. As a person, I’m interested in big ideas and strong political statements, but as an artist I’m not really interested in didactic storytelling. Judith K. deals with some serious issues like legal disenfranchisement, the security state, oppressive cultural norms and the objectification/exploitation of women, but it does so with humour, which makes it all the more powerful. Laughter opens people up and disarms them, allowing the “Important Statement” to slip into their minds unnoticed.

We’re all breathing more freely with a new PM in the House, but we chose this play during peak Harper years. And despite the “sunny ways” of Trudeau, Bill C-51 is still on the books, and every single time I open the paper there’s another example of a Kafkaesque justice system at work in Canada, not to mention the rest of the world.

I’m also looking for opportunities for strong visuals with elements of movement and physical theatre. As far as I’m concerned, theatre isn’t a realistic art form and I am frustrated by plays that pretend to be a verbatim representation of the real world. The Trial of Judith K. revels in its theatricality.

Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

After The Memo, it was important to us that the next project be a play with a stronger female voice. The Trial of Judith K. is written by a woman, with a female lead and more women than men in the cast. It’s also an older Canadian script, which appealed to us. The Trial of Judith K. was nominated for major prizes including the Governor General’s Award and the Dora for Best New Play, but it hasn’t been revisited professionally since 1989. It feels like we’re a community obsessed with creating new work, but are we really developing a Canadian canon if a script is only performed once?

MM: What do you feel is the role of theatre companies when it comes to representing the Canadian canon, even if that company’s mandate isn’t specifically to develop or showcase Canadian playwrights?

TS: There’s room for all kinds of theatre and nobody should feel beholden to anyone else’s idea of what theatre “should be.” But it seems that companies are either “new work” or “classics” and when they say “classics” it’s British, or American classics. People are now starting to explore the European canon, but very rarely do we see previously-produced Canadian plays. We were so happy to see Factory produce a whole season of previous hits, and Passe Muraille is starting a celebration series this year. But generally TPM and Factory produce seasons of entirely new work. Great! We need to develop new work, but that’s 8-10 plays that will probably only be seen once and then forgotten. And that’s just two local theatres – how many more new plays are being produced across the country? And what does that do to playwrights? If you’re not constantly producing something new, you’re yesterday’s news. And they’re being expected to put in years and years of development for a show that’ll run for possibly 5 weeks. That’s no way to create a history. Part of the problem is with our funding models. The major granting bodies are very interested in supporting the development and presentation of new work and we were actually told that since we were choosing to do an older play that we needed to make a stronger case for why we wanted to produce it.

MM: There are themes in Judith K that are similar to your last production, The Memo. Both discuss the absurdity of bureaucracy, and the down-the-rabbit-hole way of navigating it. Is Judith K a deliberate follow up to The Memo?

TS: Yes and no. Yes, there are a lot of similarities to The Memo – both stories essentially deal with one person’s fight against “The System” – but we weren’t deliberately looking for a thematic follow-up to The Memo. We wanted to find a play that would meet certain parameters: female protagonist, more women than men, Canadian, and ideally something that would let us get back in touch with the Czech community who were so incredibly supportive of The Memo. We read several plays and eventually we started looking at Kafka. There are several stage adaptations of The Trial but when we discovered Sally’s play, not only were we able to check off all the boxes, but we were excited by the material itself.

MM: The Trial of Judith K is based on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, making the protagonist a woman and setting it in the 1980s. What do you think that brings to the story?

TS: There’s an added layer of the patriarchal nature of “The System” and its inherent misogyny. In the world of Judith K. anyone can get caught up in the system, but when a woman is the accused, her body becomes part of the negotiation. The men who offer to help her, want something physical/sexual in return. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling and disturbing.

Stephanie Belding, Scott McCulloch. Photo by John Gundy

Stephanie Belding, Scott McCulloch. Photo by John Gundy

MM: I hear the design elements are very important to the show as well. Can you tell me about that?

TS: Since the show takes place in several locations, we needed a set that was flexible enough to create multiple looks using the same few pieces. We are also somewhat limited by being in the TPM Backspace – the stage is tiny. However, it has a lot of height, which we’ve also taken into consideration with our set. We wanted to evoke a sense of claustrophobia – that everything towers over Judith. We were also looking at ways of incorporating the 80s (when the play was written) and the 20s (when the novel was originally published). Expressionism blossomed in the 20s and neo-expressionism popped up in the 80s so there’s actually a lot of similarities – geometric shapes, large shoulders, the use of light & shadow are all elements we’re integrating into the design. Many music videos from the 80s owe a lot to German expressionist films. Once we started looking for the connections, they were incredibly obvious.

As well, our sound designer is playing with songs that straddle both eras while also highlighting the distinctions, such as contrasting the synth-sounds of the 80s with scratchy phonograph recordings from the 20s.

MM: Why do you think The Trial of Judith K was written as a comedy instead of a moral-imbuing drama?

TS: The source material is actually quite comedic. Kafka is funny. He’s taken on this aura of “serious writer” but his work is full of humour. We found this with The Memo as well – it’s something about the Czech psyche, they’re able to take awful, depressing situations and find the humour in them. We spoke to Sally Clark and apparently the original commission for Judith K. was a serious drama about a hostage situation and that it was the original director, Morris Panych, who suggested it should be a comedy.

MM: How do you manage the comedy with such dark and, sometimes disturbing, subject matter?

