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Artist Profile: Lesley Robertson takes on the role of King John in the upcoming production by Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: King John has been scarcely performed up until last year when Stratford staged it. Why do you think King John is due for a ‘come-back’ and what about it stood out the most after working on it now in comparison to some of Shakespeare’s more often produced work in Canada?

Lesley Robertson: I think King John is definitely due for a come-back because I think we all need a break from the over-produced comedies for a bit, while still getting to enjoy Shakespeare’s spectacular poetry, characters, and timeless themes of humanity. I especially think it’s due for a come-back in the bare-bones, accessible way Shakespeare BASH’d is approaching the play.  The text is heavy with political maneuvering, battles over ‘right’, and religious language – it’s very dense and rooted in its history. But with the clear direction of James Wallis, I think we will make this difficult, murky-seeming play come alive for an audience through our emphasis on the story and language (without relying on expensive sets and costumes) and our youthful energy and passion to tell a story about oppression. I personally celebrate the play’s complexity and messy imperfections – I think it suits the story, which is full of political and moral errors and people switching back and forth between sides. I also think it’s a great time to tell a political story with Canada just having had a very interesting election and also a travelling Magna Carta exhibit!

HS: What have you discovered in exploring the character of King John? 

LR: I’ve thought a lot about manipulation and what is right and wrong. I’ve rarely played characters that, on the outside, might be perceived as ‘villainous’ or even not likeable. But from the inside, those people are simply acting in a manner they think best. They are doing what they think is right and they are simply going after what they want and need. So, I guess that’s to say, I’ve found it very interesting to empathize with someone that has been hated so widely and for centuries! (That’s not to say I think what John does is ‘good’ and ‘right’!) I think Shakespeare has created a deliciously complex play and I hope to imbue John with the complexity of any human being; we are all vulnerable. I hope to complicate the audience’s inherited perception of “Bad King John.”

HS: What are you most looking forward to in doing this piece in The Junction City Music Hall?

LR: The proximity between the audience and our playing space, I like being able to see audience members’ faces, and, of course, the beer.

HS: Describe this play in 10 words or less.

LR: Oh, I’m terrible at this… Crap, are you counting?… “Oppression.”

Lesley Robertson as King John. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Lesley Robertson as King John.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

HS: Favourite Drink at The Junction City Music Hall:

LR: I remember noting several craft tall boys that I love, but I can only remember Conductor’s Ale at the moment. Ask me again at the end of the run!

HS: Favourite rehearsal moment:

LR: When everyone laughed at me during an early movement rehearsal in which I created a giant angry horse with my body that simply yells “NEIGH!!!”

HR: Favourite place in Toronto:

LR: Other than my home, the 13th floor of Robarts Library.

HS: Where do you find inspiration?

LR: Music, literature, history, documentaries…

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

LR: Hm… My streetcar driver today said “Life is too short to be grumpy” and that was pretty great.

HS: What do you think is on your King John’s pre-show playlist?

LR: Something that really pumps me up I guess… like gangster rap… Yeah, probably some gangster rap.

King John Graphic

Directed by James Wallis

Featuring: Sochi Fried, James Graham, Bailey Green, Catherine Rainville, Lesley Robertson, Caitlyn Robson, David Ross, Matt Shaw, Tim Welham, Kate Werneburg, Jeff Yung

When: November 16 – 21, 2015

Where: Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas Street West, Toronto.

Tickets: $19 online: shakespearebashd.com $20 at the door.

Connect with us!

Shakespeare Bash’d: @ShakesBASHd

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

2014 Fringe Preview – Love’s Labour’s Lost – Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Bailey Green

As I entered the rehearsal hall for Love’s Labour’s Lost (presented by Shakespeare BASH’d) I was struck by the amount of people in the room. With no role double cast, the cast of 16 generated such an exuberant atmosphere that I couldn’t believe they had just finished a run. Their attitude as an ensemble reflected the youthful energy of the play.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the King of Navarre and his three men swear an oath to remain celibate so that they can focus on academic pursuits. Unfortunately the day after the men swear this oath, the Princess of France and her three ladies—a group of fierce, grounded, intelligent women—arrive on a political mission. Passion, poetry and chaos ensue. I sat down with the four—that’s right, four—pairs of lovers to chat about their character’s relationships, their own quirks and the upcoming Fringe production.

Love's Labour's Lost - Hallie Seline & Jesse Nerenburg - Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Hallie Seline & Jesse Nerenberg – Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Princess of France (Hallie Seline) and the King of Navarre (Jesse Nerenberg)

Hallie’s Pet Peeve: Slow walkers.
Jesse’s Fave Rehearsal Snack: The vietnamese steamed buns from Banh Mi Boyz
Post-Show Drink of Choice: “Wine wine wine” (Hallie), Hawaiian Pale Ale (Jesse).
Describe your characters’ relationship:
Hallie: We’re both people in power. We like to outwit each other, top each other. We don’t want to admit that we’re into each other but we are. We totally are.
Jesse: We’re both the leaders of our kingdoms so that definitely plays a part. But why I’m attracted to her is because she’s not afraid to push back. I don’t see her for many pages after the first meeting, but when I do, I am really in love with her. I’ve written all of these poems about her. Once you’re in, you’re in.

Love's Labour's Lost - Suzette McCanny and Jeff Hanson - Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Suzette McCanny and Jeff Hanson – Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Rosaline (Suzette McCanny) and Berowne (Jeff Hanson)

Suzette’s Pet Peeve: Bus windshield wipers.
Jeff’s Favourite Rehearsal Snack: Chocolate chip cookies.
Post show drink of choice: Apricot beer (Suzette), “Any drink anyone will buy for me” (Jeff)
Describe your character’s relationship:
Suzette: They have such a love/hate relationship, as in they love to get the best of one another. Rosaline would like to pretend she doesn’t love him or that she’s better than that. But she’s very intrigued by his wit. She thinks he’s smart and he can hold his own next to her. She also sees his cons and can be open about that. She can be herself with him.
Jeff: They had met before at the same party [as Longaville and Maria] and for Berowne he doubts the oath the men all swear to right from the beginning. He doesn’t really think it is going to work. Berowne’s always had control over his emotions and has never fallen madly in love. When they first meet, what Rosaline says to him, how she uses her wit and beats him at his own game, it really intrigues him. He doesn’t really get it, being in love, he’s taken aback. He almost goes through the seven stages of grief, but more like the seven stages of love. He doesn’t understand why but he does truly love her.

Love's Labour's Lost - Catherine Rainville & Joshua Browne - Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Catherine Rainville & Joshua Browne – Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Katherine (Catherine Rainville) and Dumaine (Joshua Browne)

Catherine’s Pet Peeve: People chatting in the background while she’s rehearsing a scene
Josh’s Rehearsal Snack: Cigarettes. If he could eat ’em, he would.
Post show drink of choice: A glass of Scotch (both).
Describe your character’s relationship:
Catherine: It’s so instantaneous for everyone, but Dumaine and Katherine have moments of looking at each other and trying to figure each other out. It’s really playful. I get to be aggressive which is fun. We all tease the boys, which for Katherine is her way of playing hard to get. But she’s so obvious when she’s around him.
Joshua: We don’t have a lot of text together, or any really. But we have built this aspect of Katherine being the aggressor. I catch her checking me out at the beginning and I’m a bit more timid. I’m sort of shocked she likes me. Similarly [to the Princess and the King] we have many pages where we don’t see each other at all yet I’m madly in love and have written horrible poetry about her. She’s also pretty sassy. I like that.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost – Andrew Gaboury & Sheelagh Darling – Photo Credit: Jesse Griffiths & Kyle Purcell

Maria (Sheelagh Darling) and Longaville (Andrew Gaboury)

Sheelagh’s Pet Peeve: People who stand really close to you for no reason. Also, toe shoes.
Andrew’s Favourite Rehearsal Snack: Nuts, specifically almonds.
Post show drink of choice: Oatmeal Stout (Andrew), St. Ambroise Apricot Beer (Sheelagh)
Describe your character’s relationship:
Sheelagh: We really like each other right from the beginning. There’s no qualms, we know we’re going to get together. I play along with the Princess but whenever Longaville’s around I’m just making googly eyes and waving. Even when the rest of the girls are berating and chiding the boys, I’m just still waving at Longaville.
Andrew: We kind of met before, it seems we were at the same party. I’m the most serious in terms of the oath the men swear [to stay away from women]. And then I see Maria and I throw it all away. It’s funny watching how I try to logically get around the oath in my poetry.

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Bailey: What makes this production stand out? What will an audience member experience coming to see your show at the Fringe?

Jesse (King): Love’s Labour’s Lost is a very youthful play, it’s one of Shakespeare’s earlier work and it has a rhyming structure which is really unique. The women hold their own. And it’s not a play that is done very often. People are going to be coming out to see a show where they can have a beer and experience a classic that they may have never seen on stage before.

Josh (Dumaine): It’s zany. The men are writing really bad poetry and dressing up as “Russians”. The show is going to be fast, snappy, fun and silly, but it also has vulnerable moments. It’s really relatable.

Hallie (Princess): James [Wallis], our director, said at the beginning that the best way into this story is through yourself. These characters come alive through the energy of the people doing them. And in this cast you have a bunch of really interesting, funny, weird and smart people who come out through the words of these characters. That’s what makes it fun. I hope that will stand out to our audiences.

Suzette (Rosaline): The characters play the whole time! Let’s play this game, let’s play that game. Whenever I see a BASH’d show I feel like I’m part of the team as an audience member, that I’m part of how the story unfolds. Each time we run the show there’s new surprises. And it’s so refreshing to be in a play where my character doesn’t have to be a lost puppy who only cares about being in love. It’s a love story, for sure, but there’s an edge. My goal in life is not just “to be loved by another person.” I still feel that’s very rare.

Jeff (Berowne): People will get a sense of [director] James’ respect for the text, but there’s also a joy and a sense of ensemble and the fun that this rehearsal room has been that I feel will be evident for anyone watching. The audience hopefully should go through the journey with us.

Andrew (Longaville): There’s a real sense of great respect for the text, but also using it as a blueprint. There’s a balance of not bulldozing the words, but really using them and at the same time using yourself in the text.

Hallie (Princess): All pomp is taken out of it with a BASH’d show. It has that “Fringe” energy. You go to the Victory Cafe just a step away from the tents and everything that’s going on in the Mirvish alley. You can sit down and have a beer and listen to a classic tale that is so clear and fresh and fun and full of energy. It’s enjoyable, which is sometimes exactly how you want to spend your time. There’s also wonderful dance that happens that I cannot WAIT for each audience to experience.

Bailey: Well I for one can’t wait for the dance number.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

Love's Labour's Lost - Photo by Jesse Griffiths and Kyle Purcell

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Photo by Jesse Griffiths and Kyle Purcell

Directed by James Wallis

Where? The Victory Cafe, 581 Markham St.
When? Thursday, July 3 @7:00pm
Friday, July 4 @ 7:00pm
Saturday, July 5 @9:00pm
Sunday, July 6 @5:00pm
Tuesday, July 8 @7:00pm
Thursday, July 10 @7:00pm
Friday July, 11 @7:00pm
Saturday, July 12 @7:00pm
Sunday, July 13 @5:00pm
Tickets are $12 and can be purchased via the Toronto Fringe website: https://www.fringetix.ca/

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Follow this wild bunch on Twitter:

Shakespeare Bash’d@ShakesBASHd
Hallie Seline (Princess) – @HallieSeline
Joshua Browne@joshu_ashua
Andrew Gaboury (Longaville) – @afieldofcrowns
Jeff Hanson (Berowne) – @The_Hanman
Suzette McCanny (Rosaline) – @suzettemccanny

In the Greenroom Writer Bailey Green: @_baileygreen

** Want In the Greenroom to catch your Fringe show or have an interesting idea for an interview? Email us at inthegreenroom.ca@gmail.com! **

In Conversation with Carly Chamberlain & Susan Bond of Hart House Theatre’s “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: Hello! So I’m here with Carly Chamberlain, director, and Susan Bond, dramaturge, of Hart House Theatre’s production of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Tell me a bit about the show? 

CC: Essentially, it centres around a women who is an overlooked, often taken-advatage-of academic who is working on her thesis and she has a theory about some of Shakespeare’s plays that nobody believes in. That’s sort of the setup.

SB: So she’s come to a crisis about her work and her treatment in this academic model that she’s working through.

CC: In a larger sense, it’s her crisis of identity in general. So that’s the crisis, then she falls in a garbage can… as you do. There’s a magical element to the play where a choral moment initiates her falling into a garbage can, and falling into her subconscious, which takes form as a Shakespearean-like world.

SB: Right, she falls into a very specific Shakespearean world, as you could guess from the title. She falls into the worlds of Othello and Romeo and Juliet.

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Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Nathan Bitton as Romeo, Lesley Robertson as Constance, Katie Ribout as Juliet

CC: She meets two of her heroines, and it’s a journey set around finding her way out and solving her thesis question, but it’s really about meeting the so-called “real” versions of them and also finding her own identity. It’s really a journey of self-discovery, especially since it’s her subconscious, they’re all elements of her.

SB: At the same time, she’s helping solve their problems of mortality.

CC: She’s searching for her real identity by assisting them.

SB: I think it’s also worth mentioning for people who aren’t already familiar with the play and perhaps not familiar with the fact that Ann-Marie MacDonald is Canadian, and that she is a struggling academic at Queen’s University in Kingston.

CC: That being said, I think it’s important to note that while the play is very clever, and it references a lot of Shakespeare, I don’t think you have to be intimately familiar with the plays to enjoy it. It’s a human story of loving yourself.

SB: You’ll certainly get more out of it if you’re familiar with those two plays and the rest of Shakespeare’s work. You’ll see more of the layers in it if you do, but it’s not essential.

RQ: There’s a few things I want to touch on there. Constance is very much a modern protagonist. She’s an iconic character of Canadian theatre. Is there a calling for more strong, modern female protagonists?

CC: Yes! But I don’t think “strong” is the right word to describe her, necessarily. She has strength and she discovers her strength, but I think what makes her a good example of a female character in Canadian theatre is that she’s complex.

SB: Most of her problems aren’t “woman problems”. She has career problems and self-discovery problems, which are things that everyone has. She’s an important female character in that she’s a great role for female actors because she’s also more complex.

CC: The whole thing is about her finding her strength, but there’s a problem with the writing of female characters in general where if they aren’t someone’s girlfriend or wife or talking about their romances, the other extreme is that they’re superheroes; which is another sexualized, objectified version of a woman, as well.

RQ: So it looks at the concept of strength beyond the male-centric idea of what a strong woman looks like.

CC: Yeah. I think there’s something to it even beyond a male-centric idea. I mean, patriarchy is everywhere, so we’re all viewing through those goggles, but what’s really special to me about this play (and part of it is that you view whatever you’re working on through whatever you’re processing yourself) is that it’s not about male or female but about saying, “Hey, things are complicated, nothing’s black and white, and the mess of life is okay, and I’m still awesome even if I’m a mess”. That’s something we all need to readjust to as far as what strength is.

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Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Cydney Penner as Desdemona , Nathan Bitton as Iago, Lesley Robertson as Constance

SB: “You shouldn’t need to be above the mess. Strength is living in the mess and working through it.”

CC: But yes, to come back to the question, I do think there’s a real lack of complex female roles in film and TV, obviously in classical theatre, but also in Canadian theatre. We spoke about finding other Canadian plays with complex women in them and it’s actually a struggle.

RQ: In pop culture in general. In the zeitgeist, there are very few of them.

CC: Yeah, and then, when there is, it’s a big thing. Look at the reaction to HBO’s Girls.

RQ: Because there’s that thing where people look at it and say “But these characters are kind of shitty sometimes. How are they supposed to be female role models?”

CC: I read a really interesting article recently that compared Hannah from Girls to Llewyn Davis from Inside Llewyn Davis, and it was showing that that’s a perfect example of the flaws in innate sexism. We look at Llewyn Davis and we’re like, “Man, he’s fucked up. He’s talented, but he’s fucked up and he makes fucked up decisions. He’s a tragic hero,” but with Hannah we’re like “You’re a brat. Get over yourself”. I would argue that the Coen Brothers do romanticize Llewyn Davis more than Lena Dunham romanticizes her character, but it’s the same thing, she’s a self-indulgent, talented person and so is he, but she is the one who gets ragged on.

SB: Also, I think that because there’s a relative dearth of complex female characters like that, she winds up standing in for not just self-indulgent talented people but also “ladies”, or “girls” in general. That’s just a problem of underrepresentation.

CC: Since there’s a lack in general, every female character has to live up to the standard of not being any stereotype, which is pretty impossible.

RQ: As soon as someone becomes iconic in that sense, they have to be everything to everyone all the time.

CC: Exactly, which is impossible. But, as much as I’m all about more roles for women, I don’t think anyone that champions that wants to watch plays about perfect people, because why would you watch it?

RQ: So what you’re talking about is that female characters are allowed to have conflict. They don’t have to be the side character but they also don’t have to be above all conflict and completely inscrutable.

CC: Essentially.

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Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) – Katie Ribout as Juliet, Lesley Robertson as Constance, Cydney Penner as Desdemona

RQ: So, Susan, as a dramaturge, there are several different worlds in this play. How do you go about investigating the different worlds and how they interconnect?

SB: My speciality as a dramaturge is working with Shakespeare, so the knowledge I bring to the table at a production is going to be actually stronger than the Canadian academic world, despite being a Canadian graduate student, though not in the 80’s. You referred to Constance as a “modern” female character, but she’s not actually that modern, she’s set in the 1980’s and it’s surprising how much that world lives in the play. Because we’re not actually in Verona or Cyprus, we’re in Constance’s imagination, it’s amazing how her world kind of emerges in them in strange ways.

CC: And we’re definitely trying to highlight that. I think sometimes people go for an interpretation where we’re actually there in stereotype-land. Our set doesn’t change, other than through light and sound, and that’s on purpose. The office is onstage the whole time. Something we talked about from the very beginning is the idea that she’s in “Cyprus”, not Cyprus. Because of that, the dramaturgy becomes complex. The first step is saying “this is what it was in the original play”, and making a conscious choice if it’s going to be different.

SB: “This is what the coastline in Cyprus was. These are the places it would be appropriate for Desdemona to be. This is where a historical Desdemona would be. This is where Shakespeare’s Desdemona would be.” But, MacDonald’s Desdemona is in a different place altogether.

CC: The layers of references in the play are astounding. For example, there are a lot of references to alchemy; but there’s a difference between Renaissance alchemy, which is transmuting base metals to gold; but there’s a very intentional layer on top which is Jung’s idea that they were being metaphorical and alchemy is actually about self-actualization. So, all that stuff is layered in.

SB: There’s a lot of dramaturgy in this show.

RQ: And all the layers inform each other, right?

CC: Yup, real easy, super easy.

SB: Yeah, I just know what the words mean.

CC: But that’s something about Shakespearean dramaturgy in general, is that the actors or I might have a question about what some little thing means and we might find out it’s a reference to some obscure thing.

SB: Like the Gustav manuscript. It’s an 18th Century German novel about someone searching for a manuscript that was lost, so in a way, it sets up the premise for Constance’s entire academic career.

CC: Yeah, then you go, “This is all interesting, but to the character, it means nothing”. You don’t know these things, it’s outside of the world.

SB: But then some elements are conscious references, so it all ties into itself.

RQ: And how has it been working with Hart House on this show?

CC: It’s good. We both have histories with them, though Susan’s is longer.

SB: I’m the Resident Dramaturge.

RQ: How did you start there?

SB: I started as a dramaturge for Canopy Theatre, which is associated with Hart House and so I worked with Jeremy [Hutton], when he was acting in a show I was dramaturge for, and he saw what I brought to the table.

CC: When I was an actor, earlier in my career, I was in Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hart House. So I had a bit of a relationship with them, then Jeremy and I worked together at Shakespeare By the Sea as well, and we had a good working relationship. And I assistant-directed there last year for Robin Hood: The Musical, which is another Hart House/Shakespeare by the Sea crossover. It’s been pretty awesome working with them. As far as the management goes, they’re very supportive and trusting.

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Photo Credit: Scott Gorman. (LtoR) Lesley Robertson as Constance, Nicholas Porteous as Professor Claude Knight

RQ: What would you say your goals are this year?

CC: In life?

RQ: In life!

SB: In 2014?

RQ: In 2014!

CC: I think for me, it’s two things. On the one hand, I’m still trying to figure out what directing means and how to be good at it in a thoughtful way. I want to continue to develop because you can only learn it by doing. On the other hand, Susan and I work together separately [with Neoteny theatre] and I think we both want to make a positive and significant contribution to the theatre scene, particularly as it relates to classical-adjacent work and roles for women, so this falls right in line with that. We want to be thoughtful instead of making work for work’s sake. That’s really hard because we all want to be working all the time. When we did Overruled and Romance last year, it went really well and people wanted to know what we were doing next, but we’re trying to resist the urge to just do something for its own sake. You know, “put on a show and put my friends in it”, because that’s tempting.

RQ: Vanity project theatre.

CC: Right, and that’s such a murky area because to some degree, everything you do is a vanity project because even if you’re getting paid, you’re not getting as much as you should, so you have to be getting something else out of it. I think that sums it up nicely.

SB: Yeah! I think we’re trying to reconcile the intersection of classical work with women’s roles in general. A, let’s just say it, feminist model, to some extent.

CC: I think what we’re dancing around is that we’re interested in feminist work that’s not feminist for its own sake, but feminist for that basic definition of equal rights for all people. It’s one of those things that once you start seeing things through that lens, and you’re a creator of any kind, you have a responsibility to make sure that work continues. That being said, we’re not entirely humourless. So that, plus joy in the work. That’s the other thing with me directing is that I’m trying to find that line where everything is falling into place, but that sense of play and joy and ensemble is there too. That’s really important, as an audience member. I want to find that balance where they’re in an environment where they can live in the moment.

SB: If there’s no play in the play, then it’s entirely joyless.

RQ: It’s moral responsibility theatre, which can be pretty boring.

CC: I think about this stuff all the time because I’m kind of a cynical person and when people say things like “Oh, when this show closes, I’m going to miss this cast so much!”, I’m the one that’s like “You’re doing a job”. Navigating the line where there’s a sense of joy in the ensemble and the bond you form with the other members comes from working toward the same goal, that’s huge and important. All the other stuff, drinking together and whatever, that’s cool if you have that social vibe, but the vibe in the room is so much more exciting and important.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

By Ann-Marie MacDonald, presented by Hart House Theatre

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Where: Hart House Theatre, University of Toronto, 7 Hart House Circle
When: February 28th – March 8th, 2014 8pm, Saturday Matinee 2pm
Tickets: $15-$28 http://uofttix.ca/view.php?id=1000

For more information on the show: http://www.harthousetheatre.ca/

Artist Profile: Kelly Penner and Hallie Seline – Reconnecting with the Classic Tale of Love-at-First-Sight as the Title Roles in Shakespeare BASH’d Romeo and Juliet, November 19th-23rd

Interview by: Brittany Kay

We sat down with the smart and sexy duet, Hallie Seline and Kelly Penner, who play the title roles inShakespeare BASH’d upcoming Romeo and Juliet, running this week, for one week only, November 19th-23rd. We discussed what it’s like approaching such iconic roles, working with BASH’d, on-stage chemistry and their thoughts on Canadian Theatre and its utilization of young artisits.

BK: Are you feeling the pressure of filling such iconic roles, in arguably one of the most timeless tragedies?

KP: Well yeah, you do feel the pressure. There’s the iconic movie versions… and Leonardo Di Caprio played Romeo, and they just did it at the Stratford Festival… So yeah. It’s there, it’s big. But the first thing to do, is to forget all of that and approach it like any other part. You try to figure it out for yourself.

HS: I’m trying to be like EVERYONE in one performance. Watch out! (she laughs) Sure, I would say there’s a pressure, however James Wallis, our director, was really great in advising us to approach the text with fresh eyes. There are definite ways in which we have heard these iconic words being performed. We are trying not to fall into those familiar patterns. Instead, we’ve been focusing on telling the story, what you’re saying and who you’re saying them to. I’m trying to make choices for myself and for the story.

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BK: Have you looked to any other actor’s portrayal for inspiration?

KP: Sure, I’m inspired by other Romeos I’ve seen, but I’m trying to figure Romeo out as myself like any other part that I’ve read for the first time, which is difficult because it is one of those plays that we think we know, and have so many other portrayals that have kind of defined the characters for us.

HS: And everyone will have an opinion on how it should be said or what they think Romeo and Juliet should be like. All you can do is stay true to yourself and your interpretation of the characters and the story that you and your cast are trying to tell.

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BK: Talk to me about your rehearsal process?

KP: Once a week for a month we’d get together by scene and we would literally just go through the lines to make sure we were all clear with interpretation and meaning. We didn’t work on intention at all during this text work. It was just strictly for clarity of meaning. James had done an enormous amount of background work on certain words and phrases as well, which was incredible to work with as a starting off point. It was good to have that table work behind us so we could go into our blocking rehearsals really knowing what we were saying, giving us more freedom to play.

HS: Afterwards we were all really prepared to focus on our arguments and our scene partners and the story as a whole. James thinks Shakespeare is best when it’s story based. No bells and whistles just clear storytelling, which was a great way to approach our rehearsal process.

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BK: You have to fall in love every night. How has it been working with each other?

HS: Look at him! I may throw up in my mouth every time I think of kissing him (she laughs) … but seriously, you can start with this one, Kelly.

KP: You don’t want to start? You started?

HS: Nope. You take the lead, Romeo.

KP: The chemistry is…. good! These two characters fall in love instantly. And they are intensely in love. I didn’t know Hallie at all before, other than a “hi, hello” in public. We just tried to get to know each other, become friends. It made the intimacy on stage a lot easier and helped it to develop a lot faster. Ultimately, the chemistry on stage comes from listening and playing off each other. The chemistry is also in the language, let alone in the heart and the body. Really listening and taking in what the other person is saying, using each other’s words, and creating poetry together is where it mainly stems from.

HS: Ditto.

KP: That’s all you’ve got? Ditto? (he laughs)

HS: Well, I’m into that answer! It all comes from trust and feeling comfortable in the scene and in rehearsal with your partner. It’s really about what Kelly said… becoming friends. We are completely playing off each other. You know basic scene principles are that you are trying to affect your partner and you are fighting for what you want from them. In our scenes, that is what it is. We have fun.

BK: How did you get involved with Shakespeare BASH’d?

HS: I had seen both of their past productions in the Toronto Fringe, which were hugely successful and just so enjoyable as a spectator. I took a liking to what the company looks for in Shakespeare, performance and theatre in general. It was fun and laid-back, and in a bar, so you could have a drink during it, which is always nice. It was great, thought-provoking, fun, quality work with so much young local talent. I contacted them when I found out they were auditioning for Juliet and it’s been an incredible experience working with them!

KP: When I was in second year at theatre school at Windsor, I was cast in a production of As You Like It in Brampton. In that production there were many of the cast members of this Romeo and Juliet.  Because of that production, I met James through this network of guys and gals. We’ve connected through our love of Shakespeare and I’ve been working with them ever since.

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Shakespeare BASH’d Mission Statement: To present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language with an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

BK: So you’d say you connect with what the company represents and stands for?

KP: I do. James and Shakespeare BASH’d idea of the text and story being the primary point of focus is why we clicked in the first place. Staying true to it is so important. They always start with such an intense textual analysis of the words in these classic stories and this what I like about them the most. It is also a room that I love working in. It’s such a fun, playful, vibrant room filled with young talent. You get easy access to trying and experimenting and being wrong and trying something completely different.

HS: What’s interesting is our ages range from 20s to roughly 40s give or take. It’s not just a group of 24 year olds, which I feel makes a difference. The room is filled with an incredible group of giving and intelligent performers with a wealth of experience and such variety in process. We all learn from each other constantly. It’s a room where you have the ability to develop your own approach to the work. The cast and crew are incredibly supportive. I feel like I’m coming into my own as an artist in terms of my process because of influence of this group of people.

BK: You are both playing leading roles that are meant to be young in age, and for the Toronto standard, you could both be described as young performers. Going off of a recent article to surface in Toronto, from Holger Syme’s blog dispositio, do you think the Toronto theatre industry has a youth problem? From your experience, do you think there is enough opportunity being given to young performers?

HS: I think it depends on the production. If it’s a choice to utilize an actor that’s different than what is written in the text, then that’s a specific choice. Being in the rehearsal room with all these relatively young performers and theatre makers, and from what I’ve seen of the independent theatre community, I find that there’s a lot of strong, intelligent, bold, exciting, thought-provoking artists out there, who I think should be given the opportunity to show and share their work and who are just as valid in themselves as artists to be seen on the major Canadian theatre stages and in the spotlight, as many 30+ artists are. Beyond that, I think that when you are a young artist with an opportunity for a role of this scale, it is a huge learning opportunity for yourself as an artist and not at some cost to the production. Personally speaking, to have this role of this scale at this time, has been a huge benefit in my development as an artist. I think it’s doable and there should be more trust given to younger artists. Furthermore, I think there needs to be more opportunity for all ages to work together.

KP: I do wish for more of that. For some professional companies they want the sure-fire thing, and often times that means going with someone older that they know rather than take a chance on a more age-appropriate actor with a shorter resume. In terms of theatre and the story, if they have the right spirit or if you look younger than you are and it’s not noticeably distracting, then I don’t mind it. But sometimes I see productions and it dawns on me that this actor is a man, playing a boy but they’re doing things in a manly way which really just seems inappropriate for the character and it will draw me out. I do wish we could find a way to get more young people on stage.

HS: I’ve seen a 35 year old playing a 15 year old and if the essence is appropriate then power to you. Do it!

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BK: Is Shakespeare BASH’d production of Romeo and Juliet different in anyway? Any specific concepts or time periods?

HS: James has been really clear in not putting a time period or a concept to it. I mean… it’s already a tragedy being put on in a bar! There is definitely a lot of comedy to it, but that alone is quite unique and will be interesting. But mainly, he wanted to focus primarily on the story and the relationships of such a classic play.

KP: The costumes are neutral colours but there are jeans and running shoes, but then we have swords.

HS: … and the sword fights are awesome! They are sexy and exciting… Get excited for those!

KP: We really wanted it to be about the story and not have any kind of heavy concept distract from that. Just from the work I’ve seen in rehearsal, I think, and hope, people will really take to it.

Rapid-Fire Question Round

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BK: Favourite Movie:

KP: On the Waterfront
HS: Hook

BK: Favourite Play:

KP: Othello
HS: Vimy by Vern Thiessen

BK: Favourite Musical:

KP: Into the Woods
HS: Cats! Of course… (she laughs) or definitely Next to Normal

BK: Favourite Actor right now:

KP: Ben Whishaw
HS: Carey Mulligan

BK: Favourite food:

KP: Cannelloni
HS: Nachos

BK: Guilty Pleasure:

KP: My pink cardigan. I love it but I never wear it out!
HS: Candy, Real Housewives of Orange County or Beverly Hills… yup.

BK: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

KP: BLT-Breathe, Listen, Trust
HS: Don’t take yourself out of the part. They hired you for a reason or they are seeing you for a reason. The more of yourself in the part, the better.

BK: Advice for other young artists:

KP: Let it go. There are so many factors out of your control. Leave it in the audition room. You’d go crazy if you try to figure out why you didn’t get cast. Have fun!
HS: Be true to yourself. Also, James said this to me in rehearsal when I was trying really hard to find the right arc to one of the scenes. He said “If you’re looking for perfection, it doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s boring. It’s just a play… Put into it what you can and don’t beat yourself up over it. It will be interesting” I think that’s great, especially for younger artists to be reminded of coming out of theatre school training. And yes… like Kelly said, have fun!

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

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When: One week only, Tuesday, November 19th-Saturday, November 23rd, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday (Closing) at 4pm
Thursday, November 21 includes an after-show dance party with Silent Shout’s DJ ARP 2600 – http://silentshout.ca/
Friday, November 22 includes an after-show dance party called “Much Ado About Mixing” with DJs Slamlet and Rockthello.

Where: 3030 Dundas West, in the Junction

Tickets: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday – $16, Thursday & Friday – $21 (including after-show dance party admission) http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html

Cirque is back – Amaluna hits TO

September 18th 2012

Interview by: Noah Vanderlaan

Stacy Clark worked in marketing and advertising, but somewhere in all that grown up career stuff discovered circus. She started flying trapeze with the Toronto School of Circus Arts in 1996 before founding her own troupe, High Strung. Yet there comes a time of transition in every acrobat’s life, and Stacy returned to her hometown of Montreal in 2006 to begin a career at Cirque Du Soleil. Amaluna, which premiered in Toronto two weeks ago, marks her shift from casting to acrobatic coaching. In the Green Room sat down with Stacy Clark to discuss how Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna presents a different spin on the traditional circus spectacle.

Coach Stacy Clark before Toronto premiere of Amaluna. Photo by Ben Freedman

NOAH VANDERLAAN: Amaluna is one of the first productions by Cirque du Soleil that really forefronts the role of women in the circus. What drove that decision?

STACY CLARK: Traditionally there have been more male circus artists and male acrobats, not only in Cirque but globally, particularly at the level that we’re looking for. A classic example might be a flying trapeze number, where you have several hotshot male flyers and a couple of beautiful girls who do lower level skills and sort of add a little bit of beauty and flare to the number, but they’re not necessarily delivering acrobatic caliber.

The intent behind Amaluna was to really turn the tables and try to pay tribute to the strength and skill of women, all of that of course put into the context of storytelling.

NV: Does this production possess the inherent potential to be a real game changer, in terms of equity, both for Cirque du Soleil and for circus troupes worldwide?

SC: Coming from a casting perspective, I regularly see certain disciplines as a breeding ground for more women than men or vice versa. What I think we’ve managed to do here is transcend the discipline and simply showcase powerful women with enormous talent, and that’s not just the acrobats, it extends to the musicians. It’s the first time we’ve had an all female band and they are rocking out with a power and aggression that is really noted by the public. People are responding to these talented four gals and their driving rock n’ roll sound. It’s again, another push in that direction.

NV: Are there particular segments of acrobatic choreography which you feel stand out?

SC: I’m a little biased, obviously, but I could probably highlight just about every act in the show. It was a very deliberate choice from the creative team to bring in the kinds of acts that we have, in order to showcase diversity and contrast, to find a great rhythm to the show so that we have the big acrobatic WOW and the more sublime still and enchanting numbers. For example the balance goddess takes you to a different place all together than the male teeter board number, which is all POW POW POW action acrobatics.

That said, the uneven bars act, performed by fiery Amazons, presents the strength and power of Amaluna. What we’ve done is taken a traditional Olympic discipline and put a Cirque du Soleil spin on it, creating new combinations and skills that aren’t done due to the confines of sport. Add in strong character development and choreography and the act transcends gymnastics and becomes circus.

Backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna. Photo by Ben Freedman

NV: I’m super stoked to check out this play.

SC: I think it’s interesting that you call it a play. That’s nice, it’s an element that the director is striving for, to bring a more theatrical bend to the presentation of what circus is traditionally know for, which is high level acrobatics. It’s kind of nice to have the reflection that maybe Amaluna presents a little more than what people have seen before.

NV: It does seem like a hybrid, and without giving much away incorporates Greek and Roman character references, and Shakespearian plot elements. What’s next, for the show and for you personally?

SC: We are here for 2 months before moving to Vancouver. For me personally, I’ve really enjoyed the transition from casting to coaching, and it’s still so new that I’ve got little ways to go yet. My perspective on the touring life is that it’s city by city; every city brings with it a whole new set of experiences and challenges.

NV: Any words of inspiration for someone who is looking to break into the circus community?

SC: Yes: follow your bliss. It’s really important to set your sights on what it is that you love the most. There’s no greater privilege than going to work every day in an environment that you love, surrounded by people that you want to be with. When you love your job it’s no longer a job in the traditional sense. For our artists, being and working here has been a dream of theirs for a very long time. To go back to my casting perspective a bit, Cirque du Soleil is absolutely accessible and available as a terrific career option, it’s a very special and unique organization and you just have to go for it.  It takes a lot of work. This is not easy, and everybody here works really really hard, but the privilege of being on stage and sharing what you love with the public is insurmountable.

Amaluna Runs from Sep 6  to Nov 4. $58.50-$158.50, stu/srs/child from $43.50. Grand Chapiteau Tent, Port Lands, Commissioners at Cherry. cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna