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Posts tagged ‘Mark Brownell’

In Conversation with The Three Men – Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, and Scott Garland of Three Men in a Boat at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: I’m here with Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, and Scott Garland; the three men of Three Men in a Boat. Written by Mark Brownell and directed by Sue Miner, it’s currently running as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, presented by Pea Green Theatre. The show is based on the travelogue by Jerome K. Jerome. Can you tell me a little more about the show?

MP: Yeah! So it’s about three bachelors living in London around the turn of the century, it was published in 1889. They’re all upper middle-class, and as the play opens they’re discussing all of the maladies they’re sure they’re ailing with. This leads them to decide to get away from the city and go take a boating trip up the river Thames. From there, it’s a series of bad camping stories, which is a kind of universal thing we can all relate to.

VP: It’s interesting because it’s around the same time as the birth of the middle class in England. So it’s around the time people start having free time. They’re no longer working non-stop, they have days off. They have a little extra money, so they start going on these vacations. What the travelogue comes out of is that the author, Jerome K. Jerome, was publishing weekly travel tips. “How to Travel,” “How to Row the River Thames With Your Friends,” that kind of thing. So he was writing these and people were coming up to him and telling him that it was hilarious. That’s when he realized that it was funny. But it started as a serious thing.

Now, we’ve taken this and made it into this play. Mark has adapted it and we’ve just run with it. We always say that it’s like a Canadian camping story. It’s set in England in 1889, but it’s such a Canadian “escape into nature” story. But, of course, they don’t know anything. So they try new things and they don’t work out.

MP: Mark adapted the piece so well. It’s not a dialogue-based book. He’s made it so active and so theatrical. With Sue’s direction, it really comes to life in an exciting way.

RQ: This is the author’s most famous work. What do you think makes it so enduring?

MP: It’s really funny, and the humour still works today. There’s something so inherently funny because everyone’s been camping at least once, especially in Canada. You think it’s going to be so beautiful and you’re going to connect with nature, and then, of course, you realize that you’re sleeping on the ground. Weather gets involved, and the food is never what you want it to be. Everyone can relate to watching these three bumbling men deal with that.

VP: Sue Miner made a comment the other day that there’s something so joyful and triumphant about doing something civilized in nature. I think the piece really plays with the bumbling and the bad times, but there are these civilized moments, like eating pie together. These few moments of civilization within the wilderness. It’s written in a way that never keeps you in one place for very long.

SG: It’s unassuming in how it presents these things. It’s not trying to preach, it’s not trying to make too many large, grand gestures. It’s very easy to relate to, and it’s very inoffensive in terms of its relation to the audience. We’ve all slept on the ground and thought, “This seemed more novel in my brain when I was in a bed. Now there’s a root in my back, one of my friends is drunk, the other one is squirmy, and the dog won’t behave”.

MP: It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It starts with us acknowledging that it’s a silly re-telling of events that happened, and that’s all it is. If you’re looking for something else, you’re not going to find it here. We’re just going to have fun.

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RQ: It sounds like it really skews that late-1800s pastoral genre of literature.

VP: Yes, but in some ways it’s still very pastoral. Matt’s character definitely speaks that way, but we achieve this sort of idyllic world with very little. But I agree that it goes against it in that there’s no real moral to this play. There’s no twist. You just get to live in this world for a little bit with these people.

SG: In the way that Sue and Mark have created it, it’s this lovely little time capsule. The minimalist set, the way the language describes so much of the action and the setting. You get this vivid idea of what punting up the river Thames would have been like at the time. It’s hilarious but it’s also very sentimentally sweet. It’s a beautiful love letter to a time and a place.

VP: He actually wrote this based on his honeymoon. Him and his new wife went rowing up the river Thames, but he decided people wouldn’t relate to her so it had to be him and his friends. And he invented a dog… (laughs) I mean, everyone can relate to the dog.

RQ: Tell me a bit about the costumes and the music. These other elements that drop us into the world.