TS: We’re definitely walking a tightrope with this show. Terrible things happen throughout – assault, torture, murder, and execution are all in the story and we don’t want anyone to think that we’re taking it lightly. People should be disturbed. Our ideal tempo is “Funny – Funny – Funny – Disturbing – Funny – Funny – Funny – Is that funny? – Why did I laugh at that?” Laughing at disturbing material doesn’t mean we’re making fun of it. Humour is a powerful tool and a coping mechanism. If we can laugh at something it ceases to have power over us. So while the show has a sheen that is heightened comedy – the characters are based in Commedia, and the style is almost farcical – we are actually using this stylization to comment on some pretty horrible situations.

MM: Is there anything that you want our readers to know about the show?

TS: It feels like we’ve been talking a lot about the show’s big ideas and issues and while those are important, we want your readers to know that The Trial of Judith K. is just as funny as it is smart. Sally Clark says the overriding principle of staging this play should be “louder! faster!” The show feels a little like a sitcom run amok – the situations are wacky, the characters are outlandish and the jokes pile up on top of each other. The material can also edge into the grotesque, and the nihilism runs deep, but first and foremost it’s a comedy. Until it isn’t.

The Trial of Judith K.

Presented by Thought for Food Theatre

Scott McCulloch, Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Scott McCulloch, Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Who:
Directer: Tyler Seguin
Assistant Director: Tamara Vuckovic
Fight Director: Siobhan Richardson
Set Design: David Poholko
Costume Design: Miranda VanLogerenberg
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Alex Eddington

Starring:
Stephanie Belding
Toni Ellwand
Patrick Howarth
Andrew Knowlton
Helen Juvonen
Scott McCulloch
Cara Pantalone

What: A sexy, funny, and thought-provoking adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial returning to Toronto stages. 

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)

When: January 28-February 14, 2016

Tickets: www.artsboxoffice.ca

Connect:

thought4food.ca

@thought4food
@TylerJSeguin

@intheGreenRoom_
@FuriousMAD

In Conversation with Severn Thompson, playwright and performer of ELLE, on stage now at TPM

 

by Bailey Green

When Severn Thompson read the novel Elle four years ago she had no idea that this story would capture her imagination for years to come. The Governor General’s Award-winning novel written by Douglas Glover is based on the true story of Marguerite de Roberval. Marguerite, along with her lover and nurse, were marooned by her uncle the Sieur de Roberval on the Isle of Demons in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Thompson spent the last three years adapting and workshopping Elle before bringing it to Theatre Passe Muraille. “It struck me as so refreshing to find a female voice from a time I had heard very little about, in the very early days of the explorers in the mid 1500’s,” says Thompson. “I felt very close to her [the character]. The story crossed 500 years very easily for me. It brought the past to the present.”

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Adapting a 200 page book into a 24 page script is no easy feat, and Thompson had to set deadlines to make the hard choices. From the beginning, Thompson knew that she wanted simple props and set, and that the staging would be essential in creating the world of the play. “You want to still make it as rich an experience as you can,” Thompson says, “and assume that the audience coming in may not have the same background with the story that you have.”

As the project grew, so did the team involved. Thompson participated in the Banff Playwrights Colony where she worked with dramaturg and Program Director Brian Quirt and then Andy McKim, Artistic Director and dramaturg of Theatre Passe Muraille, who “has been guiding me through from an early stage. He [McKim] brings a lot of experience to the work, so that has been so useful” says Thompson. Two and a half years ago, director Christine Brubaker joined the project and became Thompson’s main partner in developing Elle. “We see things in a very similar way, so it’s been great to have eyes from the outside. She’s been really invaluable in pointing to aspects that need more and areas that need less. It’s been a great discovery, seeing how the audience relates to the play.”

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Author Douglas Glover has connected with Thompson throughout the development process, but Thompson notes that he has been very supportive from a distance, recognizing the differences in form between a play and a novel. Glover has seen drafts throughout the process and a short workshop performance at the Lab Cab Festival, but TPM is his first experience of the fully realized production. When asked about the greatest joy Thompson has experienced working on Elle she says:

“To share this story. It’s one that gives a very strong female voice to a point in history where we have heard so little. And she’s not just strong, because bad things happen to her but she doesn’t play the victim and yet she isn’t the perfect hero either. She has faults and quirks and it’s wonderful and exciting to share this character that Douglas has created.”

Thompson also notes that Elle reminds us of the history of our land and how easy it is to forget about the ground we stand on. “Elle reminds us about the power of this land, and the complications that have evolved from colonialism,” Thompson says. “The nature of that history is still in play today, whether we are aware of it or not.”

Jonathan Fisher and Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Jonathan Fisher and Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

ELLE

A Theatre Passe Muraille Production

Who:
Adapted by Severn Thompson from the Governor General’s Award-winning novel by Douglas Glover
Directed by Christine Brubaker
Starring Jonathan Fisher & Severn Thompson
Dramaturgy by Christine Brubaker & Andy McKim
Stage Manager: Laura Baxter
Production Design: Jennifer Goodman
Sound Design & Original Music: Lyon Smith
Movement: Viv Moore

What:
“Headstrong. What do you do with a headstrong girl? Maroon her on a deserted island lest she spread the contagion of discontent. Forget her.”

