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Posts tagged ‘Christina Bryson’

“It’s Mad Max meets The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” Performers Amanda Cordner, Christina Bryson & Director Claire Burns on DIVINE at SummerWorks

Interview by Megan Robinson

When I walked into the rehearsal space for DIVINE, the women of the cast were already in costume. I caught sight of holsters and cow hide wrapped around their waists. Two actors were clasping plastic bottles molded into the shape of guns. It’s a hot room, and the cast was dressed head to toe. The women, a powerful group, sauntered across the stage and stood ready to begin.

DIVINE is a Western set in a post-apocalyptic Ontario where water has disappeared. Playwright Natalie Frijia, who is currently pursuing her PhD in environmental studies and theatre, first conceived of DIVINE during Storefront Theatre’s first playwrights unit.

The play portrays characters finding strength in a desperate situation. I can’t help but reflect on how the themes of the piece mirrored real life for the cast and crew. Days before rehearsals were set to start, Storefront Theatre was evicted from its space last December. DIVINE, and half the season, was cancelled.

After the run, I sat outside with cast members Christina Bryson and Amanda Cordner as well as director Claire Burns, who tried to remember the exact timeline: “We’d booked off work for rehearsals and everything,” Cordner said of the challenges that face artists who work in indie theatre; more often than not the people involved are also navigating their day jobs (or night jobs…Hi bartenders!)

But the show has landed on its feet and has a new home at SummerWorks. The changes that were made to fit festival needs have also opened up new possibilities. With a set that needs to be easily torn down, and a trimmed version of the original two-hour script, the show is perfect for touring and Burns went on to mention plans to share the show beyond the festival.

The idea of an Ontario in drought might be terrifying, but DIVINE is surprisingly playful in its telling of the story. However, keeping it light took some work. Bryson and Cordner explained that once they delved into the reality of their characters’ despairing situation, they had to be reminded one day in rehearsal that it was a comedy. Cordner, who plays Penn, rolled her eyes at herself and laughed, “I was bringing all the drama.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

“The play itself isn’t an issue play. It’s a kind of fantastical adventure story but underneath it is that message of conservation and sustainability. We don’t want to get to a place where we don’t have water,” said director Claire Burns. There’s a sweet spot in this work of marrying activism and theatre, but Burns is clear on her approach, “You catch more bees with honey.” “People never learn when you point fingers at them,” Cordner added. Burns nods, “It’s like subliminal messaging.”

The show itself may not hit you over the head with its message but by forging relationships last fall with the World Wildlife Fund and Wellington Water Watchers, DIVINE is a show supported by those who are actively working towards the preservation of water. “It was important to me that we had partnerships with legitimate environmental organizations,” said Burns.

Originally written with male roles, Claire made the decision to work with an all-female cast. Her reasoning? “The women were legitimately the best people for the roles.” I asked if they ever played around with women playing men, using fake moustaches or other costume devices, but Cordner and Bryson just laughed as Cordner explained, “Claire made it very clear from the beginning that we were not going to do that.”

Burns shook her head, “I hate that shit.” And she’s had plenty of experience with it. “The guys who played women were always making everyone laugh and then I’d get on stage with my fake moustache and it would just be dumb. We didn’t want to do that. We’re not trying to fool anybody that we’re not women.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

The choice to go with a female cast and crew has clearly paid off. When I asked the women to speak to the community they’ve created in DIVINE they didn’t hold back:

Claire Burns: “What I think is special is that I’m given the opportunity to get to know and get to work with so many powerful and smart women. With every show you work on you create these bonds with people and in this show in particular – I think it’s like 17 women working on this show – everyone is pulling their weight and so it’s such an easy process. I’m having such a good time. I’m really enjoying my community right now. I’m also enjoying that my community is being so generous letting me take this role and I’m so grateful that I’m allowed to shape this story in the way that I want. I’m also part of the                     queer community so I’ve put that into this, very much so…”

Amanda Cordner: (imitating Claire) “There will be a kiss. I don’t know where but there will be a kiss!”

Claire Burns: (laughing) “I’m very grateful it’s so fun.”

Christina Bryson: “It’s fun to get to kick-ass! How often, as women, do you get to do all this stage combat with like ten of you kicking ass at the same time?! That’s my favourite part.”

DIVINE

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Who:
Presented by Red One Theatre Collective with the generous support of The Storefront Theatre
Written by Natalie Frijia
Directed by Claire Burns
Assistant Director Molison Farmer
Dramaturgy Emma Mackenzie Hillier
Performed by Amanda Cordner, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Christina Bryson, Sarah Naomi Campbell, Haley Garnett and Rehaset; Ensemble Annie Yao, Sabah Haque, Kathleen O’Reilly, Khadijah
Producer Sedina Fiati
Associate Producer Olivia Marshman
Set Design by Christine Urquhart
Lighting Design by Imogen Wilson
Costume Design by Sage Paul
Sound Design by Suzie Balogh
Fight Director Louisa Zhu
Assistant Fight Director Erin Eldershaw
Stage Managed by Lin-Mei Lay

What:
Ontario is out of water and a pair of bandits search for their last hope – a water diviner by the name of Penn. Stories say she can crack the world like a coconut and make water bubble to the surface with nothing but her hands. But the bandits aren’t the only ones hunting her down. And what if there’s nothing left for Penn to divine?

