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?