It’s 1542 at the time of France’s ill-fated third attempt to colonize Canada. The Sieur de Roberval abandons his unruly young niece, her lover, and her nurse on the Isle of Demons just off the coast of Labrador. With real bears, spirit bears, and perhaps hallucinated bears, Elle brilliantly reinvents the beginnings of this country’s national narrative.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When: January 14-31, 2016, Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm & Saturday & Sunday at 2pm.

ASL-Interpreted Performances: Thursday January 21 at 7:30pm & Saturday January 30th at 2pm.
Relaxed Performance: Saturday January 23rd at 2pm.

Tickets: $17 Under 30, $20 Artsworker, $33 Seniors, $38 General Admission, Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees. Purchase here. 

Connect:
passemuraille.ca/elle/
@beyondwallsTPM
@severnthompson

#ElleTO

@_BaileyGreen
@intheGreenRoom_

In Conversation with Carly Chamberlain & Susan Bond of Hart House Theatre’s “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: Hello! So I’m here with Carly Chamberlain, director, and Susan Bond, dramaturge, of Hart House Theatre’s production of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Tell me a bit about the show? 

CC: Essentially, it centres around a women who is an overlooked, often taken-advatage-of academic who is working on her thesis and she has a theory about some of Shakespeare’s plays that nobody believes in. That’s sort of the setup.

SB: So she’s come to a crisis about her work and her treatment in this academic model that she’s working through.

CC: In a larger sense, it’s her crisis of identity in general. So that’s the crisis, then she falls in a garbage can… as you do. There’s a magical element to the play where a choral moment initiates her falling into a garbage can, and falling into her subconscious, which takes form as a Shakespearean-like world.

SB: Right, she falls into a very specific Shakespearean world, as you could guess from the title. She falls into the worlds of Othello and Romeo and Juliet.

6gUQX4gOZB4g7X1TW4895JOI709KUuA1Wc7mIKpLQhY

Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Nathan Bitton as Romeo, Lesley Robertson as Constance, Katie Ribout as Juliet

CC: She meets two of her heroines, and it’s a journey set around finding her way out and solving her thesis question, but it’s really about meeting the so-called “real” versions of them and also finding her own identity. It’s really a journey of self-discovery, especially since it’s her subconscious, they’re all elements of her.

SB: At the same time, she’s helping solve their problems of mortality.

CC: She’s searching for her real identity by assisting them.

SB: I think it’s also worth mentioning for people who aren’t already familiar with the play and perhaps not familiar with the fact that Ann-Marie MacDonald is Canadian, and that she is a struggling academic at Queen’s University in Kingston.

CC: That being said, I think it’s important to note that while the play is very clever, and it references a lot of Shakespeare, I don’t think you have to be intimately familiar with the plays to enjoy it. It’s a human story of loving yourself.

SB: You’ll certainly get more out of it if you’re familiar with those two plays and the rest of Shakespeare’s work. You’ll see more of the layers in it if you do, but it’s not essential.

RQ: There’s a few things I want to touch on there. Constance is very much a modern protagonist. She’s an iconic character of Canadian theatre. Is there a calling for more strong, modern female protagonists?

CC: Yes! But I don’t think “strong” is the right word to describe her, necessarily. She has strength and she discovers her strength, but I think what makes her a good example of a female character in Canadian theatre is that she’s complex.

SB: Most of her problems aren’t “woman problems”. She has career problems and self-discovery problems, which are things that everyone has. She’s an important female character in that she’s a great role for female actors because she’s also more complex.

CC: The whole thing is about her finding her strength, but there’s a problem with the writing of female characters in general where if they aren’t someone’s girlfriend or wife or talking about their romances, the other extreme is that they’re superheroes; which is another sexualized, objectified version of a woman, as well.

RQ: So it looks at the concept of strength beyond the male-centric idea of what a strong woman looks like.

CC: Yeah. I think there’s something to it even beyond a male-centric idea. I mean, patriarchy is everywhere, so we’re all viewing through those goggles, but what’s really special to me about this play (and part of it is that you view whatever you’re working on through whatever you’re processing yourself) is that it’s not about male or female but about saying, “Hey, things are complicated, nothing’s black and white, and the mess of life is okay, and I’m still awesome even if I’m a mess”. That’s something we all need to readjust to as far as what strength is.

MSo86dxC3mJlISuboRbew9RaCFuzjb1UqpaYqFXjAL8

Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Cydney Penner as Desdemona , Nathan Bitton as Iago, Lesley Robertson as Constance

SB: “You shouldn’t need to be above the mess. Strength is living in the mess and working through it.”

CC: But yes, to come back to the question, I do think there’s a real lack of complex female roles in film and TV, obviously in classical theatre, but also in Canadian theatre. We spoke about finding other Canadian plays with complex women in them and it’s actually a struggle.

RQ: In pop culture in general. In the zeitgeist, there are very few of them.

CC: Yeah, and then, when there is, it’s a big thing. Look at the reaction to HBO’s Girls.

RQ: Because there’s that thing where people look at it and say “But these characters are kind of shitty sometimes. How are they supposed to be female role models?”

CC: I read a really interesting article recently that compared Hannah from Girls to Llewyn Davis from Inside Llewyn Davis, and it was showing that that’s a perfect example of the flaws in innate sexism. We look at Llewyn Davis and we’re like, “Man, he’s fucked up. He’s talented, but he’s fucked up and he makes fucked up decisions. He’s a tragic hero,” but with Hannah we’re like “You’re a brat. Get over yourself”. I would argue that the Coen Brothers do romanticize Llewyn Davis more than Lena Dunham romanticizes her character, but it’s the same thing, she’s a self-indulgent, talented person and so is he, but she is the one who gets ragged on.