MP: Nina Oken, who is our costume designer, put together three really incredible costumes. They’re simple but very elegant. You look at us and you’re right there in the 1800s. However, by the end, they’re starting to fall apart, they really tell a story of their own. Sleeves are rolled up, pant legs are rolled up, there’s some wear and tear.

For music, our music director Rigzin Tute arranged two songs into beautiful three-part harmonies. It uses a musical motif throughout the play.

VP: That really helps to build this trio. It really feels like guys who went to school together, who learned these songs. We have very little in terms of set, so the costumes and music definitely help flavour the world.

SG: It’s amazing how each element on its own tells such a story. From the direction, to the music, to the costumes. They really enhance and highlight the piece individually, but they also mesh together perfectly.

VP: Also the shoes! The shoes definitely do a lot.

SG: And the handkerchiefs. The handkerchiefs are a necessity.

RQ: This show already has a bit of a production history. How long have you been working on it?

VP: A long time! In July of 2014, we opened at the Toronto Fringe, at the Annex theatre. After that, we did the Best of Fringe up in North York. Then in November we ended up getting whisked away to Mumbai, India for a festival called Tata Lit Live. Apparently in India, they know the book very well, so they wanted a performance of this story at their literature festival. This past summer, we traveled to Ottawa, Bobcaygeon, and Winnipeg with it.

MP: This will be the eighth theatre we put this show up in. It’s very exciting.

VP: It’s starting to feel like home to come back to this piece every five or six months. We love to bring it to new people.

MP: It’s a hard show to do, so we can’t really get lazy with it. It’s a very non-stop, physically devised piece. We create the world with our bodies. So, it’s my gym membership.

VP: Then in August, we’re headed to the Edmonton Fringe.

SG: It’s such a blessing to be a part of a show that keeps returning to the stage. We’re all still relatively fresh from theatre school, and there you get into the mindset that you’ll do a standard production. You get three weeks of rehearsal, four weeks on stage, you’re done. Within that time you have such a journey as a performer, and by the end of it you always feel that you want more. Every time we come back to this, we discover so much more. I still have the same old script, and I can’t even understand some of my notes in it anymore.

RQ: At this point, you’re all very well-acquainted with the Fringe theatre festivals in Canada. What do you think the importance of these festivals is, and how can that be supported or enhanced?

MP: One of the things I love the most about Fringe festivals is that, at their core, they support bold, new work. To take a risk, and to potentially fail or potentially find something really great. It also gives you access to an audience that as an independent theatre artist is hard to tap into. Audiences go into it knowing they’re seeing new theatre, something that’s possibly still in development. It encourages people to take bold theatrical risks. I love going out and seeing a mixture of incredible shows and awful shows. It’s Kat Sandler who calls it the “Fringe Theatre Christmas”.

VP: My favourite thing about Fringe is also my least-favourite thing: it makes a big event out of theatre-going. For people who don’t see theatre throughout the year, it gives them a hundred and fifty shows to choose from in two weeks. They can explore and visit that. The flip side of that is that I wish people didn’t need a big event to go see theatre. The Fringe is a great thing, but I wish we had something like it every month. Then people would go see more of the variety of shows Toronto has to offer.

SG: I got into theatre because of the Fringe festivals that I attended. For Matt and I, the Edmonton Fringe was some of our formative theatre-seeing. We’re blessed enough to have been touring, but I love that even if you don’t tour, if you’re doing a Fringe, you’re not just dealing with Toronto artists. You’re not just dealing with the GTA. You’re meeting touring artists. You’re encountering creators from around the world, in some cases. The United States, Australia, Europe, Japan! We’ve met all kinds of crazy characters, but there’s a real sense of connectivity. You’re all trying to create theatre, which is a cultural exchange in many ways.

My biggest frustration isn’t with the festivals, but with everything around them. Next Stage is a great example of what to do next, because the hardest thing for me is going to a festival and seeing great theatre that doesn’t end up going anywhere. It hits a ceiling. This play, Mark was always saying, is something that could only be developed at a Fringe festival. No mandate would fit this particular project, and there are a lot of projects like that. People have an idea or concept they want to flesh out and in a Fringe, all the risk is on you. Beautiful things come from that, but some of those beautiful works die too soon, or they get forgotten.

Some people think that once Fringe is over, there’s not a lot going on. There is. All the time. There was somewhere around thirty openings in November. So Fringe is on the right track, but I feel like we have to pull up our bootstraps and work the rest of the time, as well. Because it’s great work of the purest form: people with nothing to lose going by their raw creativity. That’s when you see the most challenging and important work. You don’t have backers to please, and you don’t have a mandate to submit to. You just have pure creativity. That’s the starting point of a great theatrical movement. What’s next?

Three Men in a Boat

Presented by Pea Green Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

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Who:
Playwright: Mark Brownell
Director: Sue Miner
Featuring: Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, Scott Garland
Musical Director: Rigzin Tute
Costume Designer: Nina Oken
Stage Manager: Hilary Unger

What: Venture alongside three intrepid bachelors (and their dog) as they spend a disastrous week punting up the River Thames.
A stage adaptation of the 1889 British travelogue by Jerome K Jerome

Where: Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 13 07:00 PM  buy tickets
January 15 05:15 PM  buy tickets
January 16 04:00 PM  buy tickets
January 16 09:15 PM  buy tickets
January 17 02:30 PM  buy tickets

* Talk Back after the show

Tickets: $15.00

Connect:

#TheeMenInABoat

www.peagreentheatre.com

@getPokinky

@PilipYacks

@MrRyanQuinn

@intheGreenRoom_

 

2014 Fringe Preview – Three Men in a Boat – Pea Green Theatre Group

Interview by Charlotte Cattell

On a warm Friday afternoon I entered a very warm rehearsal hall. But even in the stifling heat I entered a room of extremely happy and exceedingly warm-hearted artists. Having just completed a run, this generous team agreed to sit down with me and talk a little bit about their upcoming production in the Fringe, Three men in a Boat. I had the privilege of speaking with Adaptor: Mark Brownell, Director: Sue Miner, Stage Manager: Hilary Unger, and the Cast members including: Scott Garland, Matt Pilipiak, and Victor Pokinko.

Charlotte: Sue, tell me a little bit about the show. How did this group and project come together?

Sue: Well, the show is Mark’s adaptation of an old book by Jerome K. Jerome. The book was published in 1889, and it’s known all over the world, it’s a very very famous book. There have been a lot of different interpretations, but this story actually came into Mark and my life years and years ago. We actually… well, he’s been wanting to do a play on it since the nineties, hey?

Mark: (Nodding yes.)

Sue: We’ve done the Fringe for a very long time, the Pea Green Group, and Mark was actually a theatre history teacher of both Scott and Matt. So, he said, let’s do “Three Men” with these guys, and I had just worked with Victor. So this is how we all came together.

Mark: We got too old to do it ourselves, we needed some young bodies.

Charlotte: And Mark, what drew you initially to this piece?

Mark: It has a really strange lasting appeal because it’s never been out of print. And the reason is, I think, is because bad camping experiences are kind of universal and eternal, and Canadians understand that really well. That’s why it goes well in Canada. It just never falls out of fashion. This story has a freshness to it, even though it’s Victorian and the language is very old fashioned, for some reason it strikes a chord with us to this day.

Sue: And also, the fact that these three guys are stressed out and have to get away from it all. And we think it’s new to us. You know, it’s like, I have to get off Facebook, I have to get away, but these guys are feeling the same things that we do and they have to get away. So that’s what they try to do.

Charlotte: How has the overall rehearsal process been?

Matt: It’s been great! It’s been a whirlwind. This is our day nine of twelve, but it’s great because, although it’s a short amount of time, it’s the only thing we’ve been focusing on and we’ve been able to constantly live in this world for the last week and a half. It’s been a lot all at once. Sweaty and fun, but it’s been really good.

Scott: The virtue of such a shortened intense rehearsal process is that we as actors are given a chance to practice efficiency in process. We love playing, we still play in the room. However, this has been a wonderful opportunity to show up, do your job, and then have fun doing it. I wish we had more time, but with the time we’ve been given it’s one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had, and that’s due also in part to the professionalism of the actors and the trust of our wonderful director and the wonderful material to play with. And also, Mark has made cuts throughout to make it even more efficient. There’s something very refreshing about being able to zero in and harness the core of those entertaining bits.

Mark: It is a new script so we are cutting and chopping away. Putting stuff in to make it work.

Charlotte: Has the pressure of a short rehearsal process caused you to make rash decisions in terms of cutting or changing scenes in the script?

Mark: I wouldn’t say rash but we are well aware of the pace. The fact that it’s a journey, it has to be paced well. You can’t just have frantic action. You need the little nooks and crannies where they have pauses so the audience can take a breath as well. It’s quite a different experience were we to take it on further, which is of course what we want to do, but we’d have to expand it into ninety minutes and two acts and then the pace would be quite different.

Scott: Also, the minimalism of props and sets, the world is very much created mostly through our three combined efforts.

Matt: We have a stool, a chair, a stuffed dog and a banjolele. That’s it! And somehow we take the audience on an entire journey down the river.

Victor: I think what Scott said was bang on. The fact that we can play and that we can find play because there is a certain level of chemistry between me and these two that I can kind of harness and tap into and work off of. I think the reason we are able to get as much work done as we are is simply because the chemistry is flying constantly. And even if one of us is having an off day or an off run the other two are very ready to pull up and work a little harder to get things rolling.

Matt: Yes, even though I narrate a majority of the piece, it is impossible without the three. You need three to carry the story and you can’t have any part of the story happen without one of them.

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Charlotte: And Mark, as the writer, are you seeing what you expected to see while you were creating the piece?

Mark: Yes absolutely. I mean, I wrote the original text so long ago, that I obviously had three other people in mind, but when we reopened the text and had a look at it again I knew I wanted three very distinctive actors that stand out individually but can come together. And that’s the unique thing about these guys. They fit like a glove, from day one. They’re still close to their theatre school training so they haven’t gotten lazy like me. You know, you get far enough away from school that you lose that kind of edge, that sharpness and these guys have it in spades. I’m exceedingly happy with these guys.

Charlotte: I noticed that Rigzin Tute is noted as being in charge of music. Was the music created specifically for this piece?

Matt: Rigzin, who is the Music Director of this piece, didn’t write the music but he took an old song, it’s called the Eton Boating Song, and he arranged it into an a-cappella, three part harmony, barber shop sort of thing. That we use as a motif throughout the journey.

Scott: Would you like to hear the song?

Charlotte: Absolutely!

Victor: Do you have the pitch pipe?

Matt: Yeah!

Matt proceeds to blow into the pitch pipe. All of the gentlemen hum, and Matt counts them in with a rigorous and British “1,2,3,1,2,3”. They proceed to serenade me with one verse of an old fashioned and very upbeat song that put me right into their world and onto the boat with them.

Charlotte: Wow! That was so amazing thank you! It’s like a free concert! In the 1800s! Even from that I can get a sense of that chemistry you all spoke of earlier, which leads me to my next question. Sue, how has it been to take on this project with just a three person cast?

Sue: Three’s the perfect cast! Three is the perfect amount of people in a show because a one person show that’s a whole different animal, and two people you feel like you’ll be stuck with these two people, but three you’re never bored! Some of them sort of play other characters too and it’s so lovely.

Charlotte: And how has it been for you guys? How has it established the relationship dynamic between the characters?

Scott: To echo Victor, it’s wonderful to be in rehearsal with a cohesive unit. But the characters in the script are done in a way that each one is different enough to be interesting on their own but they’re similar enough that when they’re together they act as a unit. It’s three pillars holding up a show and it’s the perfect balance.

