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Posts tagged ‘Theatre Arcturus’

A Chat with Lindsay Bellaire & Phillip Psutka of Theatre Arcturus on ROUGH MAGIC at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We were thrilled to see that Theatre Arcturus had another show in this year’s Fringe after being amazed by their awe-inspiring production of Weird last year. We spoke with Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka about their rigorous process of creation and training and why Rough Magic is a perfect story to explore right now.

MM: Tell us about your show.

Lindsay Bellaire: A collision of air and earth, Rough Magic creates a vertical world to tell the story of Ariel and Caliban in a newly imagined prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an aerial theatre piece: a play written in the style of Shakespeare (mostly in verse), with aerial silks and rope weaved into the world of the characters. Ariel, an airy free-spirited sprite, touches down and makes contact with a young Caliban, a ground-dwelling, god-worshipping mortal. Meeting between air and earth as two very different beings, they reach across the boundaries that make us fear the “other”, only to find themselves enslaved in the end, where the storm is conjured that begins The Tempest.

MM: What drives you to tell Shakespeare’s untold stories, the stories he only hints at in his texts?

Phillip Psutka: I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare and I enjoy the challenge of meticulously researching whichever play of his that I am going off of, while at the same time having to fill in the blanks of the story that I am trying to tell myself. Also, the heightened text is a natural blend with the aerial arts in that they are both larger than life, in a way. Hearing the poetic, image-based language, while simultaneously seeing the intense physicality of the characters take to the air on the apparatus creates a world for the play where one element helps the other out – I feel that the audience can buy into the sound of the verse in an original contemporary script because of the heightened physicality… literally.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: You say that, although this is an original script, it was researched meticulously through Shakespeare’s text and other source material. What was that research process like? Why was it so important to do this research and not just create from an idea?

PP: To start off, I read through The Tempest a number of times – mainly looking for clues to the back story of Ariel and Caliban. Once I had compiled all of the info on them that Shakespeare provides, I then went back through the script focusing on the characters themselves: how they react to certain situations; what kind of language and images they use; how much they speak in verse vs. prose and, when they switch from one to another, what triggers it. It’s like detective work and that’s part of the fun of it. Because I was using the Arden, I also pulled inspiration from one of the Appendices: Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos, which is where I took the idea of Caliban being religious. After I was through with the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of the script development, I outlined the entire show, filling in the blanks of what I wasn’t able to discover through the research before writing the first draft. I think it’s totally valid to create something completely original even if it’s based off of another work; I just enjoy the research part of it so much. More than anything, I like that idea that an audience could watch Rough Magic and then jump right into a production of The Tempest and it would be one continuous story, for Ariel and Caliban at least.

MM: You talk about telling the story of “the other” in your play. Why is that? What do you seek to say to your audience?

PP: That, even though we may live in our own worlds, it’s important to remember that others do as well, and we can never know everything that has shaped that person or being into what they are at this moment in time. I feel that the ongoing challenge of being human is to not make assumptions about others, to stop and listen before passing judgement on their situation. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying irrational and disrespectful things to someone else simply because I had the hangeries, and if it’s that easy to trigger a short response to a situation and shut another person out, I can only imagine what it must be like to try to work constructively with a leader that wants to build a wall between their country and yours and has decided that you are going to pay for it: end of story, not interested in your opinion. I believe that there is always more to learn about the human existence and the best way to learn is to listen before speaking, which is a quality I feel the world is lacking in at the moment. I can certainly do it better myself, but little reminders every now and then are helpful. I hope Rough Magic serves as one of those little reminders.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: I can tell from your press photos that this is a very physically demanding show. What is your rehearsal and training process like? What is your development process? How did you develop your show?

LB: The physical training for our shows is ongoing, even when not in rehearsals or a creation process. Outside of our theatrical productions, the aerialists in the shows are professional performers, training acts for events and teaching aerial classes – it’s not a skill that we learn specifically for the show. The physical training is 4-5 times a week, in 2-3 hour sessions, year-round (with some time taken off for rest and recovery, of course).

The scripts are written by Phillip, usually over an intense period of 2-4 weeks, then edited, read out loud, and edited further. Then the rehearsal process begins, where it becomes a collaboration between the director (whom, at this point, gets final say on all decisions), writer, actors, aerial and fight choreographers, and composer. This is actually a very small team, with the actors doubling up as chorographers and writer. Costumes and lighting are also designed somewhere in there!

For Rough Magic specifically, the script was written first, and the rigging designed to suit the story (the decision to use silks and a rope, and how they would be hung). We were lucky enough to be able to bring Kevin Hammond (former AD of the Humber River Shakespeare co.) on board as our director for a 5+ month development process. Because we were creating out of a studio space in Muskoka, our process for this show was unique in that Phillip and myself would do preliminary work on each scene, getting it on its feet using some basic exercises and following our instincts. Kevin would make a trip up for a weekend intensive every 3 weeks to further develop and sculpt each scene, offering invaluable insight and guidance into the text, and establishing the balance between air and ground work. Our Stage Manager, Lisa Sciannella, travelled up for the last few weekends of rehearsals to work on the sound cues. Her job entails knowing our choreography and some aerial vocabulary, as her sound cues are based on what we’re doing in the air. She’s also a constant safety for us, acting as an outside eye and responding to any little aches, bumps or bruises we inevitably sustain at various points throughout the process.

The music and costumes are also an important component. The music was composed by Rachel C Leger, and was created to suit the feel of the piece (nautical), with a flavour for each moment where music is used. The choreography was created separately, and married together in the last month of rehearsal. The costumes, designed by Lisa Magill (Toronto) were actually designed before most of the show was on its feet, in order to get promo shots long before opening.

MM: What would you like your audiences to know going in to see Rough Magic?

LB: You do not need to have a thorough understanding of The Tempest, or even Shakespeare in general, to follow the story. Although it is inspired by The Tempest, and based on clues from Shakespeare’s text, we purposely created a show that can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own story. For those audience members who have studied The Tempest, there is definitely an added layer.

Rough Magic

Who:
Company: Theatre Arcturus
Playwright/Creator: Phillip Psutka
Director Kevin Hammond
Cast: Lindsay Bellaire, Phillip Psutka
Choreographer: Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director: Phillip Psutka

What:
Set on a mystical island, ROUGH MAGIC follows the innocent beginnings and volatile consequences of a relationship between two unlikely beings: Ariel, an airy sprite; and Caliban, a ground-dwelling mortal. An intricate weaving of theatre, aerial work and music, the show confronts ideas of freedom and otherness through a story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

FROM THE CREATORS OF ‘WEIRD’
WINNER: Cutting-Edge Award (2016 Toronto Fringe)
(5 stars) “Absolutely exquisite and mind blowing in its execution.” – My Entertainment World
(NNNN) “One of the most memorable shows at the Fest.” – NOW Magazine

Where:
RANDOLPH THEATRE
736 Bathurst St, Toronto

When:
9th July – 8:45pm
11th July – 1:00pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:45pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @TheatreArcturus
f: /theatreacturus
i: @theatrearcturus

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

Interview by Madryn McCabe

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

MM: Tell me a little bit about Weïrd.

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

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

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

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

Weu00EFrd Totem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MM: So there’s no original text?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip: And everyone has endured the weather with us.

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

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

MM: How would you sum up Weïrd?

Linsday B: Sisterhood.

Polly: Collaboration.

Philip: Immersive.

Lindsay SE: Storytelling.

Weïrd

Presented by Theatre Arcturus

Weu00EFrd Poster Final Small

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

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

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

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

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