SB: Also, I think that because there’s a relative dearth of complex female characters like that, she winds up standing in for not just self-indulgent talented people but also “ladies”, or “girls” in general. That’s just a problem of underrepresentation.

CC: Since there’s a lack in general, every female character has to live up to the standard of not being any stereotype, which is pretty impossible.

RQ: As soon as someone becomes iconic in that sense, they have to be everything to everyone all the time.

CC: Exactly, which is impossible. But, as much as I’m all about more roles for women, I don’t think anyone that champions that wants to watch plays about perfect people, because why would you watch it?

RQ: So what you’re talking about is that female characters are allowed to have conflict. They don’t have to be the side character but they also don’t have to be above all conflict and completely inscrutable.

CC: Essentially.

Kf2qX94A1f5ZyAfTojn1ItvbQzkQZr-8l_h7c_mcog0

Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Katie Ribout as Juliet, Lesley Robertson as Constance, Cydney Penner as Desdemona

RQ: So, Susan, as a dramaturge, there are several different worlds in this play. How do you go about investigating the different worlds and how they interconnect?

SB: My speciality as a dramaturge is working with Shakespeare, so the knowledge I bring to the table at a production is going to be actually stronger than the Canadian academic world, despite being a Canadian graduate student, though not in the 80’s. You referred to Constance as a “modern” female character, but she’s not actually that modern, she’s set in the 1980’s and it’s surprising how much that world lives in the play. Because we’re not actually in Verona or Cyprus, we’re in Constance’s imagination, it’s amazing how her world kind of emerges in them in strange ways.

CC: And we’re definitely trying to highlight that. I think sometimes people go for an interpretation where we’re actually there in stereotype-land. Our set doesn’t change, other than through light and sound, and that’s on purpose. The office is onstage the whole time. Something we talked about from the very beginning is the idea that she’s in “Cyprus”, not Cyprus. Because of that, the dramaturgy becomes complex. The first step is saying “this is what it was in the original play”, and making a conscious choice if it’s going to be different.

SB: “This is what the coastline in Cyprus was. These are the places it would be appropriate for Desdemona to be. This is where a historical Desdemona would be. This is where Shakespeare’s Desdemona would be.” But, MacDonald’s Desdemona is in a different place altogether.

CC: The layers of references in the play are astounding. For example, there are a lot of references to alchemy; but there’s a difference between Renaissance alchemy, which is transmuting base metals to gold; but there’s a very intentional layer on top which is Jung’s idea that they were being metaphorical and alchemy is actually about self-actualization. So, all that stuff is layered in.

SB: There’s a lot of dramaturgy in this show.

RQ: And all the layers inform each other, right?

CC: Yup, real easy, super easy.

SB: Yeah, I just know what the words mean.

CC: But that’s something about Shakespearean dramaturgy in general, is that the actors or I might have a question about what some little thing means and we might find out it’s a reference to some obscure thing.

SB: Like the Gustav manuscript. It’s an 18th Century German novel about someone searching for a manuscript that was lost, so in a way, it sets up the premise for Constance’s entire academic career.

CC: Yeah, then you go, “This is all interesting, but to the character, it means nothing”. You don’t know these things, it’s outside of the world.

SB: But then some elements are conscious references, so it all ties into itself.

RQ: And how has it been working with Hart House on this show?

CC: It’s good. We both have histories with them, though Susan’s is longer.

SB: I’m the Resident Dramaturge.

RQ: How did you start there?

SB: I started as a dramaturge for Canopy Theatre, which is associated with Hart House and so I worked with Jeremy [Hutton], when he was acting in a show I was dramaturge for, and he saw what I brought to the table.

CC: When I was an actor, earlier in my career, I was in Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hart House. So I had a bit of a relationship with them, then Jeremy and I worked together at Shakespeare By the Sea as well, and we had a good working relationship. And I assistant-directed there last year for Robin Hood: The Musical, which is another Hart House/Shakespeare by the Sea crossover. It’s been pretty awesome working with them. As far as the management goes, they’re very supportive and trusting.

g6i70KlVRcyhkTK-Y48NZE5eDsajFsksvzsSqQzbWpo

Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) Lesley Robertson as Constance, Nicholas Porteous as Professor Claude Knight

RQ: What would you say your goals are this year?

CC: In life?

RQ: In life!

SB: In 2014?

RQ: In 2014!

CC: I think for me, it’s two things. On the one hand, I’m still trying to figure out what directing means and how to be good at it in a thoughtful way. I want to continue to develop because you can only learn it by doing. On the other hand, Susan and I work together separately [with Neoteny theatre] and I think we both want to make a positive and significant contribution to the theatre scene, particularly as it relates to classical-adjacent work and roles for women, so this falls right in line with that. We want to be thoughtful instead of making work for work’s sake. That’s really hard because we all want to be working all the time. When we did Overruled and Romance last year, it went really well and people wanted to know what we were doing next, but we’re trying to resist the urge to just do something for its own sake. You know, “put on a show and put my friends in it”, because that’s tempting.

RQ: Vanity project theatre.

CC: Right, and that’s such a murky area because to some degree, everything you do is a vanity project because even if you’re getting paid, you’re not getting as much as you should, so you have to be getting something else out of it. I think that sums it up nicely.

SB: Yeah! I think we’re trying to reconcile the intersection of classical work with women’s roles in general. A, let’s just say it, feminist model, to some extent.

CC: I think what we’re dancing around is that we’re interested in feminist work that’s not feminist for its own sake, but feminist for that basic definition of equal rights for all people. It’s one of those things that once you start seeing things through that lens, and you’re a creator of any kind, you have a responsibility to make sure that work continues. That being said, we’re not entirely humourless. So that, plus joy in the work. That’s the other thing with me directing is that I’m trying to find that line where everything is falling into place, but that sense of play and joy and ensemble is there too. That’s really important, as an audience member. I want to find that balance where they’re in an environment where they can live in the moment.

SB: If there’s no play in the play, then it’s entirely joyless.

RQ: It’s moral responsibility theatre, which can be pretty boring.

CC: I think about this stuff all the time because I’m kind of a cynical person and when people say things like “Oh, when this show closes, I’m going to miss this cast so much!”, I’m the one that’s like “You’re doing a job”. Navigating the line where there’s a sense of joy in the ensemble and the bond you form with the other members comes from working toward the same goal, that’s huge and important. All the other stuff, drinking together and whatever, that’s cool if you have that social vibe, but the vibe in the room is so much more exciting and important.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

By Ann-Marie MacDonald, presented by Hart House Theatre

1780906_595738803838906_627533721_n

Where: Hart House Theatre, University of Toronto, 7 Hart House Circle
When: February 28th – March 8th, 2014 8pm, Saturday Matinee 2pm
Tickets: $15-$28 http://uofttix.ca/view.php?id=1000

For more information on the show: http://www.harthousetheatre.ca/

Artist Profile: Kelly Penner and Hallie Seline – Reconnecting with the Classic Tale of Love-at-First-Sight as the Title Roles in Shakespeare BASH’d Romeo and Juliet, November 19th-23rd

Interview by: Brittany Kay

We sat down with the smart and sexy duet, Hallie Seline and Kelly Penner, who play the title roles inShakespeare BASH’d upcoming Romeo and Juliet, running this week, for one week only, November 19th-23rd. We discussed what it’s like approaching such iconic roles, working with BASH’d, on-stage chemistry and their thoughts on Canadian Theatre and its utilization of young artisits.

BK: Are you feeling the pressure of filling such iconic roles, in arguably one of the most timeless tragedies?

KP: Well yeah, you do feel the pressure. There’s the iconic movie versions… and Leonardo Di Caprio played Romeo, and they just did it at the Stratford Festival… So yeah. It’s there, it’s big. But the first thing to do, is to forget all of that and approach it like any other part. You try to figure it out for yourself.

HS: I’m trying to be like EVERYONE in one performance. Watch out! (she laughs) Sure, I would say there’s a pressure, however James Wallis, our director, was really great in advising us to approach the text with fresh eyes. There are definite ways in which we have heard these iconic words being performed. We are trying not to fall into those familiar patterns. Instead, we’ve been focusing on telling the story, what you’re saying and who you’re saying them to. I’m trying to make choices for myself and for the story.

IMG_5549

BK: Have you looked to any other actor’s portrayal for inspiration?

KP: Sure, I’m inspired by other Romeos I’ve seen, but I’m trying to figure Romeo out as myself like any other part that I’ve read for the first time, which is difficult because it is one of those plays that we think we know, and have so many other portrayals that have kind of defined the characters for us.

HS: And everyone will have an opinion on how it should be said or what they think Romeo and Juliet should be like. All you can do is stay true to yourself and your interpretation of the characters and the story that you and your cast are trying to tell.

IMG_7332B

BK: Talk to me about your rehearsal process?

KP: Once a week for a month we’d get together by scene and we would literally just go through the lines to make sure we were all clear with interpretation and meaning. We didn’t work on intention at all during this text work. It was just strictly for clarity of meaning. James had done an enormous amount of background work on certain words and phrases as well, which was incredible to work with as a starting off point. It was good to have that table work behind us so we could go into our blocking rehearsals really knowing what we were saying, giving us more freedom to play.

HS: Afterwards we were all really prepared to focus on our arguments and our scene partners and the story as a whole. James thinks Shakespeare is best when it’s story based. No bells and whistles just clear storytelling, which was a great way to approach our rehearsal process.

IMG_5548

BK: You have to fall in love every night. How has it been working with each other?

HS: Look at him! I may throw up in my mouth every time I think of kissing him (she laughs) … but seriously, you can start with this one, Kelly.

KP: You don’t want to start? You started?

HS: Nope. You take the lead, Romeo.

KP: The chemistry is…. good! These two characters fall in love instantly. And they are intensely in love. I didn’t know Hallie at all before, other than a “hi, hello” in public. We just tried to get to know each other, become friends. It made the intimacy on stage a lot easier and helped it to develop a lot faster. Ultimately, the chemistry on stage comes from listening and playing off each other. The chemistry is also in the language, let alone in the heart and the body. Really listening and taking in what the other person is saying, using each other’s words, and creating poetry together is where it mainly stems from.

HS: Ditto.

KP: That’s all you’ve got? Ditto? (he laughs)

HS: Well, I’m into that answer! It all comes from trust and feeling comfortable in the scene and in rehearsal with your partner. It’s really about what Kelly said… becoming friends. We are completely playing off each other. You know basic scene principles are that you are trying to affect your partner and you are fighting for what you want from them. In our scenes, that is what it is. We have fun.

