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.
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?
Victor: Do you have the pitch pipe?
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.
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
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