An all woman cast in Natalie Frijia’s post-apocalyptic wild west asks how we would survive in world without water. Would we turn to community… or to revenge?

Join the creative team of DIVINE for some post-show discussions – August 5 in the Factory Courtyard with Paul Baines from the Great Lakes Common and August 12 at The Paddock with guests from Wellington Water Watchers, the World Wildlife Fund and Surf the Greats.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Tuesday August 8th 9:45pm – 11:00pm
Wednesday August 9th 8:00pm – 9:15pm
Saturday August 12th 7:00pm – 8:15pm
Sunday August 13th 1:30pm – 2:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

 

2014 Fringe Preview – Valkyrie – Rarely Pure Theatre

by Bailey Green

Sex, violence and theatre create a wicked combination. Rarely Pure Theatre presents Valkyrie, a new work by Thomas McKechnie that promises to “walk a fine line between agony and ecstasy” (says stage manager and RPT member Christina Bryson). In Norse mythology, Valkyries were immortal female warriors that chose who lived and died on the battlefield. These Valkyries are on a different mission, in a different time and sans immortality. Bradley and Erin (played by Monique Renaud and Tara Koehler) have both undergone very scarring experiences with men. They take it upon themselves to begin a Valkyrie quest to deliver justice to other men who have caused trauma to women. But this night is different. They bring a victim back to their lair. To find out what happens after that, you’ll have to see the show.

Artistic director (and the third member of the Valkyrie cast) Spencer Robson explains more about what is at the core of the piece, “it deals with spousal abuse and with sexism in multiple ways. The most interesting part about this piece, for me, is that the characters are far from heroic. You want to be able to root for them but, though every character might be justified in their actions, they are still bad people. It will be jarring for the audience. There’s justice but it isn’t what you want or expect.”

Valkyrie was born back in February of this year when the members of Rarely Pure (Spencer, Monique and Christina) met with Soulpepper Academy playwright Thomas McKechnie. “We really wanted to do an original piece at Fringe this year. Thomas saw our production of As You Like It and we had a meeting after. We asked if he would be interested in writing for us and he was,” Spencer says. “After that we bounced some ideas off him. He asked us what sort of play we would be interested in, what the traits of the actors were. Eight days later he had the first draft.” What followed were months of workshops and readings. The show’s veteran director Bruce Gooch is also a playwright, so his professional eye helped search the script for adjustments. “Bruce, and Tara who is also a playwright, aren’t afraid to stop and ask questions about the script, which is very new for me. I’m used to working with a more “finished” product,” says Spencer.

Planning has been key to finding balance in this process, especially for Robson as he juggles the roles of co-producer, artistic director and actor. “It sounds like a nightmare every time I say it out loud,” Spencer laughs, “but working with my friends who I trust and respect has really made this show possible.” He also says that taking on different roles on the production side has helped him as a working actor in the industry. “Now when I’m working for someone else, whether a theatre company or on a film set, I understand how difficult the production side is. So now I know that while I may not always understand what is going on or why a decision is made, I know that it isn’t my job to. They [the producers] spent time mulling over that decision, I just wasn’t part of their process.” Spencer continues, “I can better understand where people are coming from. It’s helped me lower my stress levels and just be immediately more comfortable.”

Rarely Pure Theatre was founded in the winter of 2012/2013 with its inaugural production “Until Our Paths Cross Again,” which was written, produced and directed by Monique Renaud. “The fact that Mo did that all on her own just really made me want to jump on board,” Spencer says of the company’s beginnings. Robson, Monique Renaud and Christina Bryson formed the company. The name comes from an Oscar Wilde quote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Now almost two years later, the company has several productions under their belt including, The Pillowman and As You Like It. As a new company their mandate isn’t yet set in stone. They are still open to experimenting as the company collaborates with new artists, like National Theatre School graduate Tara Koehler. The company is passionate about theatre and exploring work that excites them as artists. Spencer says that the commitment to each project comes naturally, “we get to choose what we want to do, the people we want to work with, the plays and themes we want to work on.” The company has sights for the future as well, determining what show, or show(s), they want to do in the fall. Another priority is the re-definition of roles within the company and investing in a better website.

But for now they’re immersed in Valkyrie, facing the powerful and dark piece head-on as opening night approaches.

Valkyrie

by Thomas McKechnie, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Where: Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave, Toronto)

When: July 2-13th, 2014

July 2nd: 10:30pm

July 5th: 8:45pm

July 8th: 7pm

July 9th: 5:15pm

July 10th: 12:00pm

July 12th: 3:30pm

July 13th: 12:00pm

Tickets: $10 at the door, OR you can order online: www.fringetoronto.com as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival

 

Rarely Pure Theatre’s “As You Like It” at The Storefront Theatre until January 26th

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.”

Christina Bryson and Katie Ribout in "As You Like It" Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Christina Bryson and Katie Ribout in “As You Like It” Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

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”.

Michael Hogan, Gaby Grice, Scott Garland in "As You Like It". Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Michael Hogan, Gaby Grice, Scott Garland in “As You Like It”. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

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.”

Christina Bryson, Spencer Robson and Katie Ribout in "As You Like It". Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Christina Bryson, Spencer Robson and Katie Ribout in “As You Like It”. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre

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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.