BK: How did you get involved with Shakespeare BASH’d?

HS: I had seen both of their past productions in the Toronto Fringe, which were hugely successful and just so enjoyable as a spectator. I took a liking to what the company looks for in Shakespeare, performance and theatre in general. It was fun and laid-back, and in a bar, so you could have a drink during it, which is always nice. It was great, thought-provoking, fun, quality work with so much young local talent. I contacted them when I found out they were auditioning for Juliet and it’s been an incredible experience working with them!

KP: When I was in second year at theatre school at Windsor, I was cast in a production of As You Like It in Brampton. In that production there were many of the cast members of this Romeo and Juliet.  Because of that production, I met James through this network of guys and gals. We’ve connected through our love of Shakespeare and I’ve been working with them ever since.

IMG_7192

Shakespeare BASH’d Mission Statement: To present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language with an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

BK: So you’d say you connect with what the company represents and stands for?

KP: I do. James and Shakespeare BASH’d idea of the text and story being the primary point of focus is why we clicked in the first place. Staying true to it is so important. They always start with such an intense textual analysis of the words in these classic stories and this what I like about them the most. It is also a room that I love working in. It’s such a fun, playful, vibrant room filled with young talent. You get easy access to trying and experimenting and being wrong and trying something completely different.

HS: What’s interesting is our ages range from 20s to roughly 40s give or take. It’s not just a group of 24 year olds, which I feel makes a difference. The room is filled with an incredible group of giving and intelligent performers with a wealth of experience and such variety in process. We all learn from each other constantly. It’s a room where you have the ability to develop your own approach to the work. The cast and crew are incredibly supportive. I feel like I’m coming into my own as an artist in terms of my process because of influence of this group of people.

BK: You are both playing leading roles that are meant to be young in age, and for the Toronto standard, you could both be described as young performers. Going off of a recent article to surface in Toronto, from Holger Syme’s blog dispositio, do you think the Toronto theatre industry has a youth problem? From your experience, do you think there is enough opportunity being given to young performers?

HS: I think it depends on the production. If it’s a choice to utilize an actor that’s different than what is written in the text, then that’s a specific choice. Being in the rehearsal room with all these relatively young performers and theatre makers, and from what I’ve seen of the independent theatre community, I find that there’s a lot of strong, intelligent, bold, exciting, thought-provoking artists out there, who I think should be given the opportunity to show and share their work and who are just as valid in themselves as artists to be seen on the major Canadian theatre stages and in the spotlight, as many 30+ artists are. Beyond that, I think that when you are a young artist with an opportunity for a role of this scale, it is a huge learning opportunity for yourself as an artist and not at some cost to the production. Personally speaking, to have this role of this scale at this time, has been a huge benefit in my development as an artist. I think it’s doable and there should be more trust given to younger artists. Furthermore, I think there needs to be more opportunity for all ages to work together.

KP: I do wish for more of that. For some professional companies they want the sure-fire thing, and often times that means going with someone older that they know rather than take a chance on a more age-appropriate actor with a shorter resume. In terms of theatre and the story, if they have the right spirit or if you look younger than you are and it’s not noticeably distracting, then I don’t mind it. But sometimes I see productions and it dawns on me that this actor is a man, playing a boy but they’re doing things in a manly way which really just seems inappropriate for the character and it will draw me out. I do wish we could find a way to get more young people on stage.

HS: I’ve seen a 35 year old playing a 15 year old and if the essence is appropriate then power to you. Do it!

IMG_7333

BK: Is Shakespeare BASH’d production of Romeo and Juliet different in anyway? Any specific concepts or time periods?

HS: James has been really clear in not putting a time period or a concept to it. I mean… it’s already a tragedy being put on in a bar! There is definitely a lot of comedy to it, but that alone is quite unique and will be interesting. But mainly, he wanted to focus primarily on the story and the relationships of such a classic play.

KP: The costumes are neutral colours but there are jeans and running shoes, but then we have swords.

HS: … and the sword fights are awesome! They are sexy and exciting… Get excited for those!

KP: We really wanted it to be about the story and not have any kind of heavy concept distract from that. Just from the work I’ve seen in rehearsal, I think, and hope, people will really take to it.

Rapid-Fire Question Round

IMG_5547

BK: Favourite Movie:

KP: On the Waterfront
HS: Hook

BK: Favourite Play:

KP: Othello
HS: Vimy by Vern Thiessen

BK: Favourite Musical:

KP: Into the Woods
HS: Cats! Of course… (she laughs) or definitely Next to Normal

BK: Favourite Actor right now:

KP: Ben Whishaw
HS: Carey Mulligan

BK: Favourite food:

KP: Cannelloni
HS: Nachos

BK: Guilty Pleasure:

KP: My pink cardigan. I love it but I never wear it out!
HS: Candy, Real Housewives of Orange County or Beverly Hills… yup.

BK: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

KP: BLT-Breathe, Listen, Trust
HS: Don’t take yourself out of the part. They hired you for a reason or they are seeing you for a reason. The more of yourself in the part, the better.

BK: Advice for other young artists:

KP: Let it go. There are so many factors out of your control. Leave it in the audition room. You’d go crazy if you try to figure out why you didn’t get cast. Have fun!
HS: Be true to yourself. Also, James said this to me in rehearsal when I was trying really hard to find the right arc to one of the scenes. He said “If you’re looking for perfection, it doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s boring. It’s just a play… Put into it what you can and don’t beat yourself up over it. It will be interesting” I think that’s great, especially for younger artists to be reminded of coming out of theatre school training. And yes… like Kelly said, have fun!

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

994940_10151784665008952_1205445970_n

When: One week only, Tuesday, November 19th-Saturday, November 23rd, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday (Closing) at 4pm
Thursday, November 21 includes an after-show dance party with Silent Shout’s DJ ARP 2600 – http://silentshout.ca/
Friday, November 22 includes an after-show dance party called “Much Ado About Mixing” with DJs Slamlet and Rockthello.

Where: 3030 Dundas West, in the Junction

Tickets: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday – $16, Thursday & Friday – $21 (including after-show dance party admission) http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html

Artist Profile: We Chat with Dynamic Duo Donna Marie Baratta & Jessica Carmichael on their Upcoming SummerWorks Show with Present Danger Productions girls! girls! girls!

Interview by: Brittany Kay

I sat down with dynamic duo Donna Marie Baratta and Jessica Carmichael to discuss first time co-directing, life in Toronto and of course their upcoming show girls! girls! girls!

DSC_4661 cyan cropped

BK: Tell me about your show at SummerWorks?

DMB: The play was inspired by the murder of Reena Virk in Victoria in 1997, who was lured by a group of teenagers to a bridge and beaten to death. One girl stood up and said this is enough but two individuals, a girl and a guy went back and ultimately killed her. Both ended up in jail and the girl is still in jail.

JC: It explores themes of isolation, a sense that there is no way out of a small town, friendship, sense of loneliness in family relationships and marginalization. Reoccurrence of these types of stories keep coming up in the news and in society. I can speak to it as a mom as well. My daughter will be a teen one day and there’s no easy solution to these issues.

DMB: It’s not just a message play. It is certainly a play where you hopefully won’t be sedated, but instead explore and ask questions of why there is this banding together amongst the characters? There’s something in this banding together of friends.

BK: How did you find the play?

JC: We met Greg MacArthur at UofAlberta when he was doing his residency there. DM and I were completing our MFA in directing. Greg is wild and wonderful and fun. When DM and I were talking about going on a journey together in terms of creating a company, we were saying what do we want to do? What kind of work? We wanted to explore new Canadian work – that’s something which is very important to us. In reality, people don’t return to Canadian work. A new work will be workshopped and then there’s no life after that.

DMB: Greg hasn’t had a work produced in Toronto in ten years – he grew up in Lindsay ON, went to Ryerson theatre school, has been in Montreal for the last fifteen years and Edmonton for two. After reading his plays we were trying to figure out WHY they haven’t been looked at in this city. So many amazing Canadian plays get lost and forgotten.

JC: We approached him. We were in love with this play. It was about complicated female voices and there’s a lack of that in playwrighting. Even when there are strong female playwrights it’s not often a female voice.

DMB: Both of our energies and passion throughout our MFA were focused on looking at female voices. What is that voice and the complications around that, which are so fascinating.

JC: Greg’s story in and of itself is about that female voice that’s disillusioned. Reena, Amada Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons-they were disillusioned by society, they didn’t have the proper kind of help and that’s something that we’re interested in exploring as female directors. Why is that? Why is female violence on the rise and why is it taboo to talk about?

DSC_4518 white

DMB: The play’s issues are inundated right now in the media. There are so many things in the media right now that just said this is the right play to do now. This is the right play to bring out and have more questions asked.

BK: It is so relevant to the younger generation right now. I feel that there will be so much understanding from young audiences. Our lives are so wrapped up with social media and the lack of privacy and empathy.

DMB: The characters are all true victims in this. You are going to side with the perpetrators. They all are marginalized in their lives. They clearly needed someone in their lives to say I love you. I’m here for you. You realize they don’t have that and they only have each other. They’ve created some kind of bond around their own pain. That’s scary.

JC: They have to ‘other’ that pain around someone else.

DMB: They have to numb their pain in various ways, for example, like blasting music in their ears. They numb themselves from what is going on in society.

JC: In every play you ask questions, you get more questions coming back at you.

BK:  Your advertising is mysterious and doesn’t really give us any clues as to what the play is about. Can you speak to the ambiguity in your promos?

Promo Video 1 for girls! girls! girls!: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151793347946031&set=o.133383070204277&type=2&theater

DMB: We wanted to create some interest in the world of these teens and their characters. We wanted the audience to see their lives together as friends before the play and the world they inhabit. We wanted to peak their interest making them ask questions. “What is this play about?” “I don’t know Reena Virk but there seems to be much more to it than that”.

JC: We don’t want people to see a message play. It is a play about an issue, but we didn’t want to promote it in that way. We wanted it to feel more like a character piece in which audience can relate to them. You’re dealing with human beings and fully formed creatures. Youtube is an outlet for these characters to speak, and for a lot of teens in this day and age. We wanted to hook into that. That’s their lives and that’s how they promote themselves.

DMB: We wanted an invitation. The video is good way to invite people into their world. The show can be quite heavy and we wanted to show that these are teens and these are their group of friends. See their playful interaction before you are exposed to the dark aspect of the play. You see that it is also about friendship as well, which is important. We all know how important our friends are, which is a big theme throughout the play, the extent of that friendship.

BK: Did filming these videos help the actors with character development?

JC: Yes, of course. The process is so important, not just the product. It was an exploration that we used with the actors so that they could develop their characters.

