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“Consent, Growing Up & Telling Difficult Stories” In Conversation with Rose Napoli, playwright of LO (OR DEAR MR. WELLS)

Interview by Bailey Green

Nightwood Theatre continues their Consent Series with Rose Napoli’s play Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells). The play tells the story of Laura (nicknamed Lo) and her teacher Mr. Wells, and is a feminist retelling of an affair between a student and teacher. Napoli began writing Lo three years ago in Nightwood’s Write from the Hip program. Andrea Donaldson, the facilitator of the program, oversaw the play from the ground up and directed the show, on stage now at Crow’s Theatre.

Napoli’s own experiences and her work with young women in schools and a juvenile detention centre inspired the work. She got to know girls who heard society tell them that their bodies were the most valuable assets they had, and how those beliefs existed in her own lived experiences as well. We spoke with Napoli about consent, vulnerability, growing up and what it takes to tell a difficult story.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Bailey Green: Youve been writing Lo (or Dear Mr Wells) for three years. What initially provoked you to write this piece and what was the development process like?

Rose Napoli: The play started years before I started writing it, 8 or 9 years ago. I was teaching in Windsor and working afternoons as a child and youth worker for at risk/in need youth and a juvenile detention centre. It’s now shut down. There wasn’t enough funding to keep it going, which is unfortunate. At the time I met a number of young women who had really complicated relationships to sexuality and consent. A lot of young women between ages 13-16, I don’t even know if they were in a position to know what they wanted and didn’t. Their bodies became currency instead of something that could give them pleasure, pride and beauty. They traded that in a lot of cases for safety. Those profound experiences, coupled with my own, made me obsessed with this issue.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The breaking point for me came when a guidance counsellor in my school was arrested because he had been having an affair with a student who was 16-17, and [the affair had been going on] since she was in the 7th grade. Her confession was triggered by him becoming engaged to another teacher at the school. It was a horrifying time which lead me to quit teaching. I had a really hard time with how the administration handled the situation. The girl was seen as dramatizing the story, but she thought they would be together, so for her the engagement was a huge betrayal. The two teachers remained together. All of that has added to a whole lot of fire in me for a long time.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: This piece contains personal subject matter, both from your own life and from the lives of young girls you have met. What was that like for you as a playwright?

RN: The play is hard for me to hear. I’ve never actually been able to listen to it without weeping. There are moments where I don’t realize that I’m the one who wrote that. Laura, played by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, thinks that now that she knows Mr. Wells in this way, maybe he’ll be the one that stays. It’s hard to listen to that as it still continues to be the reality for me. I’m 34 and I think about what I’m going to do that is wrong, sexually or not, that will confirm my deepest fear that I’m not worth sticking around for. And that’s pretty common in terms of people I have spoken with.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also wasn’t interested in telling a story that vilified Mr. Wells, and Sam Kalilieh, who plays him, has had a really interesting journey and a challenging time championing a predator. I don’t want to speak for him, but any time you take subject matter like this on, separating your own beliefs from the beliefs of the character is a daily struggle. But both of us and Andrea have felt that this is a deeply confused man. And therein lies the complication—it is not as simple, and yet it is absolutely black and white.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: The quote written on your arm in the photo for the show (even if it costs you, you still have to share it), tell me about it and the social media campaign. 

RN: People were so creative with the #shareit campaign and I think people have craved it and wanted to talk but sometimes words are…challenging. And people came to express themselves through a photo and with a want to be a part of the conversation. The quote is in the play, something Mr. Wells says to Laura. The play is part of what Laura has written to him. He tells her as they are taking part in a creative writing club (she has an aversion to public sharing), he tells her that she has an obligation to the world to share her experience. And as she grows, she realizes that in a different way. And that’s a meta-theatrical personal line for myself, because this is not an easy thing for me to share. I feel nervous for people to see this because I don’t think it’s an easy thing to watch or even admit.

Photo of Rose Napoli by Dahlia Katz

BG: How do you feel with the run starting? 

RN: It’s wanting to shit your pants and feeling really excited and proud… there’s a lot going on. It’s a complicated time and I haven’t been that active in tech or rehearsal. I’ve been present for script evolutions but we’re talking specifics, like arguing over a comma. It’s their show now.

BG: What has it been like to be a part of the Consent Event with Ellie Moons play Asking for It and the Consent symposium?

RN: The conversations that the two plays inspire are different ones under the same heading, the consent topic we have to rewind back even further, way before the moment of no or yes. We have to think about it in how there is taking advantage of someone sexually and “no means no” and all of that. Empowering young women, not forcing them to kiss or hug family members. We send messages to children that their bodies or what they want doesn’t matter. We have to evaluate early on the message we send to young woman in particular. At the symposium we spoke about the importance of speaking about pleasure to young women. We don’t associate that as appropriate and we reinforce shame, which leads to people not being comfortable to say yes or no. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I didn’t want [when I was young], I was so confused.

BG: What would you say to your teenage self now?

RN: Oh gosh…I would tell her that she’s beautiful and she’s loved and that one day it will all make for some pretty interesting drama. I wrote a whole play for her.

Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Nightwood Theatre production in association with Crow’s Theatre
Presented as part of The Consent Event, a play series and symposium navigating the minefield of modern sexuality.

What:
It was ten years ago that Laura was Alan Wells’ student at Northwood Catholic School. She was uncharacteristically intelligent for fifteen years old—perceptive and vulnerable—a dream student for an uninspired English teacher. Now, at twenty-five years old, Laura has written her first book. She calls it ‘Dear Mr. Wells’ and Alan is the first person she wants to read it.

A feminist retake on a student / teacher relationship, wrestling with burgeoning sexuality and consent, literature and passion, right and wrong, Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) was developed through Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip playwright’s unit.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre: 345 Carlaw Avenue

When:
October 25 – November 11, 2017

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

Connect:
@RoseNapoli1
@nightwoodtheat
@crowstheatre

#nwLo

 

A Chat with Carly Chamberlain, Director of 10 CREATIVE WAYS TO DISPOSE OF YOUR CREMAINS at the 2017 Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green

We spoke with Carly Chamberlain, artistic producer of Neoteny Theatre and director of upcoming Fringe show 10 Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains written by Rose Napoli. Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli star in this two hander about millennials, emotional baggage and bed bugs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BG: Tell me about working with Rose Napoli. How did you two meet?

CC: We both went to University of Windsor in the acting program, we were one class apart and she was like an honorary member of our class. So I’ve known her for 15 years, and we were friendly but never close. When we started working together at Canadian Stage, we reconnected and really hit it off. I went away to school and during that time she had been writing and we stayed connected. When she approached me this Fall about 10 Creative Ways, it felt like the right project. We’ve known each other for a long time, so to take our relationship a new level, so to speak, has been really exciting.

BG: What drew you into the script?

CC: It’s really different from what I had worked on recently. On the surface it seems quite contemporary, colloquial and casual. The first scene is at a party, it’s about millennials, and on the surface it seems like snappy little play. But there’s a lot of anxiety and deeper issues going on under the surface. It’s a play about people who are so desperate to connect, but their baggage gets in the way and I felt like that was a familiar experience and familiar to people I know. When I read it, I felt I knew these characters. Instant connection.

BG: So where do we find these characters at the start of the play?

CC: Two people meet at a party, and they end up not really getting along, but they stumble back upon each other while they are dealing with shit in their own lives. The play takes place over 24 hours, and then an epilogue. So [we see] two seemingly mis-matched people that may have the potential for a real connection, whether that is friendship or romance. It’s not really a love story in a traditional way. It’s a Toronto story. It’s about two people trying to maybe grow up and how to do that amongst the shit of bed bugs and trying to pay rent and trying to find some meaning in what they’re doing in their lives.

R-L: Rose Napoli, Jakob Ehman

BG: So Rose also acts in 10 Creative Ways, how have you both navigated that change in roles from playwright to actor? Or is it a more fluid process?

CC: It’s a new experience and I have never directed someone in their own work. So I went in with an open mind and to see what the needs would be. The play had some workshops so we both felt confident that the script was in a good place; there were things we’d change but there wouldn’t be massive re-writes in rehearsal. It’s a fluid relationship when I’m in rehearsal with Jakob and Rose. It’s important to me when working on new work not to look to the writer in the room to answer all of our questions, you still need to investigate just the way you would with Shakespeare or Chekhov. I like plays that leave those rough edges, and now that we’re deeper in, we just jump back and forth pretty fluidly. Jakob and Rose have worked together so they have that dynamic as well and it’s a pretty open room as far as the dialogue around changing the text when it’s needed.

BG: What has been the greatest joy working on this piece?

CC: I like when I’m working with really good people and am surprised by what they come up with. They have free rein in that way. I’m working with a design team who I’ve worked with before and are people I really trust. It has been a special experience, the contributions of the whole team and a lot of my work has been in response to what everyone else is giving, I am shaping the awesome ideas of all the people in the room. Anna [Treusch] who designed the set, came to me and said ‘I can see exactly what this set is,’ and that’s not the way she usually works, usually it’s a longer, organic process. So that was so unexpected to me. And Daniel [Bennett] for sound composition, he had a really clear idea right away. So I love getting to be surprised and inspired.

BG: It seems like we’re grappling with this ‘millennial question’ in art and theatre right now, and it can be really nebulous. Could you distill 10 Creative Ways into a couple short phrases?

CC: It’s about learning how to communicate when you’re more comfortable using emojis and it’s about making a choice to let go and accept that your baggage is in the room

BG: And lastly, what are you excited to see at fringe?

CC: The Diddlin Bibbles, they are so funny and shocking and strange and I always really love so I am looking forward to seeing a full set. I’m looking forward to Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons cause I love The Howland Company stuff but also, similarly to our piece, it has a title everyone remembers but yet still doesn’t quite know what it’s about, so I like that there’s a bit of mystery around it. And Nourishment, it’s got a couple of young creators that are doing some really interesting work, strong young women, and I’m excited about it.

10 Creative Ways to Dispose of Your Cremains

Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Carly Chamberlain
Starring: Jakob Ehman & Rose Napoli
Producer: Nicole Myers-MitchellSet & Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Sound & Lighting Design by Daniel Bennett
Stage Management by Lucy McPhee
Production Management by David Costello
Photography & Graphic Design by Kyle Purcell

What:
Boy meets girl. Boy has broken vaporizer. Girl has bed bugs. “Ten Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains” is not just the longest title ever, it’s a millennial love letter to the misfits of the Peter Pan Generation.

From the writer of “Oregano”at the Storefront Theatre and the director of “Plucked” at Summerworks, comes a new old story about living on the outside. Starring Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
16 Ryerson Ave.

When:
6th July – 9:30pm
8th July – 3:15pm
9th July – 8:00pm
10th July – 5:45pm
11th July – 10:15pm
13th July – 1:00pm
14th July – 8:45pm
16th July – 2:15pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect: 
Carly Chamberlain: @CarlyCha
Rose Napoli: @RoseNapoli1
Theatre Rhea: @TheatreRhea
Neoteny Theatre: /NeotenyTheatre
neotenytheatre.com

#CremainsTO

“Power, Authority & Shaking Up Traditional Structures” In Conversation with Rob Kempson, Playwright/Director of TRIGONOMETRY

Interview by Brittany Kay

We had the pleasure of re-connecting with playwright/director/artist/educator/all-around smart-cookie Rob Kempson to chat about Trigonometry, the final instalment of his trilogy, The Graduation Plays. We spoke about what can come with taking time to explore a subject more thoroughly, the need to shake up traditional structures with power and form, and how he wants these plays to ignite more complex discussions that continue beyond the show. The world premiere of Trigonometry runs from March 16th to March 25th.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show?

Rob Kempson: I think the best way talk about the show is in the context of it as part of a bigger series. I think, like all the other shows in the Graduation Plays series, Trigonometry is about the interaction of power and authority structures in a school setting. What I found from my own teaching is that students have the capacity to take power that maybe isn’t assigned to them in a traditional school atmosphere. The authority in the school is clear but the power is not. These plays explore how we manipulate power and how the powerless gain their voice.

I have found in this series that some sort of student expression of sexuality is a great way for them to steal power because, being in a school setting, a lot of that is about tight-lipped, very square principals. It doesn’t always mean that they’re having sex. It means that they understand that by talking about, or referring to, or in some way bringing up sexuality, it makes teachers uncomfortable because they’re not allowed to talk about it in a school. I found that sort of tension really interesting.

Photo of Daniel Ellis, Alison Deon and Rose Napoli by Robert Harding.

BK: Why are you so drawn to the themes of student power and authority?

RK: I’m really interested in that idea because I don’t know how the education system can grow and change and find what’s next, unless we address the way in which students are now on the same level as teachers. We aren’t as different as we once were. I think unless we figure out how to tackle that, the education system is going to be stuck in this bizarre route for a long time.

BK: What makes Trigonometry different from your other two shows in the series?

RK: In this particular case, I tried to take a different perspective than the other two plays. If I was to simplify it down, I think SHANNON 10:40, Mockingbird and Trigonometry are all about the same thing. Something happens where a student takes power, it’s unexpected, and it’s about the way into that, which I think is different between them. SHANNON 10:40 is a largely student perspective, Mockingbird is a largely teacher perspective and Trigonometry is about the parent perspective. I think that’s why this is the end of the trilogy. I sort of found three different ways into the same problem. I don’t think I’ve solved the problem in any of the plays, but I’m interested in finding out how using those different perspectives enlightens new aspects of it.

Trigonometry 1

Photo of Rob Kempson by Robert Harding

BK: In the Greenroom has been able to talk to you about both shows in The Graduation Plays. You and I spoke at the beginning of your process and here we are at the end of it. Do you feel satisfied that this is the final play of the trilogy?

RK: I needed to work out what I wanted to work out. What all of this meant? Why this has been a multi-year process of writing all these things? I think this started as a nugget that I was picking at and I realized I wasn’t going to be satisfied just picking at it. I needed to go as deep as I could. I felt in writing the first two that I hadn’t quite uncovered everything that I wanted to uncover. I knew there was more there to explore, but I didn’t know exactly what that was going to be. The Graduation Plays, in a way, is a graduation for me as a writer and as an artist because I really gave myself the opportunity to spend time exploring a particular theme in a particular area. Not only with different plays, but in different structures of those plays with really different numbers of characters and really different play setups.

Photo of Daniel Ellis by Robert Harding

BK: Why the title Trigonometry?

RK: Everyone should read Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. Sarah Ruhl is one of the greatest writers still living and that book says a lot of smart things that are very digestible. She talks a lot about play structure and one of the things she questions is why we see plays as having an arc and what would happen if a play had a different shape. I started thinking about that, what would a triangle shape play be like? The laymen’s answer is that it would have 3 people in it. I just started to think about why that was an interesting structure to explore. What did making a triangle play mean for me? Does this play have an arc? Of course it does, but it does happen in 3 separate parts. Each character is used in the same way. Each are only in 2 of the three scenes.

BK: How does trigonometry come into the structure of the play?

RK: The play is designed like a trigonometric function. If you know the sohcahtoa method, so SOH stands for Sine, which is opposite over hypotenuse; CAH stands for Cosine, adjacent over hypotenuse; and TOA stands for Tangent, opposite over adjacent. I built the play that way. If you assign each of those to characters and you sort of extrapolate as to why you might call those characters by those titles and then you apply those trigonometric functions to those characters, what happens in those scenes is mathematical.

Photo of Alison Deon by Robert Harding

BK: Incredible. Do you need to know anything about math to see the play?

RK: No. (laughs) If you watch it, you would never see that unless you really went into it with that perspective. That’s where the title came from. It came from me wanting to write a triangle play and I get a bit obsessed with ideas like that. I sort of spin into what could that mean structurally, what could that mean in content, in tone, and form, and all of the other things you think about. I love finding things to weave through.

One of the most common things teachers say is that math is all about relationships. If math is all about relationships between angles and lines and numbers and symbols and all of the things that go into that, then math is of humans and humans are of math. There is a connection there that maybe we like to sometimes deny. It was a really neat discovery… I also had to watch so many Youtube videos about trigonometry to try to remember.

Photo of Daniel Ellis, Alison Deon, Rose Napoli by Robert Harding

BK: Where did the inspiration for this specific story in the trilogy come from?

RK: I have no idea. I mean a lot of the catalyst for the first play, SHANNON 10:40, came from what was the 2015 fight against the new Sex Ed. Curriculum. This play riffs on that in a way that Mockingbird didn’t. I needed to explore it more actively. It started from there.

The other thing that is true of Trigonometry, is that I don’t really love any of the characters. That’s not something that people generally do. I tend to write people who I mostly like with some villains. I started thinking about people who I don’t agree with politically or philosophically or educationally. We are living in such a polarized world that we have to try to learn how we listen to one another and who’s deserving of that respect. I tried to listen to what those people had to say. They became some of the voices in the play.

BK: Why this story right now?

RK: I think that this is a story that is now. One of the things that I think is a fact in contemporary classrooms that is such a struggle are cell phones. It sounds so simple and silly and trite. The effect of having personal property that you can’t abscond or take away from kids that is so distracting to them changes the education game entirely. It changes the power dynamic between students and teachers. I think that anyone who has been in a contemporary classroom will see themselves in this play in a way that is frustrating.

BK: Oh yes. It’s insane, they’re just staring at their phones and re-watching Snapchat videos.   

RK: I’ve been in those rooms, where the integration of technology is really exciting and innovative, but where I get a bit lost, is the way in which it allows a whole other avenue for students to be making bigger choices in the way they choose to react to what their teachers are saying. It’s not only the choice of apathy or tuning out and looking at their phone, it’s also the choice of if they record you. Are they taking your picture? Are they texting their friends saying something about you? The power dynamic really changes because students have this thing that disables you. This play is for “now” because this is a story that happens everyday in schools and I really wanted to explore that.

Photo of Rose Napoli by Robert Harding

BK: Tell me about your cast?

RK: The actors are the most amazing humans. Rose Napoli is giving a performance that will be talked about for a long time. She is remarkable. I was new to Daniel Ellis. I saw him in The Circle and, working with him, he has just so many great insights about who the character of Jackson is and how he is able to tread the line between being a good kid that maybe does bad things. Alison Deon, who I think is one of the most under-used actors in the country, who I’ve known for a number of years from the Thousand Islands Playhouse, is a brilliant performer. Her range is enormous and it’s really exciting to be able to showcase her in this city. People deserve to see the work of all three of these actors. They’re just phenomenal.

BK: And your creative team?

RK: I’m once again collaborating with the fabulous Lisa Li. She’s the best and has been a real dream to work with as she always is. She’s also working with the support of Erin Vanderberg. Katie Saunoris is our marketing and publicity person. Beth Beardsley is our stage manager and is amazing and everyone should hire her. They are an amazing team. Dream dream dream.

Then we look into the design. Anna Treusch is our set and costume designer and is one of my most deeply loved collaborators. In the next 3 months, we are working on 3 shows because we work so well together. She forces me to work really hard. It’s a good relationship. Kaileigh Krysztofiak is a new collaboration for me and is a such cool up-and-coming lighting designer. When I found out that Andy Trithardt, who I’ve seen as an actor a million times, was also a sound designer, I wanted to get him on board. He’s looking at how the idea of trigonometry comes into the design. How and where do we see triangles and how do we hear that? How can we hear things in three? The design team is allowing this play to be explored more fully and deeply.

Photo of Anna Treusch, Beth Beardsley & Rob Kempson by Robert Harding

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

RK: I want them to be divided. My favourite thing is for audiences to walk out and have something to talk about on the car ride home. I don’t want them to come out and have the same opinions of each of the characters. I want people to like one character over the other. Questioning who is making the right decisions for the right reasons. I hope that there is a lot of disparate conversations happening after the show. I really want audiences to walk out with something to chew on for themselves. John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt is such a brilliant parable not only because it’s such a well written play, but because it makes you feel doubt. You walk out feeling the thing that he asks you to explore through these characters. While my play is not called Doubt, I want people to walk out feeling differently about the people that they just witnessed and maybe testing their own morals or testing their own values through the lens of these characters on stage. That’s exciting…I think, I hope!

BK: Anything else we need to know about?

RK: This play stands on its own, so if you haven’t seen the other two in the trilogy that’s okay. You don’t need to. There’s nothing that you will miss. For those who have seen both or any part of it, I think that this will be a really great conclusion for you. I feel so grateful that I have been able to work with collaborators on all three of these pieces that have allowed me the artistic freedom and desire to explore something as fully as I can. If you want to see the outcome of that, I’d encourage you to come out and check out the show.

Trigonometry

Who:
WRITER & DIRECTOR: Rob Kempson
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER: Anna Treusch
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Kaileigh Krysztofiak
SOUND DESIGNER: Andy Trithardt
FEATURING: Alison Deon, Daniel Ellis, Rose Napoli
PRODUCER: Lisa Li
PUBLICIST: Katie Saunoris
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: Erin Vandenberg

What:
Gabriella wants action. Jackson wants a scholarship. Susan wants a family. In this new play by Rob Kempson, three disparate people find themselves bound together by desire, destiny, and a few scandalous photos. Trigonometry is about how far we go to get what we want: what we do to survive.

Where:
Factory Theatre, Studio Space
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON M5V 2R2

When:
March 16 – March 25

Tickets:
416.504.9971
trigonometrytheplay.com

Connect:
#trigtheplay
w: trigonometrytheplay.com
fb: Trigonometry Facebook Event
t: @rob_kempson

Meet Some of the Cast & Characters: 

In Conversation: Magic, Music, Mimmo & Mona: Theatre Rhea’s OREGANO

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

In Conversation with:
Rose Napoli (playwright/ “Mona”)
Matthew Thomas Walker (director)
Diane D’Aquila (“La Strega Nera”)
Richard Greenblatt (“Mimmo”)
Beau Dixon (composer/sound designer)
of Theatre Rhea‘s OREGANO by Rose Napoli.

Shaina: How would you describe Oregano? What’s the show about?

Diane: There are moments in your life that define you. Often death is one of them. And this play is what grows out of that. For every death there’s a birth – it can be metaphoric. But I think when those moments happen, you not only have to face them, but you learn something about yourself. You learn to accept who you are. The play is about all that, in the format of a fairytale.

Rose: In the face of death, one finds their voice. We take that literally in this play, because we talk a lot about the power of the voice. Mimmo is the little boy with a special voice, and Mona is a young woman who wants to be a writer. So it’s very much about the importance of your own voice in connection to the people that shape you.

Shaina: What was your inspiration for writing the play, Rose? 

Rose: The last time I ever saw my dad was 12 years ago. It was his birthday. It was late and it was after an opening of a show. And he stayed up and waited for me and we had a very strange conversation. We were sentimental in a way that we weren’t usually. And in a way, a lot of the things he was saying to me (I didn’t know it at the time), were veiled preparations for me to live without him. I remember we said we loved each other, which we also didn’t do often. I went to bed and I thought: I’m never going to see him again. And he died shortly after that.

I think it was because of that moment, even though the realization came later on, that I started to believe in magic. And I started to believe that there are things that are bigger than us. And family is one of them. So, with Oregano I was writing my dad’s life and his death from my imagination. It’s not autobiographical in the sense that it’s not my exact relationship with him and it’s not the exact way he died. But this is the way I imagined it to be.

Shaina: Matt, you often work in a site-specific format. How are you finding the experience of creating for the Storefront, which is more of a classic black box? 

Matt: It’s definitely different and site-specific is something I’m going to have to branch away from any time I’m working in a space where I can’t control all of the factors. So I’ve been getting advice in terms of how other directors work in this situation. We hired a great set designer – Jenna McCutchen – she offered a world and I started using that. I refer back to her designs, the space she’s created, constantly and that offers information much the way a site-specific venue would. I use that for inspiration. Even though we don’t have all the time in the space that I would like, it’s our constraint and it guides the show. We’re using it expressively, much the way I like to do working in site-specific venues. It’s just a different way of working, but the space is still at the forefront of my mind all the time.

Rose: We’re also using it in a very different way than I’ve seen this space used before.

Matt: That’s something we all decided was very important to us from the get-go. We wanted to see this space used differently than audiences are accustomed to at The Storefront. We wanted to try to change people’s experience when they arrive at this venue.

And I think we are on track to do so. I think it’ll be magical.

IMG_20150306_105312

In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Diane and Richard, I know you’ve worked across the country, across the continent, in huge theatres. What continues to attract you to indie productions?

Richard: The script. I’m interested in working on stories, on characters, on scripts – either as a director, or as an actor – that interest me. I also love working on new work and working with younger people who’re coming up. I do a fair amount of it, like Late Company, which we did a few years ago and are remounting this year. So you choose the project mostly based on the script; secondarily on who else is involved and certainly not for the money. If a project is interesting, and the people are too, then you go for it. I mean I didn’t know Rose, I didn’t know Matthew…

Shaina: But they’re pretty awesome.

Richard: Really?! And Diane I’ve known forever, but we’ve never worked together.

Diane: I have worked a lot of my life in big, huge, honking theatres where a lot of time’s wasted and a lot of egos get in the way. For me it’s returning to my roots. I started with The Free Theatre and Tarragon – they WERE the indie theatres in the 70s and late 60s. The Free Theatre had a dirt floor – it was FREE when I played there. So for me, it isn’t about the money, it’s about getting back to basics, it’s about working with people that I have respect for, that I want to work with, that I haven’t had the chance to yet. It’s about the challenge. And this is more challenging than some of the other stuff I get often in the big box theatres.

Shaina: What has been the biggest challenge?

Matt: The collaboration has been lovely. We have actors who have worked all across our country in these big theatres and I love that they’re coming back to work with us in indie theatre. It’s really refreshing and it’s really invigorating. So that hasn’t been a challenge.

With independent projects, it’s always scheduling. That’s always a challenge because everyone’s always doing so much. But for some reason, when you set that as the challenge that needs to be faced from the get-go, it just makes it easier. You embrace it and you approach that creatively with a good spirit and everyone has to invest fully when they’re here. That’s absolutely been the case.

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In Rehearsal – Diane D’Aquila & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Beau, what attracted you to the project? What’s the experience been like for you adapting this story to music?

Beau: To echo what Richard said, it’s first and foremost about the story. The most difficult thing, but it’s also the most enjoyable and challenging, is using sounds to make sure that the audience is in the world of the fairytale. I really have to marry the sounds with the text. That’s one of the magical things about theatre: using sounds, the different frequencies, the pushing of air (as I like to call it), to create a world. When you have accomplished actors, and a story that really speaks for itself, you don’t want the music to get in the way. So there’s a real push and pull that’s happening between the sound and the text. And once you get that tension and release with the sound, and once the audience is engaged and thrown into that world, it IS magical.

But the real struggle is making it believable – making the audience feel that they too are using their creative brains and are immersed in that world without feeling forced into it.

Shaina: What was the initial inspiration to make the play so musical? 

Rose: In the play, Mona, the main character, has the chance to meet her father as a young boy – a young boy who Richard plays. He plays himself from 8 years old all the way to his 50s – his whole life really. This boy has a very special ability with his voice. When he sings, he can relax the people who listen to his music so deeply, that they reveal their deepest fears.

There was always meant to be a component that brought us back in time – there are many memories in the play. The music is the thing that brings us to the different time periods in the play.

And then that concept went to the next level having Beau on board, a composer who is so versed in MADE scores. You can see his set up down there – he is making music with the strangest things! So why not take it a step further, to embrace the magic of this play and have the sounds (the rain, the thunder, all of the soundscape in the show) happen live rather than through a soundboard.

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In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Diane D’Aquila

 

Richard: Doing that also enhances the magic of the theatre itself. And the reason theatre is magic is because it IS imagination. And what the play is about, in a lot of ways, is the imagination, and how you can create your life as you imagine it, to a certain degree. You can certainly deal with things in your life through the way you imagine them.

If you want to make magic in the theatre, you do it by showing what’s up the sleeve. You don’t try to hide it, because we can’t do it that well in the theatre. You can do that on film, you have CGI, but we don’t. So you can make magic by saying: “imagine this is the planet earth in my hand,” and then you smash it. And everyone goes along with it because the theatre is essentially naïve. To see Beau create a storm sequence by using a tarp and a weird can with a string attached to it, is far more magical than the most realistic sound you can tape and play back over a sound system.

Diane: And you know, you get these huge budgets at these big theatres and all of a sudden it goes into another medium. To be able to use your imagination with nothing is more efficient. It’s better story telling, than when you keep throwing money at a play. Because eventually the audience thinks: “What a small battalion! They brought 50 people onstage and I don’t believe it.” But with two or three people making a lot of noise with a good folio I go: “Well there’s an army!”

There isn’t enough money in theatre to achieve what the imagination can. 

Shaina: If you could have anyone in the audience to see this show, who would it be?

Rose: My dad.

OREGANO

by Rose Napoli, presented by Theatre Rhea at The Storefront Theatre

Oregano2 copy

On stage at The Storefront Theatre

Previews – Wed. March 11 – Thurs. March 12

Opens Friday March 13 – Sunday March 22

Tickets: theatrerhea.ca/tickets

In Conversation: “Melancholy Play” by Sarah Ruhl

A two-part interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

THE QUICK AND DIRTY: The Empty Room’s Melancholy Play (by Sarah Ruhl)

Rose Napoli

rosenapoli

Character: Francis.

Play in 5 words: Quirky, thoughtful, funny, sad, musical.

What is melancholy?: It’s a longing for something.

What makes you melancholy?: Oh god. What doesn’t? I’m a sap so: commercials, books, my friends, my lovers, pretty much everything.

What makes your character melancholy?: Francis is going through a depression in the play. She wants fulfillment in her life and she’s not finding it with her partner or with her lover or with her job.

What’s one reason people should come see this play?: Completely different than anything I’ve been a part of before. It challenges the idea of theatre as I know it.

Patric Masurkevitch

Patric

Character: Lorenzo.

Play in 5 words or less: Truly, madly, deeply.

What is melancholy?: A sadness of the soul.

What makes you melancholy?: The fact that my children are growing up.

What makes your character melancholy?: Love.

What is the best part of this process so far?: The company. I’m having a blast working with everybody. First of all, it’s a very collaborative process, and everybody has very strong ideas of what they want, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to adjust and play with other people.

What’s one reason people should come see this play: Eva.

Karyn McCallum

Karyn

Role: Set and costume designer.

Play in 5 words or less: The poetic discourse on depression.

What is melancholy?: A pensive condition. It is when one isn’t projecting enthusiasm. I don’t personally equate it with sadness, I think of it as pensiveness. One might appear melancholy when retreating inwards.

What makes you melancholy?: I’m a very cheerful person. Things make me mad but they don’t make me melancholy so much… I suppose loss. I’ve experienced loss, in fact this year, the loss of a family member. I think loss of choices – a sadness about opportunities that have passed that can never be regained.

What makes the characters in this play melancholy?: Loss.

What the best part of this process so far?: In terms of approaching it as a designer, the non-linearity of the text is very freeing because it allows me to not make a literal space, because it doesn’t describe literal circumstances. It is a very freeing thing in terms of design.

What’s one reason people should come see this play?: It does offer different perspectives on melancholy and on compassion.

THE IN DEPTH DISCUSSION: with director Jeff Pufahl and lead actress Eva Barrie (Tilly)

 

Shaina: Why this specific play?

Eva: Jeff and I were looking for something to work on together, since 2013. We were bouncing back and forth between a couple ideas, never anything that was really sticking. And then I heard a snippet of text from this play in an open Viewpoints session, and I went to the reference library and I just started reading it, and midway through reading it I texted Jeff and said “What do you think of this?”

Jeff: I did my thesis on Sarah Ruhl in my MFA, and the second play I directed after that was Dead Man’s Cell Phone, which is another one of her plays. So Eva said: “Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play”, and it was a natural fit because I have some experience in that area and I love this text. I read all her plays when I was doing my Masters and had noted this was a really fun and interesting puzzle to work on. This play is so much like a puzzle.

Shaina: How would you describe the play in 5 words or less?

Eva: Red, yellow, blue… (She laughs)… quirky, curiosity inciting

Jeff: Exploring sadness & love through the lens of poetry.

Shaina: I’ll accept it.

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Photo Credit: Leah Good

 

Shaina: I know you guys met at the SITI company. Has that informed the way in which you’ve been working with this play?

Jeff: Yes. I think my experience with Viewpoints, has informed my whole way of looking at theatre. Especially as far as looking at theatrical elements as building blocks: time and space and architecture and text and character being all pieces of a puzzle that you can move around horizontally as opposed to stacking up vertically.

Shaina: Does that change the relationship of players and audience in any way?

Jeff: I’m not sure, because an audience’s experience and perception of a play is unique to their experience. So it’s difficult to say what the outcome will be.

Eva: I think this play specifically is so hard in that way because it is so reliant on audience involvement. I mean most are, but in this one specifically, I play to the audience a lot. They are partners.

Jeff: They’re really part of the conversation.

Shaina: So is the audience close enough that you can see them?

Jeff: Yes.

Shaina: That has to change things for you, Eva.

Eva: Yeah. Sarah’s also very specific. She writes: “Don’t talk at them, talk to them.” One thing that Jeff said on day 2 from her book is that “there’s no pillars.” An actor is worried and scared and in Sarah Ruhl’s plays there are no pillars, nothing to hide behind. And she meant set, but it’s just you up there. You cannot fake this language and you cannot fake the way we’re doing it either.

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Photo Credit: Leah Good

 

Shaina: What has been the best part of the process so far?

Jeff: These past couple of days when we’re starting to see how the play begins to live and breath as its own entity, to put it together piece by piece. Right now we’ve worked on all of the pieces, so for me, starting to see it coming together is very exciting, from a directing standpoint.

Eva: For me, what is most funny about this whole process is I had this instinctual urge to do this play, but I couldn’t name why. And it was never a play that I could say “this is the way this should be performed”, which is why I like it. But during the first couple days of being thrown in it, I thought: I understand now why this play resonates so strongly with me, on so many levels. It was amazing to un-peel that and examine how I work with this kind of topic. Discovering how our humanity is in this play. Confronting my own humanity within this play. It’s made me weep A LOT.

Shaina: What does Melancholy mean to you?

Jeff: Melancholia, melancholy is a sadness. It’s a kind of longing. It can be thought of as: you’re missing something, a person who’s no longer there. Or the melancholy we experience when we realize that our youth has passed us by or is passing us – that we may experience a certain sadness just understanding where you are in life. The beauty that we witness in an experience and then the sadness when we realize that it’s going to end, can be thought of as various forms of melancholy.

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Photo Credit: Leah Good

 

Shaina: So what makes you melancholy? And what makes your character melancholy?

Eva: One thing that makes me very melancholy is nostalgia. Just looking back in time. And I think that makes Tilly very sad too, but in a big way. She’s nostalgic for times she’s not experienced. For example, she is nostalgic for King Arthur and she carries that with her.

Shaina: It’s like humanity’s nostalgia.

Eva: These are the moments that are fleeting and passing and it’s overwhelming.

Shaina: Almonds play a huge part in this production. What do they mean?

Jeff: Well, yes the symbolism of the almond is threaded throughout the play. Sarah Ruhl likens it to the amygdala, which is the organ in the brain which is our emotional centre. It’s also a symbol of the mandorla – two circles overlapping, an intersection – which is the shape of an almond. And religious figures are often portrayed in that symbol, so it symbolizes figures in transformation or transfiguration – between two worlds. For the character Francis, her journey in this play is very clear. She transforms. And so the symbolism of the almond is key.

Melancholy Play

presented by The Empty Room

melancholy play

When: January 29th to February 8th 2015
Thursday – Sunday, 8pm
Where: The Collective Space, 
221 Sterling Road, Unit #5, Toronto
Tickets: www.eventbrite.ca/o/the-empty-room-47276585