Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sweeney Todd & stage movement

So the show closed at the POW on Sunday. I've never been a fan of this musical, mostly because of the subject matter and the dissonance of the score. I sat through it once so I could see John Doyle's staging and how he used the actors as his orchestra as well. In the end, while it was definitely a bold move, I didn't feel it illuminated the text in any way, and in having the all actors on stage all the time being busy caused major problems in focusing the action. I know that was the major complaint from the audience. If you didn't know the story you were lost from the get-go. To me, that's not effective.

My biggest thrill on this show was getting to watch the work of Ben Eakeley as the Beadle. He moved across the stage with a cat-like grace, proudly owning his height, oozing confidence. My co-workers also all noticed him, talked about his strut, and used words like cocky and sexy to describe him. I personally because fascinated by the way he handled the business of pouring a bottle of wine and recapping the bottle. He also has a lovely voice with a great range but conversation always kept coming back to how he moved.

Watching an actor move with such precision has become something I've treasured ever since I saw Frank Theatre's Macbeth: Crown of Blood in Brisbane. Crown of Blood had many stunning elements in it. It used a Malaysian actor as the sub-conscious of Macbeth, thus having the soliloquies split, with half in English and half in Malaysian; as well as two Croatian actors playing the first two witches, who also spoke in their native language. There was a live drummer on stage accentuating the action. But the best thing of all was watching the power of the Suzuki-trained actors playing the leads: no wasted motions, completely grounded at all times. Here was a production that knew the power of stillness.

Since then, I've attended one of their training sessions thank to Frank's John Nobbs (who I still hope can be brought to Toronto to do a workshop). I've read Jacques Lecoq's The Moving Body, as well as seeing productions from students of his school. I did a workshop called The Dance of Thought with Orisel Gaspar Rojas, the artistic director of Teatro Vivo de Cuba. And I just celebrated my 10th anniversary of swing dancing.

So I know that this idea of controlled movement and contrasting stillness is something I will continue to explore as a director. It was wonderful to watch Ben illustrate the power of these ideas. And through a series of amazing events, I got the opportunity to tell him so.

I've seen some more great theatre lately and I hope I'll be able to post about them soon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More on Julius Caesar

I wrote some notes on the way home yet they didn't make it here. Since I've just run across them, I'd thought I'd include them.

One of the things I though was really well done was the relationship between Brutus and Cassius. In other productions I've seen, I've never felt that Cassius sees Brutus as anything more as a means to an end, which makes the camp scene deeply problematic. But here from the get go, I was able to see Cassius' underlying respect and could easily believe that as things turn against them he'd forge a deeper bond. His grief over Portia's death felt genuine.

I also fully felt Brutus' tragedy, especially when his strategies prove not as sound as he believed them to be. The strongest point was his oration to the crowd. For once I believed why he'd be considered crucial to the success of Caesar's elimination.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

East of Berlin and Julius Caesar

I've been having an ongoing discussion with a friend about audience expectations of theatre. He went to see We Will Rock You and was thrilled because it was fun. "People go to a show to have their burdens lifted, to belong to the audience and to share an experience."

I agreed that shared experience is the important element. But I believe that while audiences sometimes desire entertainment, sometimes they desire to be stimulated, to be challenged. I used East of Berlin as my example. The lead character is the son of a Nazi war criminal, and the play is his story. He is witty and funny, with a refreshing sense of candor and honesty. Coupled with incredible writing and two strong supporting characters, the play carries us along in our shared experience. The ending is not a happy one, yet audiences are walking out raving about the play. The entire run sold out a week after it opened and its remount next year has already been announced.

Does this sound like a dissatisfied audience? I don't think so.

I do want to touch upon one other thing about this show. Most of the influential reviewers thought the lead role was miscast, saying that Brendan Gall looked too contemporary for the play, which is set in the early 70s. I found Brendan wonderful. It's an incredibly tricky role and he navigated it beautifully. And as a resolute cross-caster, I take exception to the whole idea that someone has to have the right look for a role. To me, that's one of the things that distinguishes theatre from film and TV. I firmly believe that if you cast a good actor who has the right qualities for the role, the audience will forget the appearance within five minutes and commit themselves to the journey. The audiences for East of Berlin have been. It seems to me to be a generational thing, because I never hear these kind of complaints from my contemporaries, only from older theatregoers and makers. I would be happy to never hear talk of a look ever again.

I also went and saw Julius Caesar. The design blew my mind, especially the sound. Huge shout-out to the designers - fantastic work. The staging is bold, which I felt was the production's greatest strength. There's a definite unevenness amongst the actors, but I found Mark Antony, Portia, Cassius and Brutus to be the strong so it wasn't a major hindrance to the show.

The biggest problem I have is the overarching idea of showing a society with mob rule. The moments that the director, Anthony Furey, added in to fit the concept I found slowed the action down. Watching the mob run around screaming and killing people was uninteresting. The battle scenes went on way too long with the addition of a segment with Brutus facing the ghosts of his co-conspirators the most glaring problem. And the final image goes against the spirit of the play and does a 180 on Mark Antony that I feel sabatoges the character.

Despite this, it is a show worth catching. It's running until the end of this week.

In his director's notes, Anthony talks about minority governments being shackles for the passionate individual (although this section is strangely missing from the online version). I disagree. Historically in Canada, it has been with minority governments that the largest changes to our nation have occured. I believe that effective minority governments require passionate leadership. It is the passionate leader that has the power to change opinions. It is passion that sparks lasting action. And it is passion that makes life worth living.

One last comment. I'm relived that there is finally a change of government in Australia. It will be interesting to see what happens for the theatre community there now.

Friday, November 16, 2007

busy, busy

Yes, two weeks since a post. Sorry about that. Spending too much time travelling to and from work, working, and prepping for grad school. Yes, I've decided to do it.

There is a post pending to talk about the fabulous East of Berlin, which I saw last night. Hopefully it'll be up before the end of the weekend.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Drawer Boy

Was at the opening night of the Drawer Boy a week ago and I'm happy to say that the play is just as strong as when it was first written. Unlike too many other Canadian plays, the Drawer Boy has been produced many times all over the world. This production has cast the two older roles a decade younger and I felt it worked. We lost a bit of the passing of time but gained a little more dynamicism.

This is the beginning of Theatre Passe Muraille's 40th anniversary season. TPM is just getting out of a very bad financial shadow and I'm hoping this show does extremely well to get it back on its feet.

In other news, I've developed a fascination with David Tennant and I'm dying to see him on stage. He's doing Hamlet and Love's Labours Lost at the RSC next year and I'm going to see it. I'm brooking no argument.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons Learned

Mistakes I made on Kingship de Facto:

* Not hiring a set designer

I figured that since it was a basic set and wanting to up the profit participation for everyone involved, I thought I could get away without one. However, the show would have looked more unified; I would have had to really think about blocking in more detail before rehearsals began; and the designer could have taken care of the projections and props, saving a substantial portion of my time for other things.

* Not holding my ground

I gave in on some issues I really shouldn't have, issues that proved to be critical to the final product. It also dimished my standing with the actors, causing me to lose control of the process and contributing to the unsafe environment.

* Skimping on prep

I did do work on the text before rehearsals began but I didn't go as detailed as I could have, counting on doing that work in the rehearsal hall in collaboration with the actors. It ended up contributing to the giving in I've talked about above, and thus to the unsafe environment.

* Not holding open auditions

I really wanted for once to just work with people I handpicked, figuring I deserved it for once. But once my original choices turned me down, I should have gone through this route. Instead, my casting was really late and while I ended up with good actors, my conception of the characters had to undergo radical changes to accommodate them. In a general call, I may have found the qualities I was looking for.

* Not letting the actor walk

The actor who was in crisis had been thinking of leaving the show. In retrospect, since we ended up having a major disagreement in terms of the interpretation of the character, I should have let them go. If I had done the audition process above, I would have felt confident enough to find a replacement. As it was, I felt if anyone left at that point, the show would die. And so an uneasy peace prevailed and the rehearsal process was fatally poisoned. I've been reminded that sometimes shows just don't happen, and there is no shame in that.

The most consistent problem people had was with the script. However, I don't honestly know if things could have been done differently there. There was an understanding from the get-go that Adam wouldn't have the time to do a large-scale rewrite and the one area that Adam refused to budge on (the weakness of Lindsay's character) was the one area referred to time and time again as the biggest problem. We did make some changes that strengthened the script and if I had executed the things above, it would have alleviated a lot of the problems.

I still love the ideas that Adam presented and believe he had something important to say. I'd choose the script again.

I recently read How to Stage a Play, Make a Fortune, Win a Tony, and Become a Theatrical Icon and wish I had read it before I started the show. It probably has more resonance now, though. The title made me think it was more of a biography, but it's a small guide on the stages of making a show. What I really like about it is that the book is geared towards the psychology of dealing with the people involved in the process with you and how to handle certain situations and personalities. I highly recommend it as a good, easy read (complete with cartoons!) and as a reminder of the basics of the process.

A question I've been asked a lot later is, "What's next?" I don't honestly know. There's some traveling I want to do next year: to return to APAM and Magnetic North, and to see The Drowsy Chaperone in Chicago. I'm still going back and forth on the MFA in Directing thing. I discovered attempting to put together the 365 Days/365 Plays project that I'm not really interested in producing right now, although I did enjoy the challenge of conceiving how I would tackle just a different style of script. I helped out my friend Jean Bubba the storyteller with her recent performance of An Evening With John and found that satisfied my need to get back on the directing horse for a while.

So, I feel like being very taoist at the moment, doing the things I've feel motivated to do and dealing with personal discomfort as it comes up. I'm enjoying just getting to know myself better and truly appreciating the miracle of creation all around me. I'm a big believer in destiny and it's my hope that by getting myself out of the way, the doors will open to adventures I can't even fathom right now. I still believe the work that one big umbrella was formed to do is important and it is my hope that those doors will show me the way.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A quickie

Figured out what's been bothering me about CATS. The performers do the choreography but I get no sense that they understand it or are committed to it. They have no idea why they're raising their hand at one moment, or dancing in another. That's why it feels so weak and pales next to the 1989 production, which in my memory had it.

On another note, I've found a fantastic local theatre blog, Praxis Theatre. Especially check out their 10 Questions series, where they interview independent artists.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I only saw 20 minutes of this new touring production tonight and it was enough to tell me just how sad this production is. I saw Macavity and Mistoffelees and they felt very small, slow and weak. The choreography that should make Mistoffelees explode was nowhere to be found. The sultry feel of Macavity, ditto.

It made me long for the 1989 Canadian production, which I thought was at the Elgin but in fact (once I dug up my old programs) played Massey Hall. Just the list of people involved in that show is impressive - some of which were people I had seen a few years earlier gracing the stages at Canada's Wonderland, some at the beginning of amazing careers. Names that bring back memories: David Rogers, Gerald Michael McIsaac, Timothy French, Jay Turvey, Timothy J. Alex, Scott Bolton, Karen Egan, Adam Fleck, Martin Murphy, Gino Berti, Mira Caldare, Frances Chiappetta, Hallam Banfield, Lorena Mackenzie, Kiri-Lyn Muir, Blaine Parker and David W. Thompson as the Musical Director.

After tonight, I really wish there was a way to relive that production. Is it the mists of time that make that show seem so much larger in my mind?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Three Sisters & Triple Sensation

Went back to Soulpepper to see Three Sisters. Oddly enough, I have never seen this play on stage, although there have been many local productions throughout the years. I wasn't interested until now. The reason is that the adaptation was done by Nicholas Billon, a friend who is in the Soulpepper Academy, and I was interested to hear his work. Happily, I loved it. I felt the language just flowed - very contemporary yet still Chekhov.

I also was entranced by two performances - Megan Follows as Masha and Albert Schultz as Vershinin. They both held the stage whenever they were on it. Their characters are supposed to be drawn to each other because they're more vibrant than anyone else and it worked beautifully. I wonder if it was directed that way or happened because of the casting. All I know is that I felt most for the two of them.

Unfortunately I think there was a major miscast with d'bi.young.anitafrika, which is a shame because I've loved her in everything else I've seen her in. As Olga, she is the practical one, the one beaten down by life yet I just didn't feel it. I just didn't get that she was the one holding it all together. I can't explain why.

Been watching Triple Sensation and absolutely adoring it. I'm hanging on Adrian Noble's every word and it's a treat seeing Sergio Trujillo and Andrew Craig, who I knew back when I was much younger. (Although I feel really bad at some of the dialogue Andrew's had to spew.)

At one point Adrian Noble talks about the need for training, which is resonating right now. I've noticed that the people who have the jobs I want all have MFAs in directing. I can't help but wonder if that is something I should do, yet the idea of going back to school depresses me to no end. I want to be involved in the making of theatre, not studying it. And I love the networking I do, meeting artists, trying to matchmake them. Putting that on the back-burner is not something I'm interested in.

I've also been feeling a little wistful. Singing and dancing is something that's always appealed to me and I do get to do it sometimes when I get to a karaoke or swing night. But the musical theatre appealed to me when I was younger, before I started directing, and I'm now hearing its siren call again working at the POW. Not quite sure what to do about it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Drowsy Chaperone & Mary Stuart

Last night I saw The Drowsy Chaperone for the first time since the fringe production in 1999. I was told that this was how they had always wanted the show to be. It didn't disappoint. I found myself remembering the fringe cast as the characters were introduced at the top of the show, but the polish that has been added has helped it immensely. It was nice to see it on that scale, now really feels like a 1920s musical.

The performances were wonderful, even if I still have a huge problem with Aldolpho. I was really disappointed though, in the Show Off number. Having seen this number on the Tony awards, I expected it to feel bigger than it actually was. Guess that's the problem with expectations. What was really wonderful about the show was the joyousness infusing it - although I was surprised by the amount of bitterness the Man in Chair has at one point. It feels more pointed than I remember, which gives the show a bit of an edge.

Now having seen Bob Martin's acclaimed performance as Man in Chair, I'm dying to see Jonathan Crombie take on the role. He's currently playing it on Broadway and will take over from Bob when the tour moves to Cleveland.

Saw Mary Stuart tonight and thought it well done. Joe Ziegler did a good job directing it. My problem was that I wasn't feeling much sympathy for Mary and a ton of it for Elizabeth. This made it hard for me to just go along with what Schiller wanted to say. I had a huge problem with the whole "Mary is so beautiful and pure that every man falls in love with her" bit. (I'm guessing I've been forever tainted by Lana Lang in Smallville.) I also really love the Elizabeth/Leicester story and find it really romantic, which made it hard for me to believe that he'd ditch Elizabeth for Mary.

The program notes talk about Schiller's interest in "ethics, aesthetics and questions of human freedom", but I really couldn't go with him on that. So its power was greatly diminished for me. In a way, I'm thinking this is a case where my love of history was stronger than my love for theatre. But not all was lost. I fell in love with Stuart Hughes all over again.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Week of Art

Spent last week seeing a ton of things, spent this week recovering. I've seen Benevolence and Living Tall at Tarragon; April 14,1912 at the Studio Theatre at Harbourfront; a bunch of things at Nuit Blanche; and attended Word on the Street.

Benevolence had a weird ending that I didn't quite get, but being a Morris Panych play that's not a surprise. I enjoyed the roller-coaster ride. It was great to see Tom Rooney on a stage again and he was just as wonderful as he was in Oxford. It was great seeing Stephen Ouimette getting to play a shady character on stage again, as I've gotten tired of seeing him always play foppish roles and missed seeing the edge he had when I first fell in love with his work. The two of them together had a nice byplay. I also loved seeing Gina Wilkinson in her brief role onstage and it was nice to catch up with her and Tom afterward. The play is definitely worth seeing.

Living Tall started out with a great premise that I adored - the motivational speaker with his own system. Ker Wells does a fabulous job fleshing this guy out and it felt so true yet funny at the same time. The show runs into trouble when it starts to get serious, showing our host as losing it. I wasn't impressed with where the story went. So I ended up disappointed by it.

Which wasn't the case with April 14, 1912. I heard amazing things about the show and it lived up to all of them. I've always been fascinated with the wreck of the Titanic, and seeing this show prompted me back to internet research. (Conclusion? Since it's always been the photos of the ship on the ocean floor that appealed to me, I'm thinking it has something to do with revealing the hidden.) Glenn Sumi at Now sums up most of my thoughts in his review. But I will add that it was great to see Patrick Conner on stage again - I think he's really fantastic.

With Nuit Blanche, a lot of it was disappointing. Others have said the same thing. But there were a few standouts.

The best was Bird's Eye View, which took place at the Casa Loma stables. 6 solo dancers, one in each of the stalls, performed every half-hour for about 5 minutes (the dancers rotated over a 2-hour period) their interpretation of being caged. Some took on animal forms, others as prisoners. It was fascinating. As you left the room, you walked through a dry-ice waterfall on which was projected an image of two girls in white gowns, leaving you with the feeling of being watched by ghosts. You were then directed into the carriage room, where 6 dancers in white were moving in synchronistic motion, the movement being improvised and changing depending on how the group moved. You were invited to participate and it was a lot harder than it looked - and I'm pretty good at picking up choreography. As we left, we could see video images being projected on the upper windows, looking like dancers preparing to perform. Just a fantastic, whole experience. Sadly, it was the first thing I saw so it was all downhill from there.

The other stuff I really loved were all at U of T. Hart House was turned into Nightschool, the highlight being Slow Dances with Teachers, by Darren O'Donnell (who I've mentioned before), which was a wonderfully whacked idea of getting teachers to dance with anyone who they wanted to in the Great Hall, a chance to "do what you dreamed about". Other people were slow dancing too, and it was just really cool. It was surreal for me, considering I rehearsed A Man for All Seasons in the same space.

In Event Horizon, an area of King's College Circle was blocked off with big searchlights and flashing lights. As you got closer, you see it's the site of a disaster, with an area being blocked off and people in radiation suits scanning a wreckage of an unusual ship, which had smoke pouring out of it. Off to the side, a projection screen ran images from Cosmos while eerie sounds filled the night. And in a tent, you can see what was described as "miraculous". My companion for the evening found it disturbing, I found it hilarious. Against a circular backdrop of symbols from all the major religions, ET was sitting in the famous "pieta" pose, with Yoda draped across his lap. ET's glowing finger moved to touch Yoda's forehead. And yes, there were menorahs on either side of him, as well as a white pillar candle. I thought the whole mix of realism and absurdity brilliant.

For a little bit of simple magic, that would have been A String of Diamonds. LED Christmas lights on a wire, held aloft by balloons, or strung like an archway. In the darkness, they were just beautiful.

There were other interesting things. Seeing kids in a strip joint, sitting in loser's row, watching a guy do a balloon act may have been the most surreal thing of the night. Or was it people pressing in for a piece of a chocolate stag? Saw some interesting fashion designs. And the Florescent Dome was another simple yet beautiful idea.

Actually, I applaud the Bloor Nightlife project because I found out from a friend it was all about reclaiming the neighbourhood. When we were there we saw a lot of families doing discovery, which was cool to see. You could tell the experience was new to them. Unfortunately, I was told it was a ghost town by 10pm, which is sad.

And I happened to have brought my signed baseball and ended up contributing a photo of it and its story to the Public Trust project at the reference library. (Hopefully it will be posted soon.)

Big lesson learned - go see the off-the-beaten-path stuff early and hit the high-traffic areas in the wee hours of the morning. A lot of the remoter projects were shut down by 2 or 3 but it was lot easier to get around the core at 5 am.

As for Word on the Street, I was excited to see my friend Jessica Westhead launch her first novel, Pulpy and Midge. The absolutely brilliant thing she did was have a slide-show-like presentation after her reading, summarizing some of the action in a hilarious way. Since the book's main action takes place in an office, it fit wonderfully well. I also got to see some of Tapestry's Opera Briefs. Attendance appeared to be down - I think Nuit Blanche hurt it. It would be better if they were on separate weekends. Couldn't Nuit Blanche bump up a week?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Focus and Dedication

I've just returned from meeting Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher extraordinaire. This has been a dream of mine for a while now and I'm almost jumping out of my chair.

But wait, I can hear you say. He's a baseball player. What does he have to do with the arts?

Well, athletes and artists have a great deal in common. Both are asked to make huge sacrifices to follow their profession. Most athletes make very little income and need another job, as do most other artists. Both groups need a lot of study and practice to hone their skills. Both need to make their work fit in with the work of the team. And both need to have incredible drive to succeed.

I really love what this article says in the second half. You get a real sense of the man and where his priorities lie. The owner of the store who did the signing today told me that he didn't care about how much the autographs cost (that was negotiated by his agent) but only wanted to talk about how the store was partnering with his charity. And he was incredible with everyone who wanted his autograph - spending time with them when they wanted it, being encouraging with the kids.

In the intervening time since Summerworks, I have watched the way he pitches. When he's on, it's poetry. What really sticks with me is the way he focuses on what needs to be done. He allows himself to get angry when things don't go his way, but almost always he expresses it then shakes it off and gets right back at it. That's a valuable skill for anyone.

I asked him to sign a baseball, along with one word that summed up success for him. He wrote dedication. That's something I'm going to have staring at me every morning to remind me what I need to do.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Odds and Ends

Tomorrow High School Musical closes at the theatre, so I'm sharing other things I've noticed during the run.

*Get'cha Head in the Game becomes more brilliant every time I watch it. The number is so intricate, the timing so precise, it blows my mind. I found out that the basketball sounds come off a synthesizer, which just makes the soundscape even more amazing. And I didn't mention before just how fantastic John Jeffrey Martin is in the number. He manages the switches from team leader to lovesick boy and back effortlessly. I just love how he delivers the lines when he's trying to shake himself out of it, and his dancing is even more impressive because he's singing his way through it.

So, so going to miss watching it. Hopefully The Mouse will be smart and record this show. I'd buy it.

*Ron Bohmer, who plays Coach Bolton, has been in Toronto before, playing Alex in Aspects of Love. In one of those amazing quirks of fate, I ushered that show at the Elgin Theatre - and thought it was one of the biggest pieces of crap I had ever seen. (Nothing to do with the actors or the director, Robin Phillips, who did the best they could with it. I honestly don't know what Andrew Lloyd Webber was smoking when he came up with that one.)

What is really weird is that for some reason I have the glossy program from the show and not the free program we handed out each night, something I can't conceive of paying money for. Obviously the universe wanted me to have it available now. It was fun showing it to him tonight and talking about that show, 16 years later. Now I have to keep my promise to stage management and have them pass the program around backstage tomorrow.

*Love the variety of styles of performers spoofed in the audition number. I especially love the dancer who strictly does Fosse moves throughout.

*Slow-mo is so cliched on film now, but can still be incredibly effective on stage. That's the case here, where a basketball is moved on a stick by a referee to create the climax of the show - the scoring of the basket that wins the championship. By using the basketball as a puppet, with the spot following the ball itself, the moment has much more impact - even if people laugh as it first starts. And again, the choreography is exquisite.

*Noticed a lot of the choreography in the second half involves bouncing. While I'm not a fan of the look, I understand the reasoning - to raise the energy and build to the finale, which it does quite effectively.

*While not a big fan of the songs he wrote for the show, I have to say that I'm incredibly impressed by the musical arrangement Bryan Louiselle has done. I love the choices he made for the music that moves us from scene to scene.

*The biggest problem I have with the show is that the scenes where the drama teacher and the coach are alone on stage together are filled with very pointless movement. They keep backing away and moving back and forth where it makes no sense intention-wise. It drives me crazy.

*My co-workers are really enjoying the show. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people bopping around during the end of the second half, both inside and out of the house. And we all agree that Get'cha Head in the Game is a masterpiece. The energy at work has been so high, it's been really good for us - especially after having lived through 5 months of Phantom of the Opera.

*It's also been really wonderful to watch the audiences. I've seen some amazing outfits/costumes being worn by some of the children. I've seen probably every bit of HSM merchandise under the sun. And their anticipation and excitement has been highly contagious so that despite all the challenges we've had this show accommodating them, it's been a lot of fun.

*One of the leads, Arielle Jacobs, is keeping a fantastic blog that is worth checking out.

*In the end, I liked the work the cast is doing, and all the people I've met connected with the show have been welcoming and I'm glad our paths crossed, however briefly.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Theatre as Memory

Recently I was told of a lead in a musical who snubbed the young fans waiting for him after the show. The person telling this story was deeply outraged, claiming she'd be so grateful to be in that position she'd do anything they asked of her.

Now, I think there's a definite danger of being used by a large production company who plays on your desperation and gratitude, and I hope she never finds herself in that position. Yet I can't disagree with her main point. Blowing off fans at stage door isn't cool.

Which led me to wonder - why do I think like that? After all, our responsibility as artists is to the work. We can't control how an audience is going to react. And there is certainly an epidemic of encroachment into the private lives of actors. (A friend of mine who was a lead in a very popular TV movie has told me tales that are shocking.) In the end, the actor is performing a role, a role that ends when the performance is over.

So why do I have a problem with what that actor did?

I've determined that for me, it comes down to theatre existing as memory. Unlike other media, our work only lives on in the memory of those who were there. So what we really do is make memories.

Why do we make art? My answer is to touch lives through a transcendent experience. That experience for the audience is not just the performance itself, but the environment immediately before and after. And one of the common threads of humanity is the need to be acknowledged and treated with respect. This is why it is so important to take care of our audience's needs as much as we can. One could have the most amazing experience of the performance only to have it tainted by a perceived experience of disrespect. Sadly, most of us remember the negative over the positive.

Theatre, in the end, is a communal experience. And that means honouring all responses. And if the response is wanting to meet an actor who's work has touched you, enough that you'll make the effort to stand by a stage door, then I feel that respect needs to be paid.

It takes guts to hang out at a stage door waiting to meet a stranger. I believe we need to support this courage. IMO, the biggest failing we have as a society is that we discourage risk. Too many people sit on the sidelines, unwilling or afraid to go after what they want. Yet it's the risk-takers that create value in society. As artists, our lives are all about taking risks and I believe our biggest contribution to society is to serve as an example to others, to inspire them to do the same. This is how we better our world.

On a slightly more prosaic note, I don't know of any artist who doesn't have a story about meeting an artist in their formative years that inspired them. That person waiting at the stage door could be a great artist of their generation if they get the encouragement. We have a responsibility to develop and nurture the next generation of artists to ensure the future of our art. And it could just be a few kind words at stage door that does it.

On an even more prosaic note, it's a good career move. Almost everyone who has been in the business a long time makes a point of meeting the fans. They know that people remember the personal touch, the feeling of brief connection, and that will turn their casual support into following and supporting their future work. It's that future support that helps prolong a career.

All of which ties back to theatre as memory, and the importance of creating good memories. It's a responsibility I feel we all have to our audiences. And in the end, it's a few moments out of our time that creates so much positive, creative energy. So why not do it?

The Whitlams with Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Tim Freedman has been a huge influence on me, so talking about his work was bound to happen eventually.

The Whitlams are an incredibly successful Australian band. Over the years, Tim has forged connections with the Australian classical community, leading to shows where their music is performed with orchestral arrangements. This fall they're doing another tour with orchestras across Australia. This clip is from a recent rehearsal, playing their breakthrough, and still most famous, song, No Aphrodisiac. Watching this just jazzes me right up.

I do have one question, though. Tim, what's with the poofy hair?

Monday, September 17, 2007


I'm working on a post now, but had to post this link. It's a fascinating article about media concentration and the validity of non-mainstream work. Long, but worth it.

Friday, September 14, 2007


May be the soul of wit but seems to be hard to find for bloggers. Well, for me, anyway. And with a very busy weekend coming up, all my great ideas for entries shall have to wait until Monday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


After talking about High School Musical, my thoughts have gone to the last show at the Princess of Wales, Phantom of the Opera. I had plenty of time to formulate thoughts on the show since I worked it for ten weeks. I hadn't liked it when I saw it back in 1989 and I still didn't think much of it, although I do like some of the music. However, the cast were superb and acting the crap out of it. Most of them were constantly trying new things to make it more real and resonant.

One of my biggest problems with the show is that I have no sympathy for the Phantom, and very little patience with people who go on about how Christine should have went with him. No, she shouldn't. He was a cold-blooded murderer, terrorist and extortionist. I don't care how bad his life was. He always had a choice. I hate how the show tries to manipulate me to feel sorry for him. I'm immune.

I also really don't care for Christine. I couldn't quite figure it out for the longest time because she feels really weak and yet she shows a spine of steel through a lot of the play. Considering the Phantom played on her grief for her father to manipulate himself into her life, her confusion is understandable. I don't for one minute believe she is sexually attracted to the Phantom. What I see is that he speaks to the artist in her and inspires her to reach for her highest self, but does it as a father figure. So any thought of sexual attraction feels false to me, although I know that's exactly what Hal Prince was going for (look at the design of the false proscenium to get proof).

Then someone pointed it out. She never tells either man she loves them, although she obviously loves both. They make big declarations of love and she just accepts it, not really giving of herself in return. She just exists, really. I don't feel I know her as a person at all and because of that, I don't really care what happens to her.

Yet from the very beginning I've been madly in love with Raoul. It wasn't until this production that I finally got to see him played as the man of action I've always instinctually felt he was. I see so much to admire in him. He's the one who, once he's convinced the Phantom is real, steps up and takes action to end his reign of terror. He's the one who is honest with Christine and loves her for who she really is, not as an object or a voice. (My proof of this is that the play establishes that they spent a lot of time together as teenagers.) The first chance he gets, he takes the risk and tells her he loves her. He's the one willing to sacrifice his own life for her freedom.

How can one not love a character like this?

I was lucky in that both men who played Raoul during the run, Michael Gillis and Greg Mills, were willing to listen to my thoughts on the character. A little cheeky? Maybe, but I care so much about Raoul that I wanted to see him done justice. Michael had the character down (a sanity-saving thing for me) but he actually took my notes and experimented with them, something that was thrilling and gratifying to me. Greg had only played it for two weeks when the show left Toronto but I could see him growing into the character as he spent more time playing him.

I'm going to share the contents of an email I sent Michael about the character. I've added some notes in brackets to clarify where in the show I'm talking about for those who don't know it intimately.

My thoughts on Raoul:

His keywords - command, power, control, love and compassion

IIRC, in post-revolutionary France, men who had titles acquired them through having money and/or power. Raoul would have been brought up with always having his word obeyed without question, except by his parents. The nobility motto is never let them see you sweat. Leave the ranting to the Phantom, petulant child that he is. Raoul is ALWAYS the better man. He should be passionate, determined and focused in his dealings with all things Phantom.

With Christine, he is always loving and compassionate. "Where is your red scarf?" (and the next two lines when he first visits her in her dressing room), I think plays best with teasing affection. Put to lie the Phantom's line "he was bound to love her when he heard her sing" (said in the end of act one) - he's an unreliable narrator and we shouldn't take his word for it. After all, why else would a 14-year-old boy jump into the sea to get a girl's scarf? He had to have a thing for her from way back. And the more compassionate he is with her in her fearful moments on the rooftop (All I Ask of You) and "twisted every way"(during the second notes scene in act two), the more resonance the "show some compassion" line has.

"The disaster will be yours!" (The end of the second notes scene in act two.) Yes, he's pissed - he sees the woman he loves in utter terror, the theatre he's aligned himself with under siege - but this is a threat and a promise. It needs to be controlled anger. The audience should feel his leash. It makes Raoul that much more of a threat. Isn't it more terrifying when someone has his anger barely under his control instead of venting it?

"Show some compassion!" (When Raoul is against the fence, trying to get into the Phantom's lair near the end of the play.) This line works better as passionate, not angry. At this point he's scared, worried (about) what has happened to Christine, probably angry at himself for not keeping his word and protecting her. All these notes should be there, with his fear for Christine the overriding concern.
One thing I did note later on when Greg took on the role is that if Raoul is completely focused on Christine to the exclusion of all else, it ends up making Raoul weak. Greg made a completely legitimate choice when he first started playing the character that way - after all, Raoul's main function is as the romantic interest. It made the notes/Prima Donna section really interesting but it really diminished his impact in the second act. Raoul's the patron, the leader, and there needs to be hints of that persona from the very beginning. Greg realized that as well and was integrating that side of the character when the show left.

I could go on, but it's now very late. (Why is the time stamp off? It's almost 2am.) I didn't think I'd write this much. Just goes to show that when I get on something I care about, it's very hard to shut me up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lab Cab

Sunday afternoon between shows, I madly rushed over to Factory Theatre to take in a bit of the second annual Lab Cab Festival. The multi-disciplinary festival takes place over two days in every nook and cranny of the theatre property, with all events free. It's definitely inspired by Tarragon Theatre's Spring Arts Fair, which I believe is now dead, leaving its offspring to carry on. Lab Cab started out as a monthly cabaret format but migrated to the weekend format last year and it works really well. It's a wonderful place for people to test out short works.

Since I had about 40 minutes, I didn't think I'd have time to catch anything but the art installations and catch up with some people but I did manage to see two pieces: one of the Critic Series, created by Belltower Theatre and performed in the Green Room; and Binder Twine, a wild west dance piece by Company Blonde Dance Projects, performed in the Parking Lot - they were kicking up some gravel near the end. Very different but both wonderful.

I also had a chance to talk to Jon Kaplan. What was nice was that I had no problems talking to him now. I guess enough time has passed. I thanked him for providing me with additional feedback by answering the email I had sent him about his review of Kingship de Facto. He told me that it had been a good learning experience for him too, since he'd never been asked for feedback in the way I did and that it was nice to be able to expand past the 75 words he's allowed in his reviews. So all is well and it feels really good.

I came back to work exhilarated, both by the work and seeing some of my colleagues. It was a mad rush (and I had to postpone dinner until my break later on) but totally worth it.

On another note, in talking about High School Musical yesterday, I forgot to give props to the director, Jeff Calhoun. I found out from this blog that it was his idea to structure the number to provide more narrative. Honestly, as a fellow director, I should know better.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Hello my faithful readers (I know there's at least one of you). After some R&R, I'm ready to come back and talk about interesting things. I've had one topic request and I will get to it...just not today.

My paying gig these days is working at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. Currently the show playing is High School Musical. I was dreading this show but to my surprise it's actually quite good. I should know better by now - Disney is actually quite innovative in making stage versions of their products. But I really was sick of hearing everyone gush about how great it was that this show was bringing a new audience to the theatre.

A friend described the movie version as "Grease for a new generation" and the show's premise is an outright steal from that show: couple meet on vacation, she transfers in to his school without knowing it, he's the king of the school and she's the brainy type finding her way. From there it turns into a surprising commentary on being true to yourself and your dreams, a complete flip from Grease where the couple each participate in the other's world in the hopes of impressing and belonging.

What is really blowing my mind is one number in particular called Get'cha Head in the Game. Until I was prepping for this entry I hadn't seen another version of it. YouTube has an out-of-focus film version - I'm amazed The Mouse hasn't stamped all over it. You'll find an audio clip of the stage version if you click on the link above but it doesn't sound the same. (I'm guessing it's from the original Atlanta version and was massaged for the tour.) Neither version in my mind touches what I'm seeing on stage every night.

The song is set in basketball practice and starts off with an echo from one bouncing ball. Another bounce is added, then the sound of squeaking shoes on the court. With these everyday sounds as a base, the music is added in. The choreography (huge props to Lisa Stevens - she's Canadian!) uses a combination of basketball and hip-hop moves, with basketballs being moved around the stage while acro and breaking adds extra visual excitement. If you go to Show Reels on Lisa's site (have I mentioned how much I hate all-Flash sites?), the first number on the reel is this beginning minus the initial audio build.

The song is about the boy deciding to go for both auditioning for the school musical and asking the girl out. Twice during the song his mind leaves the practice and goes elsewhere. This is achieved by changing the lighting to an almost dark stage with a couple of spots and having the chorus of players massed in a tight group as backup singers. They get in that position from their practice moves in an incredibly organic way. It effectively sets up visually the conflict in his head. You can see what it looks like if you go to Lisa's site and click on News, it's the pic on the right at the bottom.

When the song hits the climax, basketballs are dropped from the grid for a visual and auditory punctuation that raises the song even higher and now with every person on the stage with a ball it sets up a fascinating dynamic where balls are passed back and forth or used as props in the dance. The group is so tight that when a ball gets away from one performer, the person who gets it handles it so smoothly to return it that you wouldn't even notice if you weren't looking for it.

The rest of the show is fine (have I mentioned the choreography rocks?), but this number is the one I sneak into the house every night to watch, and will be what I will remember and miss about this show when it is gone.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aussies in Cyberspace

Read this article in today's Australian. It seems the Aussie theatre companies have discovered MySpace. When we got on it over a year ago, I did an extensive search for the companies I had met during APAM in 2004 and couldn't find any. Mostly we found other Toronto-based companies.

I had been getting the occasional request in the last few months from some independent Aussie companies but hadn't thought much of it. The article surprised me. I've spent some time today friending the companies I've found and subscribing to their blogs, which will help me keep in better contact with what they're doing.

The funniest thing was reading in the article about the debate to get onto Facebook. We had the same debate back in the spring and I remember my response was, "yet somewhere else I've got to spend time at?" Yet Facebook has proved to be invaluable. The event function is a godsend - we were able to invite over 1000 people to Kingship de Facto using it. The Toronto community has pretty much abandoned MySpace for it. So hate to break it to my Australian colleagues but yes, you will. And you won't regret it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Now what?

I've been trying to think of an interesting topic for days but have come up with a big blank. So instead I'm going to link to a few art blogs I find interesting.

The first is for actor Allison Mack, known for her work on Smallville. Her blog is honest and thought-provoking, something I've tried to strive for here. She takes a quote and then posts her thoughts on it, showing more introspection than most actors would. A lot of the comments are quite thoughtful as well.

The Wrecking Ball is a Toronto-based collection of theatre artists who believe there needs to be more political discourse in theatre. They post anything that is political-theatre related.

Darren O'Donnell has had many different blogs ruminating on theatre as it relates to community. I will admit that most of the time Darren's thoughts are way too dense for me, but I applaud his commitment to exploring the questions.

Along those lines, although it's a discussion board and not a blog, is Not Quite, A Think Tank hosted by Small Wooden Shoe. Again I find myself getting lost but am glad I can wade into the deep end on occasion.

Feel free to post other links in the comments.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kingship wrap up

A friend of mine who came to the final performance has blogged her thoughts about the show. I also heard back from Jon Kaplan, going into more detail about how he saw the show. Another friend has also talked at length about his problems with the show. It's all been very helpful.

At the closing party, there were a few people reminding me that in the end, I had to say what I wanted to say. That I was not doing it for other people's approval. That it was an achievement to just be there. All of which also made me feel better. They also bought me drinks. :)

Now that I'm getting some distance, I can see that one of the main lessons for me is to somehow find a way to be personally connected to the work without having my ego tied into it, to find detachment. On a metaphysical level, I brought my own worst nightmare on myself and got through it. Which may have been something I needed to go through to grow.

So what's next?

Well, I'm going to keep blogging, although the nature of this blog is going to change. I'll be talking more about work I've seen and will be linking to interesting articles elsewhere.

I'm also scheduled to be part of the 365 Days/365 Plays project. Most likely I'll have to do it as an independent artist as it doesn't really fit with one big umbrella's mandate. But I'm looking forward to doing it - really low stress, community-based, working with people I like, just discovering the joys of directing again.

And we're doing a postmortem on this show and deciding where we're going for future projects. That's enough to keep me busy for a while.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The End

It was raining as I headed out to the theatre. I thought, "as if we aren't having enough problems getting an audience." And of course it had stopped by the time the show was over, which helped having people hanging around waiting for us during the strike.

So the show is now closed. I'm so glad that we rented the set pieces from Tarragon. It made load out so much easier. I get to run around tomorrow returning the projector, screen and prop gun that we rented and then all is done.

Today's show was great. I'm sure it helped that some of my closest friends were in the audience and liked it. They can't believe it got reviewed the way it did. My parents also came and they were still speaking to me, so that's something too. Keira, the artistic producer of Summerworks, also saw it and congratulated me on it. So I'm feeling better about it and I welcome celebrating at the closing party.

The difference a day makes

Friday's show was off. I was watching it like I was watching a runaway freight train going off the rails and there wasn't a damn thing I can do about it. If this had been the show that had been reviewed, I would have agreed with the assessment.about its pacing. They were rushing. I barely heard any of the pauses in the script and those I did hear were way too short. There wasn't space to breathe and it seemed to all operate at the same level. Sometimes they weren't listening to each other and were jumping on each other's lines

Turns out the cast knew it was off too. We were all kind of bummed about it. The people who saw the show didn't notice anything was off, but we sure did.

Then to compound things, I went and saw Jasmine Saturday afternoon before our show. How I felt watching it was exactly why I hadn't wanted to see anything all week. It flowed and it looked visually beautiful. I really made a mistake in not getting a set designer on the show, because I looked at it and that was what I wanted Kingship to be. It was very depressing. Luckily, I knew some of the people involved in the show and talking to them afterward, I couldn't help but feel good about what they achieved. I'm not begrudging anyone their success. I just wanted to be among them.

Saturday's show, on the other hand, was exactly what I wanted to see. This was the one that got taped and I'm glad. The pacing was where it should be and they had pitched it a little lower, which gave it more shading and made it easier for the audience to listen. I was extremely happy with the show.

Sadly, it was also the smallest house we've had. Everyone else's houses are growing and ours aren't, which I think we can trace back to the review and to the word of mouth among my colleagues. I'm discovering there are two responses to the show. One group just adores it and wants to talk about the ideas it brings up. The other really don't like the script and as a result hated the show.

A lot of my colleagues are in the latter camp. Thankfully, not all, but I do wonder what the fallout is going to be on my career because of this. Will people just dismiss me as someone with no talent? Will people stop being supportive? How much harder is it going to be to get future projects up? I'd like to think that there'd be nothing but positive impact from this, but right now it's so hard to tell.

One more show now. I really hope we get a lot of people out for this one because Kent is in danger of losing money off of this show and I'd really hate for that to happen. I also want the actors to see some money, although that's a real long-shot at this point. It would be great to have a miracle, though.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


So I woke up this morning finally accepting enough to ask myself, "what can I learn and how can I grow from this experience?" The answer was fairly simple - ask my peers who have seen the show for honest feedback. I even asked the reviewer. (I finally read the review tonight. I disagree with his assessment but it's a fair opinion. I expected nothing less.)

So far the feedback has been surprising. Most of the issues have to do with the script, almost nothing to do with my directing. Which I guess goes to show how personally I was taking it. I now have a sense of detachment about it, which feels really nice.

Tonight's show was the best yet. The cast has found its groove. And there were a lot of friends tonight in the audience - Soheil Parsa from Modern Times Stage Company, Anton Piatigorsky, who wrote Kabbalistic, my brother, some friends who have supported my work in the past, and others who I wanted to see my work. We even had a return viewer. Their response was gratifying to see.

I still believe in this show and it's doing what I had intended for it - to spark discussion. If I get my own professional goals out of the way, the show is a success. And I hope more people will see it before it closes this weekend. Still three shows to go!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Interview

This morning I was reminded of a story I read in a Harvey Mackay book - I don't remember which one. A head of a division that just had a disastrous product launch gets called into the office of his CEO. Expecting to be fired, to his surprise he gets handed another product to roll out. He asks why after all that happened he's being entrusted with this. The CEO replied, "We just spent millions on your education. I can't wait to see what you're going to do next."

Good lesson to keep in mind. I have learned an awful lot doing this show. The education continued today when I arrived at early to find that the guest before me did not show. They offered to put me on early but I turned it down knowing that people were going to tune in at 1:30. As it turned out, the previous guest got an extra half-hour and I ran out of time before getting a chance to talk about the company and about my experience blogging. Lesson? Don't turn down an opportunity.

The interview is being rebroadcast this evening at 11:30pm and we'll have a copy of it available on the website soon. I had a great time doing it and they've told me to come back to them the next time there is a project going on.

Tonight I have to do some adjustments to the timings of the slides. I then plan on curling up with a good book and just let the world while itself away for a while.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Crisis of Faith

I found myself being nervous before today's show as well. I realized it's because my peers are coming to see the show and I really want them to believe that I belong in their company. I was really hoping this show would be a showcase for my talent. And yes, I'm deeply unhappy with how the rehearsal process went and feel that I failed in many ways, but the end result is good as far as I'm concerned.

So why did we get a bad review? I've only been told about it. I can't bear to look. Sedina says it's BS and we will continue to go forward. And that makes sense. The feedback I've been getting from the audience has been really favourable. They're recommending it to their friends. People have told me it's good and I've done a good job. On the flip side, the reviewer is someone I deeply respect, and there's my own self-doubts.

We really needed a good review, both to help our houses and for our next round of grant applications, so this is a huge setback. Needless to say, I'm very down about things at the moment and can't bear the thought of going to see other shows. Hopefully this is all just a dark night of the soul and I'll feel much better when tomorrow comes.

Opening Night

For the first time I truly understood why a lot of directors go out and get drunk on opening night. I really didn't want to watch the show, which is something I had never experienced before. I wasn't worried about the actors. I was worried about how it was going to be received. Would it be considered at the same level as the other work? Would people not find it as interesting as I? Would it be the success we all hoped it would be? Would there even be an audience? Those questions preyed on me the whole day.

More than at any time I can remember, I would have killed to have had someone standing beside me, holding my hand, just being silent support. That's not to say that people weren't supportive - everyone was. But it's just not the same as having someone intimate say the same thing. At the launch party the other night, I met the boyfriend of one of the other directors. He introduced himself as nobody important. I told him not to underestimate the importance of his role. And I envied her.

I did end up in the show. Just coming out of the show in the Extra Space was Daryl Cloran, a director I greatly respect. He encouraged me to go in and reminded me, "it is just Summerworks". For him, maybe, but for me, this is the highest profile thing I've ever done. He did tell me that I would regret not being in there and that I would be alright. And I was when the audience started laughing. In fact, they laughed a lot more than I had expected. We didn't do a lot of laughing at rehearsal and I was worried that we ran right over the humour. But it was there, the audience responded, and all was right.

There's also some good word of mouth that the team heard after the show, which bodes well. We don't any stars so we're in an uphill battle for an audience. Word of mouth and our email blasts are the two best tools we have. On that note, I'm going to interviewed on on Tuesday at 1:30pm EDT, for about 20 minutes. I've never done an interview that long before. It's supposed to cover both this show and the company, and we hope it will give us some good sound clips we can use later. I have no idea what kind of audience they have but any publicity is good for us.

Also rare for me was wanting to seriously drink. I wish I had before the show and was desperate for one afterward. I didn't end up overdoing it though, which was a good thing. After all, we have another show today and I need to do some tweaks on the slides. Yes, I did want the multimedia, although it has been a complete pain in the butt. I have no one to blame but myself.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Final Rehearsal

We ran through the show this afternoon and it was everything I hoped for. The cuts we implemented gave us the extra time we needed and I didn't feel like anything was missing. Some of the lines were ones that just didn't sound right to me, some were ones that Adam and I had tabled back in May, and two beats were taken out that didn't really add much to the story. I'm very happy with it.

And the performances! They were still losing the occasional line and sometimes got a little lost, which is easy to do because there is a lot of similar lines in the text, but they had the rhythms and the connections down. They were engaging with each other, which was a beautiful thing to see. They're ready to go on.

Still some things to finish with the projections that are causing me some stress. I just have to remind myself that I wanted to experiment with this and that it will all work out in the end. It always does.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Our first run back after taking the weekend off was wonderful. If that's the level of performance we get on opening night, I'll be very happy. Sadly, the next run had lost that sense of discovery and adventure and got mired down in worrying about lines. They know them better than they think they do. They just have to trust Adam and themselves. Hopefully the last two rehearsals will do that for them.

I love the people at Tarragon. Yesterday's tech could have been a disaster but Chris, Gavin and Shauna (I hope I'm spelling that right) went way beyond the call of duty to make the projection element happen. The biggest shift is that I had originally expected to project all along the back wall and I've ended up with a 5' by 4' screen. It fits though, as the design has become more anachronistic as befitting its original inspiration, the Max Headroom television series. John Rudge also found the Max Headroom theme music and to hear it for the first time in almost 20 years - well, it gave me goosebumps.

The only downside? We're a few minutes over and will have to make cuts. Wish Adam was around to touch base with. I can only hope the cuts I make will be ones he agrees with.

I wasn't up for it originally but after a nap I attended the launch party last night. It was really nice to touch base with other people who are going through the same thing. And I got a free drink! Always a good thing.

I'm glad we still have a few days, though. I keep thinking of all the things that need to get done yet. Can't even imagine opening.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Can someone tell me how a computer is unable to find the mailboxes that are sitting right where they always were? And how it can lose the outgoing serving settings so that I can't send any messages? And why it takes 10 hours to attempt to fix it and you still get nowhere?

Saturday, July 28, 2007


At the end of the day yesterday, I felt like Crash Davis from Bull Durham. "Don't think. It will only hurt the ball club."

That seemed to be the key. We had been trying to fix blocking and my scared actor was still scared and wrapping themselves around the text to protect themselves and not really being open to anything, even when I grounded it in the text. I felt like I was in a mine field, watching this person move around the stage because they felt safer yet feeling like I couldn't say anything because it might set them back even more. But when I finally said that a particular movement looked like an actor wandering the stage, they said something I couldn't hear than thanked me for that comment. After that it got better.

The whole key to making this play of ideas sing is to ground it in the character relationships. And by forcing them to concentrate on that, by just letting the thing run without stopping them, it clicked. The nuances and levels I was looking for appeared, and I even saw glimpses of the things that I was trying to establish that were being resisted showing up naturally. Adam's an incredibly talented writer.

Heather Lacey, our wise stage manager, told me to stop trying to figure out how things had changed to try and fix it, but to just accept that it had happened and not take it personally. And I realized just how defensive I'd become. I had put up my own wall that had to be torn down. When I actively started to do that, when I really made an effort to get past looking at that actor as an obstacle and instead look at that person and think, "I've got you, I'm not going to let you fall", I think I was able to connect with them. At the end of the rehearsal, that person looked at me, really looked at me, and for the first time it felt like we finally got each other.

So now they're off learning lines and I'm working to put the tech side together. Monday and Tuesday are crunch days, with Tuesday our load-in at the theatre. After that we can concentrate on fine-tuning before we open on Saturday. I'm really hoping it's smooth sailing from here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Crunch

We go into the space and tech on Tuesday, so now is the process of gathering all the things we will need to bring in with us. This weekend is gathering all the props, confirming the set pieces, try and find a screen for the projector and build the (most likely) powerpoint presentation that will run the images. On Monday I have to both pick up a projector and a prop gun before we start rehearsal. I just keep telling myself that we'll find everything we're looking for and it will all come together in time.

In rehearsal, our actor in crisis appears to not trust me. That person questioned my approach in rehearsal today, expressing a feeling that I was imposing things onto the text. What's really interesting about that is that's the kind of thing that drives me crazy watching other shows - the stupid director tricks that are done to say "look at me, look at how cool this idea is". I've always tried to ground everything I do in the text. What I'm trying to do with this show is riding the edge, I will firmly admit that, but the text does support it. I couldn't go through with it otherwise. I'm just trying to build three-dimensional characters so that the play isn't just talking heads but are people you find yourself engaging with.

I don't honestly know what else I can do to earn that person's trust. I understand that they are wrapped up in fear and can't see bottom. I know this is a very dense text to learn. I've been as open and understanding as I can without losing sight of my own vision, which is what got the show in the festival in the first place. I'm really at a loss for what to do. I just have to trust that it will all work out in the end and just let the current situation be ok.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Crisis time

The previous post was written yesterday in long-hand. I just didn't have computer access to post it until now.

After that was written, there was a crisis of faith from one of the actors. It's pretty expected at this point in the process. You're right in the middle and you feel you won't find your way out in the time that's left. And if an actor has some personal stuff that's knocking him or her off balance, like this one did, it pushes you right into questioning why you're there.

So we did a lot of talking last night. The person talked about what they felt was missing, which was hard to hear because I thought I was doing a great job. However, if that person wasn't feeling safe, that is a failure because a large part of my job is to create a safe environment for the actors to experiment. It's best if I know that now so that I can do something about it. After all, this is a learning process for me. I want to always grow as a director and I am trying some different things this time. And I listened as the person talked and tried to find a way to help them get what they need, something we eventually did find.

In the end it's going to make for a better show because it's forcing me to be really detailed about each moment and how it should be. I can't slough things off if they're just ok. It's also making me be more open and aware as I reach out and try to help. And it really emphasized that this is a journey that we're all on together, a journey which goes beyond the play. We have things to learn from each other. We will grow from this time we're spending together and we will all be richer from the experience.

Fundraiser aftermath

The fundraiser was a great success. I with there had been more people there but we still made around $900 dollars, with possibly more still to come.

For my contribution to the evening, the entertainment bill was fantastic. On the readings side, Steve Flett did an amazing job on his reading, especially considering how little time he had with the text. He told me that people were wondering when he would be doing the show. Ramona Katigbak seemed a little nervous, something I've never seen before from her, and she lost her place a couple of times but considering she had even less time than Steve did, she did really well. The Kingship cast rocked the house. People liked what they heard and we hadn't really worked that section yet.

On the music side, Jeff Burke did his usual virtuoso performance. It's amazing what he can do on solo bassoon. He told me that it was nice to play to such an attentive audience. Brock Simpson wasn't sure how prepared he was but he did a great set, playing to his strengths in musical comedy. He also ribbed Jeff, suggesting that he was whacking any bassoon rivals. Tyler Yarema was his brilliant self and he got the response I was hoping for - people wanted to see him play more and were asking about a CD. (So get on it already, Tyler!) It was great that for once I was able to have a conversation while he was doing his set. More on him in a minute.

I can't believe how many photos I had to pose for. I was just the host. It was those incredibly talented people that made the night a success.

I still can't quite believe that Tyler played my fundraiser. And even more so, persuaded others to play with him. (Thank you Mike Carson and dummer guy who's name I'm completely blanking on.) Everyone else, with the exception of the Kingship cast, were friends of mine so that fact that Tyler was there must mean that we're friends too. Which is hard in a way to wrap my mind around because I've been a Tyler fangirl for so long - I'm not ashamed to admit it. I deeply admire him and I'm so in awe of his talent and sometimes he's just so good it literally hurts to watch him do his thing. I'm always so blown away by him that just thinking that I mean enough for him to do this, to use his art to help me...well, I'm feeling quite amazed and humbled. To be his friend...I have no words. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it and I don't know why.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Putting it Together

Today's rehearsal was very exciting. I got the idea on the way home last night of giving each character a dream between scenes 1 and 2 to raise the stakes, since scene 2 is the climax of the play. It paid off even better than I hoped. The first time they ran through it, all I could think of was "wow". I had goosebumps. And now that we've refined it, it's so alive and vibrant it could go on stage now.

Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, I decided to block this scene first for two reasons. 1) Scene 1 is so bloody long that it's going to take two whole days to do. 2) We were taking production photos this afternoon and this scene had the best material to translate to stills.

The plan now is to block the first scene over the next two rehearsals, with the final scene in the rehearsal after that. Then revisit the scenes over the rest of the week, running it on Friday when we're in a space that has a real stage.

So now I'm finalizing everything for the fundraiser and praying that there will be lots of people there so that Kent's hard work won't go to waste and the performers will have people to play to. I'm having to constantly fight my brain which seems for some reason to want to believe every worst case scenario will happen. Can't let that stand as thoughts are powerful things. Wish I knew why I seem so attracted to the failure option but I've learned that examining that question just re-enforces the thought's power. All I can do is catch myself doing it, release it, and re-direct. Just like breaking an actor out of a bad habit.

There's someone I hope will make an appearance tomorrow although he's so unpredictable I have no idea what he's going to do. But I would love for him to just hold me and tell me it's all going to be alright, as I'm worried I'm not going to get all my tech stuff nailed down in time. I don't need his support but I sure would like it. It would be nice to shut down the producer and the director for a little while and just be. That's not asking for much, right?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Playwright

This was posted in the comments on the last entry:
Since your mandate is to help playwrights develop new markets, is the playwright involved in the rehearsal process at all? Can you go to him/her as a resourse? Would you want to?
So I figured this is as good a time as any to talk about Adam Burgess, who wrote this show. One of our actors knows him from Edmonton but he and I have never met (Adam lives in Montreal). We have talked over the phone and have exchanged many emails. This is an unusual situation in that Adam is in Europe and will miss the run. He had already booked his trip when I approached him about getting the rights to the play.

However in this case he is a definite resource. In rehearsal today a couple of questions came up about punctuation and an odd word that I've written him about. He and I wrote back and forth making changes to the text before he left. It's really the best of both worlds in that he's available for us to ask questions for clarification, yet I don't have to worry about him in the rehearsal hall. The script has been produced before so he doesn't need to be there. It's a first for him and he told me he likes it.

Generally after the first production the playwright is not there in rehearsal. And since our whole thing is to help get the scripts the second, third and fourth productions, there isn't the interaction that you would find with a new piece. But both Adam and Anton Piatigorsky (and no, we're not related), who wrote The Kabbalistic Psychoanalysis of Adam R Tzaddik that I did in the Adelaide Fringe, have been really open to answering my questions and going along with my ideas.

I never wanted one big umbrella to be a development company. I know a lot of people who are much better at that kind of thing than I am. But we did want to do a show in SummerWorks, which is a development festival. That's why this show is a co-production with actwright theatre. Adam has never been produced in Toronto, so it fits obu's mandate, and he's studying acting at the National Theatre School, which is a fit with actwright.

This really is obu's baby though and it's been interesting doing the development thing. It's helped that Adam had written this a few years ago and moved on so he's not really attached to it the way you are to a newborn. We've had some debates but things never got heated and I'm really happy with what we've got now.

Well, except for some very odd punctuation. But that's another post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


So now we're in the depths of table work. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is the time we sit down with the script (the text) and break it down. It's a time to ask questions about words, lines, characters, motivations - anything the actor is unclear about.

Because of the nature of this text, we spent a lot of time today just deciding what the story we are telling is and who these characters are. Because it's a political satire we're having to build the characters from scratch, extrapolating a background for each of them by looking at events hinted at in the text and then finding something that seems to add an extra dimension for the actor to play. The biggest criticism I could find about the earlier NextFest presentation was that the characters were just talking heads, and so much of the text is argument, that we're looking for any way we can create levels in the performances.

As we were working through part of scene 1, which is really half the play, something came to me that I can't wait to try out when it's on its feet (the actors are moving around). I think it might help me find the likability factor I'm searching so hard to find for the character who inhabits the "right-wing" viewpoint. He's on stage practically the whole time and he's invested with a couple of not-so-nice traits that it would be so easy for the audience to turn on him. Yet it's what he had to say which brought me to the script in the first place and I want to make sure his voice is heard. It's going to be tricky, it would had been easier with the actor I had initially wanted, but we're going to pull it off.

Yeah. Positive thinking.

It's proving to be an interesting experience for me because I have never worked with any of these actors before and none of them were who I initially envisioned in the play. It's forcing me to challenge all my assumptions and it keeps me on my toes. This is a good thing. Otherwise, where's the risk, right?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Opening Day Jitters

So we do our first read tonight. I'm madly trying to remember how it was done on Oxford - well, really trying to remember everything I learned doing the Soulpepper Directors' Lab and working with Richard Rose so I can incorporate it. I wish I had a photographic memory instead of the tiny bits and pieces in my head.

I'm also finding myself drifting off to Facebook. I did have stuff to do there but now that I've done that, I'm having to pull myself kicking and screaming to do work. I know that's my way of dealing with stress - avoidance. We all have our ways, don't we?

I'm looking forward to having the director take over. The director doesn't play well with the other aspects of my personality, which is a good and a bad thing. Heaven help someone who has a production question while I'm in rehearsal. And as for conversation, you mean something exists outside my show? But when I'm in the room, or in the theatre, and things are flowing...well, there's nothing better in the world.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Fundraiser

The fundraiser is fast upon us. Even though we've been talking about it ever since we've gotten in, things got confirmed so late that now there's a mad push to try and get as many people there as possible. Everything is a flurry of activity. It's pretty much consumed Kent's free time and since I'm responsible for the talent, more of mine than I would have liked.

It will be worth it to hear Tyler Yarema play a set of completely original work. He's amazing and I'm an absolute fangirl. When he said he would do it, I was just over the moon. It will also be nice to hear the words of my beloved projects actually live. Kent has knocked himself out getting auction prizes too so I really hope there will be enough people there to justify the work that's been put into it. It will be nice to have an evening of celebration for getting this far.

The restaurant is undergoing a makeover this week, so we don't even know what it's going to look like when it's done. I really hope they don't ruin the comfy vibe of the place or the really fantastic food. They're really great people so I hope they don't get run roughshod over.

It's also crunch time for show expenses so I'm hoping we can make enough to cover most of them. This way everyone involved in the show will get to see some money at the end of it. It's pretty intensive for everyone at this point and I'd really like to see them get some monetary recognition for it.

So remember, July 22nd at the Central, 603 Markham in Mirvish Village. Doors open at 7, entertainment starts at 8. And if you can't come, you can still bid on the auction items by proxy. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Opening Thoughts

Welcome to the company blog. It is my hope you will find it interesting, entertaining, and sometimes thought-provoking. I'm going to start off by talking about working to prepare Kingship de Facto, which will be playing the Tarragon Mainspace as part of the Summerworks Festival.

I've now seen 20 shows at the Toronto Fringe. I'm sure I'd be able to get more done if I didn't do so much fringing. But the Fringe feeds me in a way very little else does. In a short period of time I get to see so much work in different genres and performance styles, exploring many different ideas. Or I can bask in watching a story well-told. I get to see the stupid director tricks I want to avoid and see some fabulous things I want to steal.

And I adore the networking part of it. As a Gemini, I thrive in this kind of environment. Meeting new people, catching up with old friends, or making new ones - I love it all. Doing karaoke in front of my peers is a particular highlight. I don't act because I'm really not interested in becoming someone else and I have a hard time not paying attention to everything that is going on around me and trying to figure out how it fits into a larger picture. But I do love performing, and karaoke and dancing allow me to express that part of myself.

A friend of mine is touring Europe at the moment after having gone through a bad artistic experience. He's now trying to rediscover the artist within and figure out where he's going from here. It reminded me of how I blogged throughout my last trip to Australia and how blogging forced me to document more than I would have by journaling alone. So I'm going to try to be regular during the rehearsal process and see what comes out at the end. Paul Rainville wrote a beautifully poetic blog during The Oxford Roof Climbers' Rebellion. There's no way I'm going to reach that level. Being honest has always served me well, so let's see what I can do while preserving the integrity of the process.

It still doesn't feel real that I have a project in Summerworks. I've been involved before in other people's projects but it's always felt a little remote to me, especially after Franco Boni started moving it towards a juried festival (which was a great move to help it find its own identity). Maybe it's just being on the fringe for so long, not having a project to do here for almost 5 years. I'm not sure. But I never dreamed of being considered in the same company as the artists who participate. In my venue alone, there are projects by Jordan Pettle, Jeanie Calleja and Gord Rand, and Tom Rooney and Gina Wilkinson - and that's just what I'm aware of.

Frankly, I'm feeling a little intimated.

The desire is very strong to look on this as a showcase, a way to show that I belong in this community. Scott Walters pointed out to me recently that I can't do the show for anyone but myself. He's right, it's a recipe for disaster. I've also strongly felt that the fringe should be a place where one could safely fail, where one can experiment. Summerworks bills itself as a development festival. Where else would I be able to learn how to use multi-media?

I wish I could shake this feeling that a lot is riding on this show and just explore. Yet I keep coming back to this is one big umbrella's first show, or maybe now Richard Rose will finally let me assist him because he got to see my work, or if this is really good it will really help our next grant application and press for the next project, or Andy McKim will like what he sees and will let us do Bare on that wonderful, perfect-for-the-project stage at Passe Muraille.

So where is the balance? I don't know.