DMB: They explored their lives outside the rehearsal space. These videos were created during rehearsals in order to create a deeper character life.

Promo Video 2 for girls! girls! girls! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151793351766031&set=o.133383070204277&type=2&theater

BK: Now about you both. Why the name Present Danger Productions?

DMB: One day I woke up, called Jess and said what about Present Danger? Can we use that? I had this image of traffic signs in my head – “caution” and “tread softly”.  We want to be on the edge. We want to be able to push the boundaries in what we can talk about and what we can show and explore.

JC: There’s not a lot of present danger in Canadian theatre. There’s not a lot of risk being taken. We want to be bold in our choices and not be afraid. We want to be present in being dangerous. It’s also a bit cheeky.

BK: So you guys met at the University of Alberta in the MFA program for directing?

JC: It’s funny because we were told on day one that we weren’t going to be friends – “You probably won’t get along, you don’t need to”. It’s intense in that it’s only two people in your year. We didn’t get to interact very often, so it’s very ironic that we in fact did get along so well.

DMB: We feel fortunate to have gone through it together. We have both come from different backgrounds. We see through different lenses.

JC: It’s very complimentary.

DMB: We would talk about our work together, bounce ideas off each other, and now have come together to start a theatre company.

BK: And where are you from originally?

JC: I lived in Toronto 10 years ago. I’m not originally from Edmonton but I grew up in Edmonton. Went to The National Theatre School in Montreal and RADA in London.

DMB: I was born in Thunder Bay, came to Toronto for a while to do a show, went back to Thunder Bay for University and moved back to Toronto in 2005.

BK: Now you’re here in the T.Dot. How do you feel about the theatre community in Toronto?

DMB: People are so friendly and open in the community.

JC: There’s more opportunity. There are so many artists here to collaborate with. The audiences here, especially for SummerWorks, are so much larger and of all different ages and interests. We’re really looking forward to meeting people. That’s the beauty of these festivals in the summer.

BK: Why SummerWorks as the launch for your company?

JC: There are a lot of theatre artists that will come to this, that’s who we wanted to expose our work to. Because it is the beginning for us in Toronto, we wanted to meet other artists and this festival will enable us to do that.

DMB: It opens up so many avenues and opportunities. It’s a place where artists go, where you can have discussions about the work being produced. We really want people to talk to us about the play. Whether they love it or hate it, we really want to hear it! Theatre for us is about talking, discussion and opening up the channels for communication.

JC: And we know it’s not going to be perfect. It’s nice to talk to other artists to hear those opinions, to allow us to grow as artists.

Jessica Carmichael and Donna Marie Baratta, Co-directors of girls! girls! girls!

Jessica Carmichael and Donna Marie Baratta, Co-directors of girls! girls! girls!

BK: Is there a future for Present Danger?

DMB: Yes, of course! We don’t want to rush what our next production will be. We both have projects we love. We need to sit and discuss what direction we want to go, and also what other avenues that can be produced, that wont cost us an arm and a leg!

JC: And after we’ve gone through this experience, we can have discussions about how we can move forward from what we’ve learned. This is the career. There’s no going back. It’s a love affair.

BK: What do you hope for audiences to gain from girls! girls! girls! ?

DMB: We want them to be asking questions. We are really thrilled with our actors. We hope audiences see how hard they’ve worked. We hope that this is a great platform for them and for their career as they’ve been such a true pleasure to work with. Hopefully audiences don’t want to leave their chair because they want more.

JC: I hope they laugh out loud at the show and are equally disturbed by their laughter. I hope they have an opportunity to reflect on the issues that need to be discussed and not overlooked. We want people to keep talking about the play once they’ve left, be challenged by the piece and be affected by it. We want them to think about it days after.

BK: What is the strongest advice you’ve ever gotten as an artist and how has it affected your work?

JC: You don’t need to be so polite in your work. You need to believe in your work. Don’t pussyfoot around the big issues that you want. Don’t be afraid to be passionate or to be a passionate woman at that!

DMB: Be bold. You can ask for what you want. You can really be bold and brave in the choices you make. Ultimately, be true to yourself. Being a director can be isolating as you are on your own. You’re constantly discovering your voice. Sometimes you need someone to say “yes, that’s okay”, that there is a right or wrong way to direct, that there is a system, but ultimately there is no system. Don’t be too polite and challenge yourself. Give yourself permission to do some crazy things.

JC: Pina Bausch once said “You just have to get crazier,” which is beautiful. You have to constantly ask why? Why this story right now? You have to keep going back to the root of that in rehearsal. That’s not often asked these days. When people just randomly choose the same shows across the country…for what purpose? Why are you choosing this show… because it is going to be a big sale? ? Just to ask yourself that question of ‘why this story’ as an artist, makes the work much more personal.

DSC_4784 enhanced contrast

girls! girls! girls!

by Greg MacArthur, presented by Present Danger Productions as part of the SummerWorks 2013 Festival

Where: The Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman, 6 Noble St. (at Queen and Dufferin)

When: August 8th-17th, 2013

Thursday August 8, 7:00 pm
Saturday August 10, 9:30 pm
Monday August 12, 7:00 pm
Tuesday August 13, 2:00 pm
Wednesday August 14, 4:30 pm
Thursday August 15, 2:00 pm
Saturday August 17, 9:30 pm

Tickets:  $15
Book tickets online – http://ticketwise.ca/
By phone: Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747