Victor: When you’re blitzing into a Fringe, if you have a ten person cast, the chance of you getting to know nine other people is difficult. If you have a two person cast it’s very easy to get sick of them. But with three it becomes a nice dynamic.

Matt: You have the dynamic of each individual. Then you have the relationship between two and the relationship between the other two, and finally all three together. So then there are a lot of different microcosms, and all of that you can kind of rest on.

Charlotte: What has been your favourite thing to rehearse for this show?

Victor: I don’t want to give too much away, but we have a spectacular pineapple war. And that is my favourite part.

Matt: We go to war with a tin of pineapple. Umm…

Scott: It’s…It’s intense.

Victor: Possibly the most intense thing I’ve ever done.

Matt: Uh, yeah actually, I think that would have to be my favourite bit too.

Scott: Yeah, it’s unanimous. I love that sequence so much.

Charlotte: Kind of a silly question, what would you say, for each of you, is your character’s favourite and least favourite trait about your two counter parts?

Victor: Oh God!

Scott: There’s so many!

Mark: All they do is complain about each other.

Victor: I think Jay (Matt Pilipiak) takes things too personally and I think Harris (Scott Garland) drinks too much. What I like about Harris is that he always makes me laugh, always, always, always. And, what I like about Jay is that he is so poised and so elegant. He’s so idealistic. The beautiful things in the world, he just wants to grab them and put them into his philosophical brain and muse and muse.

Matt: I like that George (Victor Pokinko) has all these facts. He’s a very factual man, regardless of whether or not they are correct facts. I go to him for the facts. He’s like Wikipedia before it existed. But I don’t like when he tries to steal my spotlight. That hurts my feelings. I like what a wild card Harris is, that I never know what he’s going to do. I find that very entertaining. And I don’t like that he drinks.

Scott: I like that George is very willing to be my partner in crime for anything. Let’s go swimming! Okay! I like that Jay clearly holds us as part of his team. He’s very selfless in that way, very loyal and I appreciate that. What I don’t like about George is that he thinks he can play the banjolele. You cannot play the banjolele. And what I don’t like about Jay is he’s less willing to do something stupid with me.

Charlotte: Any final thoughts?

Sue: I’m really excited to share it with an audience because I sit here and I am grinning from ear to ear watching it. It’s so much fun and it’s going to be great to see it in that space because the Annex has that wood. In fact we’ve incorporated the wood of the theatre into the play. And our little set such as it is matches the theatre so it’s just going to be really wonderful to be there. And the thing that always blows me away is watching them, and I know how it goes, but to see them travel so far and always wherever they are I’m there. If they’re sitting out on a grassy bank looking up at the stars, I’m there. If they’re in the middle of a busy walk, if they’re in a thunder storm, I’m there. I think that’s really special.

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I for one cannot wait to be charmed by this cast and its production team once again during the Fringe. Bon voyage, see you on the waters!

 

Three Men in a Boat

Presented by Pea Green Theatre Group as part of The Toronto Fringe

Three Men in a Boat Cast from left to right: Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak, Scott Garland

Three Men in a Boat Cast from left to right: Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak, Scott Garland

Directed by: Sue Miner

Original Story by: Jerome K. Jerome

Adapted by: Mark Brownell

Musical Arrangement by: Rigzin Tute

Period Costumes by: Nina Okens

Stage Managed by: Hilary Unger

Starring: Victor Pokinko, Matt Pilipiak, and Scott Garland

Where?  The Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street)

When?  July 2-13
July 02 at 6:30pm

July 04 at 1:15pm

July 06 at 4:00pm

July 09 at 9:15pm

July 10 at 11:00pm

July 12 at 7:30pm

July 13 at 12:00pm

Tickets: Can be purchased via http://fringetix.ca/ or by calling 416-966-1062

And for further information on the Pea Green Theatre Group you can visit their website at: peagreentheatre.com

Trailer: