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Posts tagged ‘Sarah Ruhl’

“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.


LIGHTING DESIGNER: Kaileigh Krysztofiak
SOUND DESIGNER: Andy Trithardt
FEATURING: Alison Deon, Daniel Ellis, Rose Napoli
PUBLICIST: Katie Saunoris

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.

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

March 16 – March 25


fb: Trigonometry Facebook Event
t: @rob_kempson

Meet Some of the Cast & Characters: 

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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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

Meet the Passion Players – Ensemble, Front-of-House, Crew, Chorus, Musicians, Sound, Puppeteers, Wardrobe… Needless to Say, They’re a Busy Bunch!

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So I’m here with the Passion Players and Assistant Director Lillian Ross-Millard, part of Passion Play being put up out here on the Danforth. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

JW: Jesse Watts!

APM: Aviva Philip-Muller.

KD: Kasey Dunn.

HD: Howard Davis.

HS: Harsharan Sidhu.

CS: Cheyenne Scott.

LRM: Lillian Ross-Millard.

KDa: Kathryn Davis.

RQ: Can you tell me a little bit about Passion Play, and how the Passion Players fit into it?

HD: I guess you could say, from what we know of it, it’s been a very long process for the creative people on deck. Three companies have created this epic show. It’s the Canadian premiere of a show by American playwright Sarah Ruhl. It’s been created by Outside the March, Convergence Theatre, and Sheep No Wool.

APM: Someone said early on that the Passion Players are like the glue. Alan said that. The glue that fills in the cracks of everything that needs to get done, be that onstage or technical; but also in the sense that we relate the show back to their original purpose of why they wanted to do the show and why now. We link it back to the people seeing the show. We’re a bridge to these different historical time points. We’re always dressed the same way, we’re always contemporary, and we’re guiding them through this journey, helping them make that leap.

LRM: It’s a very historical play, of course. It starts off in Elizabethan England, then Nazi Germany, then South Dakota during the Vietnam war. You’ll notice that it doesn’t land in the present, so it sort of causes us to reflect upon our own historical period. She’s not shoving it down our throats to criticize someone specific in our time period. However, having the Passion Players there makes us very aware that it’s applicable to our historical moment as well.

APM: It’s sort of interesting the points in the play where we show up physically. So in Part 1, there’s a point where we come on with fish puppets and we have a little moment onstage as opposed to doing sound foley in the background. In that moment, we’re wearing shirts that say “Jesus is coming. Look busy”. So, it’s very obvious that we’re not in that Elizabethan period, we’re not trying to pretend to be actors that are a part of a company. We’re something else. We’re something other coming in, and I think it’s very deliberate where Alan, Aaron, and Mitchell have decided that they want people in modern-day dress coming onto the stage and bringing us back to the present.

RQ: So you’re preventing people from forgetting that it’s performative.

KD: I think it’s very hard, while watching this play, to forget that you’re watching a play. There’s constant reminders that these are actors and this is a theatrical setting. Very “meta”.

JW: Title-wise, I’d say that we’re Ensemble, Front-of-House, Crew, Singing, Musicians, Sound, Puppeteers, Wardrobe…

HD: What’s interesting to me is that in moments we bring people back to reality, but in others, we function as a heightened theatricality in the show. Even with the fish puppets in the first act, they’re very symbolic, where in act three, it’s very different. The way these different directors have asked us to embody the fish. They change from something deliberately symbolic to something that’s almost real.

RQ: A lot of shows strive for that conversation on the drive home about what things mean, but it sounds like you’re instigating this conversation during the show itself about the nature of performance.

KD: It feels very Brechtian. We have these symbols and signs coming out. Even reading our shirts the first time we come onstage, it’s almost like subtitles.

LRM: Or the prologues and epilogues. Very Brechtian, sure.

CS: I feel like the Passion Players are also mystical elements in the show. With the fish puppets and the fact that we’re in the balcony creating these sounds physically and not using any recorded elements. They always refer to the stage for us as “coming down to Earth”. It maintains a mysticism when we’re in the balcony like we’re the angels pulling the strings.

KDa: Or the puppeteers from above.

CS: Yeah, just being present and observing the show.

KDa: We also make commentary as well. Certain directors in certain scenes want us to be witnessing what’s happening below. I think that intensifies the overall theme of the section. We’re not just an invisible crew, we’re an ensemble that people can see up on the balcony, commenting on what’s happening.

KD: Like a Greek chorus where the audience feeds their own reactions through seeing us observe it.

KDa: In certain scenes in the end of act two, we’re standing and watching what’s happening. I think it gives it a more sinister feel. The stage is entirely red, and Violet comes on and says “My white ribbon is red” in the dark, and Aaron wanted the Passion Players to be overlooking this entire scene as people who are seeing something nasty but doing nothing to stop it. The people of Oberammergau had a Jew living in their village but still denied the existence of a concentration camp at Dachau for a number of years. We are commenting on the moral aspect at that point in the play. There were a few people who really believed in the ideology of the Nazi regime and everybody else just went along with it because they were so… blinkered, in a way.

APM: So by us standing there, it’s like we’re commenting on the hypocrisy.

KD: And I think Violent comments on that when she says “You’re not in a play even when they give you a costume to wear, even if they’re watching like an audience”. I always feel like she’s speaking about us as an audience.

LRM: The Passion Players don’t feature very much in Part Two, and I think that’s intentional. I feel like Aaron was saving that meta moment for the very end, the audience feels very complicit for what’s occurring onstage. Each director working with each time period used a dramatic acting style of the time, and I think that’s written into the play. So I think there’s a more naturalistic feel to Part Two. So having people with a more contemporary visual takes us out of that. We feel very comfortable seeing the Nazi imagery come into play, like “Oh, well, we know what’s going to happen because it’s history and we’re not implicated” but then at the end we see the Passion Players again and we’re reminded. Even the actors look at the audience as if to say “Is this okay that we’re persecuting this young girl?”. I think it’s very powerful.

APM: One of the moments that we get to be a part of that I think has many layers because of who we are as this modern force is this moment where Hitler has just said “Continue with your holy play”, and we turn around, face the audience, and sing In Perpetuum which, of course, means “forever”. So we get that history always repeats itself, and every time I sing that I’m looking right at Hitler and I can’t help feeling how prophetic that is. And then the play gets repeated, you know, right after break, we’re doing this in perpetuum. And other than in Part One, we’re always the ones singing In Perpetuum, it’s like our anthem. We show up again, the Passion Play happens again, and so do the tortured characters and the ways people treat each other.

LRM: But it’s also a current of passion and of love. It’s what causes it to recur. It’s a cyclical thing. It’s interesting the way the relationships between the characters change and modify in each new time period. It’s kind of a weird reiteration of a classical love story, but I feel like it’s a much more philosophical approach while staying accessible.

The Passion Players - BACK ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:  Bilal Baig, Kathryn Davis, Howard Davis, Aviva Philipp-Muller, Kasey Dunn, Jesse Watts FRONT ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:  Cheyenne Scott & Harsharan Sidhu

The Passion Players – BACK ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT:
Bilal Baig, Kathryn Davis, Howard Davis, Aviva Philipp-Muller, Kasey Dunn, Jesse Watts
Cheyenne Scott & Harsharan Sidhu

RQ: It sounds like you’re performing a lot of opposites at once. You’re this mystical force but you’re also the most human force. You’re the most anachronistic force but you’re also the least anachronistic because you’re in modern garb. The most passive observers who are also very active. It’s a lot of these back-and-forth at once moments, which is very cool.

CS: It’s the same for the characters. There’s a difference between what they should be and how they feel inside.

RQ: This being a co-production between three different companies, have you found any differences in the way the work is approached.

APM: I was talking to Kathryn the other day about how the directors all have different approaches but they’re all such amazing and beautiful approaches. You can tell when you see the production that each play ends up being very unique. I think that helps the audience feel like it’s a lot shorter because it’s like you’re watching three different plays. It’s like when you watch TV for three hours, it’s different shows, so you don’t realize it’s three hours. So, having these three different directors from three different companies, it does end up being a different experience, both being in it and as an observer.

KD: It was also very powerful when they found ways to steal from each other, in a way. They’d watch what the others were creating and then find ways to thread similar themes through so that there are connections. I think it was Alan that first used the triangle as a sound cue to mean stepping outside the action, whether it’s a tableau or an aside. So, once that was introduced in Part One, the other directors picked it up to bring it through so it becomes a constant for the audience. They always know what that sound means. So, while they’re all different in style, there are all these tiny threads that, when you pick up on them, it’s powerful.

KDa: It’s also interesting how we’re used in each act. For example, we use the fish puppets in completely different ways. Alan doesn’t want us to move the fish puppets whereas Mitchell wants movement to it.

KD: Alan’s style in this show is very symbolic and very simple and honest. He’s interested in the fish as a symbol, a Brechtian “This is a fish”. For Mitchell, it’s something more mystical that’s coming in and it’s alive in its own right.

RQ: So during the process, the show has kind of had a conversation with itself because of these different voices.

KD: It’s amazing how it all came together. At first, it seemed like having too many cooks in the kitchen. All these powers trying to work toward the same goal but each in their own way. It’s been amazing watching them come together and create one big thing.

LRM: I think we also came in late in the process. I mean, I was there on the first day of rehearsal, but they had been thinking about this and planning this for a really long time. Two years. So, I think one of the rules, when they wanted assistant directors and Passion Players was actually just to get out their heads or have some extra eyeballs lying around. I mean, when you’re working with people for a very long time and talking about all the same ideas, it’s good to talk to other people about it. You might have this amazing idea that makes complete sense in a language you’ve been using with one person, but once you bring it to a more public audience, it can be redefined or clarified. So, I think that’s another role we serve.

JW: What’s great about this for me is that I worked on a professional show at Theatre Columbus, and it was very straightforward, everyone knew what they were doing, everyone had a position; but with this one, it’s so big that all of us can help out. I feel comfortable enough to just walk up to one of the directors and say “Hey, can I do this for you? Do you need help with this?”. Everyone is so friendly and collaborative that it’s just an amazing process.

HD: They’re not opposed to new ideas. Because it’s so big, everyone’s opinion is valid.

KD: There’s so much room to slot yourself in somewhere. Even with costuming. Coming into this, I didn’t know too much about it, but someone asked for help, and I kind of became in charge of wardrobe in a weird way. There are a lot of jobs to be done and only so many people to do them.

APM: In my experience, nobody here has had such a big ego that they wouldn’t want help. Even if between where they are in their career and where I am in mine is a huge disparity, if they need help with something, they’ll turn to us.

HD: Some of us went to school together, and the program we have is very multi-disciplinary, so you work closely with production. So, I had an appreciation for production anyway, but it’s…my goodness. I have even more of an appreciation for people who do lighting and props. I’ve done shows where I needed endurance, but in this, it’s a different kind of feeling. We finish a show and we’re exhausted physically, and the actors are exhausted emotionally. I’ve always been used to being on the other side of things.

KDa: We have to be constantly present while remembering our cues and knowing to do our sound effects, lighting, et cetera. So, you’re constantly on edge. I don’t want to mess up a gel. So, constantly present and making that commentary, as I said, like then end of Part Two, for instance. We are the creative ensemble but also the technical crew. So it’s physically draining but also requires a lot of mental focus. It’s been fun. I remember that tech week was quite chaotic because we knew we’d have to make certain sound effects, but when lighting started to come into play as well, it was harder. We needed to have spotlights, and gel changes. At one point, for instance, one of the directors said “Oh, I want to have a spotlight there, who’s up above?”, and we were all onstage. So, I was removed from an ensemble scene and put on the spotlight instead. So, it was chaotic because we were desperately trying to remember cues. The whole thing has been very fluid because I was asked to do a gel change and I’m actually on the other side, so Aviva stepped up. All hands on deck.

LRM: This sort of independent theatre would not happen without people like this. The funding is not feasible. Passion Play has gotten a lot of buzz and part of me is wondering if it means people might be more open to the idea of trying to put on epic theatre done by independent companies. It’s really amazing.

KD: Not only is it really gratifying, but it gives me a sense of invincibility. If I can actually do the lighting and the sounds and be onstage in one show, what could I not do? If I wanted to put on my own show tomorrow, I feel like I’d be that much more capable, and I’d have more confidence.

KDa: This show is setting a precedent in Canadian theatre, I think, for being an epic show, and one that reviews have said will be talked about for years. But, yet, it’s three small, growing companies coming together with thirty-five people working on this. We’re moving locations, we move the audience from Withrow Park to Eastminster Church. Even that is ambitious in one way. Then there’s the acting company, and eight Passion Players, we have the assistant directors, and Evan [Harkai] and Bryn [McLeod] all working to make sure this piece comes together.

KD: It’s a labour of love in the truest sense. These groups were so passionate about making this happen, no matter what they had to do. It’s exciting.

APM: I feel like I have the experience of doing four plays from this one show!

PASSION PLAY by Sarah Ruhl
When: June 6-30th
What: Three of Toronto’s leading indie theatre companies, Outside the March, Convergence Theatre, and Sheep No Wool present the Canadian premiere of Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl. Brought to Toronto’s East End by Crow’s Theatre.
Where: Passion Play is an immersive performance experience in three acts. Act One begins in Toronto’s beautiful Withrow Park, after which the audience and performers will walk together across the Danforth to Eastminster United Church’s magnificent auditorium for Acts Two and Three. 
Tickets: can be purchased online or in person at Withrow Park beginning one hour before showtime.
Book your tickets online here