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Posts tagged ‘Polly Phokeev’

“A look into the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary times” – SEAMS at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival

Interview by Bailey Green

I sat down with several members of the Seams Collective, Polly Phokeev (playwright), Elizabeth Stuart-Morris (producer/actor) and Mikaela Davies (director) to discuss their upcoming production of Seams at SummerWorks 2015.

Polly Phokeev began writing Seams four years ago during a playwriting workshop with Djanet Sears. She was asked to write a scene for 4-7 people and was inspired by an old photo of her grandmother sitting with a few other women. “It began as a play about my grandmother, and I drew from her memories of Russia and the memories of others in her generation,” Phokeev says. “But it became a play about accountability to one’s past and the loyalty we have to our friends, family and country.” The play is set in 1939 which comes at the tail-end of Stalin’s purges. “It’s a look into the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary times,” says Polly. 

Polly worked Seams on and off for several years until it took the shape of a two and a half hour draft entitled Ranevskya and the Seamstress. They held a workshop reading and the play was well received. Producer and performer Elizabeth Stuart-Morris encouraged Polly to bring the script to the next level. “I was struck by how beautiful the story was and knew it was time to get the play on its feet,” says Elizabeth.

Polly then reached out to designer Shannon Lee Doyle. “Aesthetic was very important to me,” Polly says, “and it’s a memory play so things weave in and out, and I wanted to have the five senses very active in the piece. So I went to Shannon. She told me she liked it but that I should cut half the words, so I cut the main character of the draft and stayed with the seamstresses.”

For the design of the show, Shannon created two worlds for the characters to exist in—one is 1939 in the back of the theatre where the seamstresses work and the other is a dream world for our narrator Frosya (played by Clare Coulter) who is in the theatre with us. Those worlds break apart and become deeply entwined over the course of the play.

Next on board was director Mikaela Davies, who says she “fell in the love with this world and the people.” Dramaturge Simone Brodie became the fifth member of the Seams Collective (along with Phokeev, Stuart-Morris, Davies, Doyle) though many artists and collaborators have been involved over the process which began in January 2015.

The Collective participated in the Paprika Festival this year. Director Mikaela discussed the experience of preparing for Paprika, “We called it a workshop but we really went for it. And that has made this stage of rehearsing for SummerWorks much easier. It’s much smoother.” During Paprika, Polly and Elizabeth prepared anonymous feedback forms for their audience and they found that the firsthand comments were invaluable for the play’s development. Also during Paprika, they had a Russian actress come in for a night to perform almost all of her text in Russian. That night, a majority of the audience for that performance was Russian and the response from the community was warm.

Though the Russian audience had a very positive response, a few weeks later Polly ran into a Russian actor who questioned her about the backgrounds of the people involved with the project: how many members of the cast and creative team were Russian? This incident prompted the collective to address the ethics of storytelling. They took it one step further and hosted a panel discussion to explore who has a right to tell stories. Polly says, “We believe that with respect and with research, stories are ours to tell.” Mikaela adds, “We have to ask ourselves honestly, are we doing anyone harm? Are we silencing anyone? And for us, the answer is no.”

The play draws parallels between the Russia of 1939 and Russia in 2015. Polly shares a quote, that has become somewhat of a mantra for the collective, from Sergei Dovlatov: “We endlessly condemn comrade Stalin, and, it appears, with reason. Yet still I’d like to ask-who is it that wrote four million reports?” Mikaela emphasizes how this quote demands that the individual face the consequences of their silence.

“And it makes you consider, what stories are we covering up here in Canada? Who are we silencing?” Polly says, as she discusses the polarized international media response to Boris Nemtsov’s assassination—whereas in Russia the death was initially reported as a tragic accident with no political ties.

“This is not just a story about oppression,” says Mikaela “we want to offer another side to these characters’ relationship to their country—which of course is riddled with guilt and pain and terror—but there’s something really beautiful about the notion of service to something greater than yourself. There is a lot of beauty, integrity and love that these people feel for their country.”

When asked about how the characters cope with this obligation to their country, Elizabeth responded, “The characters are constantly grappling with the pull between what they want and their loyalty to their country. There’s a lot of hope and there’s a desire for something more. But the clothes they are wearing, the hours they are working and lack of food is something they have to face. They don’t have any easy way out. It’s a very intense world to exist in, especially when it’s a reality that many people are still living.”

Seams

Produced by The Seams Collective, presented as part of the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival

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A dying Russian woman’s frantic recollections of her youth as a seamstress in Soviet Moscow weave through the lives of costume-makers working in a theatre during the fall of 1939. A series of love and hate stories emerge from the dust as she folds together the pieces of a past she has struggled to forget.
Seams is a play for anyone with ancestors, for a country born of immigrants, and for a community made of quilted-together culture.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace – 16 Ryerson Avenue
Tickets: $15 Buy Now
Thursday August 6th – 5:15pm
Sunday August 9th – 7pm
Monday August 10th – 9:45pm
Tuesday August 11th – 9:30pm
Wednesday August 12th – 7pm
Friday August 14th – 9:30pm
Sunday August 16th – 4:15pm

Run Time: 90min

The Seams Collective

Directed by Mikaela Davies; Written by Polly Phokeev; Performed by Krystina Bojanowski, Clare Coulter, Sochi Fried, Jesse Lavercombe, Caitlin Robson, Elizabeth Stuart-Morris, and Ewa Wolzniczek; Dramaturged by Simone Brodie; Set and Costume Design by Shannon Lea Doyle; Assistant Set and Costume Design by Kelly Anderson, Sound Design by Nicholas Potter; Lighting Design by Steve Vargo; Stage Managed by Steve Vargo and Lisa Van Oorschot; Produced by Elizabeth Stuart-Morris; Assistant Produced by Rebecca Ballarin

An Interview on Theatre Archturus’ – Weïrd – An immersive original take on the witches of Macbeth

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I sat down with director Philip Psutka and actors Lindsay Bellaire, Lindsay Sippen Eitzen and Polly Phokeev to chat about their show, Weïrd, an immersive original take on the witches of Macbeth.

MM: Tell me a little bit about Weïrd.

Philip: Weïrd focuses on the witches of Macbeth and tells the story of Macbeth from the witches perspective. Essentially, what mistakes they make in picking Macbeth in the first place, and then what they have to do to go about fixing that. We use aerial silks whenever the witches are doing a charm or whenever they’re using any sort of force of nature or anything like that.

MM: Is aerial silks a medium that Theatre Arcturus often works in?

Philip: Yes. Basically any sort of rigorous element that we work with, silks or any sort of aerial apparatus are a huge part of it. And the big thing with us is, we’re not so much a movement or physical theatre company where we want to use silks or another discipline to, for instance, take a break from the story and focus on a character, focus on a moment or a character’s internal journey and express that through the silks. What we want to do is incorporate the physical discipline into the scenes, continuing the story, while dialogue is going on, having interactions between characters. So it’s less of taking a moment in time and looking at, for instance, an internal journey, rather it’s actually physically incorporating the silks as the main set of the piece into what the characters are trying to achieve in the moment, with each other. So overall, it’s really continuing the storytelling.

Lindsay B: We try to keep it fluid and try to avoid making it disjointed or making it seem contrived. We’re really trying to mesh them together in a seamless way.

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MM: So you interact with the silks in the way actors interact with the furniture onstage or with props onstage?

Linsday B: Yeah. Or sometimes with a character. Because [the silks] do move, and you have to be able to react to those kinds of things. Something that I discovered through the process was realizing how much it was going to be like having another person there. Usually the set is stagnant. You pick up a prop and put it down, and it stays there. Whereas with this, the slightest breeze will move the silks, and your own movement will have a ripple effect through it, and that changes the way you have to react to it, constantly.

Polly: And it’s really interesting inheriting the silks. Let’s say Lindsay’s done a charm, and then the next person who approaches the silks has to deal with the way they’re all twisted up and the directions in which they’ve gone. When we were rehearsing in isolation, it was a non issue. The silks would be straight down but then it’s interesting to go into that again. 

MM: I know that Lindsay B has trained in silks. Have the rest of you trained as well?

Lindsay SE: Nope, just with this process! (laughs) 

MM: So how did you get mixed up in this crazy business?

Lindsay SE: I don’t know! (laughs) I’m friends with Lindsay and Phil and they asked me to be a part of the project. Partially, I think, because they know that I am passionate about creating things and taking a very physical approach to theatre, which I think is really cool and really important. I thought the silks were a brilliant idea. I said, “That sounds amazing! It’s going to be so cool!” And I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t really just HOW difficult it was going to be. I’m like, “I didn’t know I owned those muscles!” Whenever you see someone performing aerial silks or circus arts or anything like that, they just make it look so easy. We realize that they’re working, but I don’t think people realize just HOW hard it is, even to just get off the ground.

Polly: You have had more time than I have to start learning how to do the silks, and I’m ecstatic when I can even get an inch off the ground, so I’m so impressed with what Lindsay B can do. The way I got involved in the project is stage combat. I know Dan Levinson from Rapier Wit, where I did my Intermediate with them last June, and he knows Phil, who did his Advanced with them, so that’s our connection.

Philip: That fits right in with our company. It’s not just circus arts or aerial silks, but it is really rigorous physical discipline. So we’ve got an aerial performer in the show [Lindsay B], we’ve got someone with a lot of experience with dance [Lindsay SE] and then we’ve got someone who has a lot of experience training with stage combat [Polly]. We’ve got three separate physical disciplines that we’ve been able to incorporate into the same piece, and it’s been amazing how well the three of them have actually flowed together, how seamlessly they’ve worked together as part of the whole piece. I feel like the reason why it has worked so well that way is that whenever we are focusing on a moment where one of those disciplines or one of those physical aspects is really coming out, we keep going back to the text. We go back to “how is this actually forwarding the story? How are we staying in the scene? How is this not stepping out and being its own thing?” So as a result, we’ve worked the scenes and we look at them afterwards, and there’s this moment of realizing “Oh, right, you did some aerial in there, you did some dance, and there was even some stage combat in there” and we realized we couldn’t actually tell where one started and one began. At least not consciously, because all we see is the full scene and what’s progressing with the story.

Lindsay B: It’s interesting how much ground work in dance and movement [Lindsay SE] has been working on while I’m thinking vertically, and having Polly always being on us about text. Which has been very helpful to always be pulling it back to “Why are we doing that?” text-wise and character-wise. We have a fight scene in there, and it’s my first fight scene. It’s been really interesting for me because I’m learning things too.

Lindsay SE: I just wanted to comment briefly because you touched on the text and I wanted to say how cool it is that we’re using all text from Macbeth. It’s the witches’ scenes, and we’ve pulled a little bit of text from other scenes that fits into the story that we’re telling. It’s all from the story, it’s all from Macbeth.

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MM: So there’s no original text?

Philip: No original. Basically, we have the witches scenes from the actual play. We’ve even changed those up a little bit. Sometimes there are lines from other parts of the play added in, but we also have the moments with the witches where we DON’T see them in Macbeth. It’s ‘what is happening in between those scenes?’ and those scenes in our piece are what’s formed out of text from other scenes in the play itself that other characters say. Sometimes it’s been an entire page almost of Shakespearean text that another character says literally the way it is, that could transfer to the witches’ story perfectly, and we have moments where we have four lines, and each of those lines have words from different parts of the play to form the line. Some of them are very quick jumps from one part of the text to the other, but it all works seamlessly so it is the story of the witches, whether we’re used to seeing them in Macbeth, or whether it’s some place or time that we’re seeing in between that’s completely new.

MM: So how did you come up with this concept? I’ve not heard of anything like this happening before. There are physical-based theatre companies, but none that seem to be so text focused.

Philip: Amazing! That’s great to hear. We originally thought of the idea for this show because we were talking about the possibility of working with a pop-up theatre company who was looking for some stuff, and the only information we could get from them about what they might want from us is ‘some aerial, maybe some other physical stuff, maybe some classical text, you know, everything, whatever’. So we were like, ‘okay, we need to figure out something that works that will play to our strengths, the aerial, Shakespeare, classical text, and we can develop a piece that will work outside or inside, where we can set up the rig literally in any space, and have either part of the show work if it’s a ten minute version that they want, or a full length show’ so we started working with the idea of the witches because that made the most sense in terms of things that we could think of off the top of our heads that was Shakespeare that would be easy to incorporate in terms of silks in a very believable way that they audience could buy into. So we just started working on it on our own, and then we thought ‘fuck it, let’s do it on our own!’ Which is great, because when we have other opportunities, like if we wanted to do it at events, it’s a very easy piece to adapt sections to that. 

MM: For something that seems so complex, you guys are talking about it as though it’s very easy and fluid.

Lindsay SE: Well, sure there are challenges of course, but I don’t think there was anything that was super hard to pull in and have to work really hard to make something work in terms of the storytelling. I feel like the storytelling isn’t a stretch.

Polly: Like with anything, you compartmentalize and then you work bits and it comes together, layer by layer. Like a cake.

Philip: And everyone has endured the weather with us.

Lindsay SE: We’ve been lucky, I think, to work outside for a lot of the rehearsals. It’s been really neat to have the challenges in terms of weather and wind and rain. I think it all added to the process, because in the play, the witches scenes take place outside, so it’s just added a lot to what we’ve been able to do.

Lindsay B: And we’ve been playing to people in their apartments. It’s been a very communal experience. We’ve met so many people in our building because of it. We even drew out another aerialist! There’s another aerialist who lives in the building which I found out because I had my rig up and she was so interested. We’ve been working with our feet in the dirt. We’ve got such a great cast. Sometimes it’s wet. Sometimes it’s muddy. I wish I could provide a better space and it’s like, ‘sorry guys, please slog through this with us, we have no budget’ but it’s been a cool experience and we’ve found amazing people with really good attitudes.

MM: How would you sum up Weïrd?

Linsday B: Sisterhood.

Polly: Collaboration.

Philip: Immersive.

Lindsay SE: Storytelling.

Weïrd

Presented by Theatre Arcturus

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Deal: Bring your Weïrd ticket to Mill Street Brew Pub or Beer Hall before or after the performance on the day of the performance to receive 15% off food!

When: Shows Oct 17 8pm, Oct 18 2pm, 8pm, and Oct 19 2pm, 8pm.

Where: Playing at the Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery Historic District

CAST
Witch 1………………………….Lindsay Bellaire
Witch 2……………………Lindsay Sippel Eitzen
Witch 3…………………………….Polly Phokeev
ARTISTIC TEAM
Director……………………………Phillip Psutka
Stage Manager……………Alexandra Brennan
Choreographer…………………Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director……………………..Phillip Psutka

Tickets:  http://www.theatrearcturus.ca/en/shows/runs-october-17–19-tickets-now-available