“In our rehearsal hall are the ghosts of every production we have done to date”
Posts Tagged: "Theatre Space"
“How many times do we need to experience this dark episode? As many times as it takes to understand it historically and emotionally”
“The titular subject of this play is the white feather movement, where young women would pin a white chicken feather on a man’s lapel to shame him into enlisting”
When Jeff Culbert was commissioned to write a play about World War One for Fanshawe Pioneer Village he first went to the back issues of The London Free Press. He looked at newspapers from just before the war started. This was to understand what Londoners would have been reading during that time and what the perceptions and opinions on the coming war were. “When you read a newspaper you get all kinds of cultural information, as well as getting the news of the time. I wanted to know what a person who lived in London would think about the war because the Free Press would have been their main source of information” says Culbert.
As soon as Justin Quesnelle read American playwright Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County he knew that it was a play he wanted to direct. Quesnelle was waiting for the opportunity to have a stage big enough to accommodate the play and when London Community Players with their commodious Palace Theatre stage asked him, that opportunity presented itself. His production runs April 7-17.
The play is about the dysfunctional Weston family who re-congregate at the family home in Oklahoma after the disappearance of the family patriarch Beverly Weston. The house that the family returns to is a very important visual metaphor in the play and it requires a stage big enough to contain a three storey structure. The characters in this play have tried to put the past behind them without ever dealing with it and now must confront the proverbial skeletons in the closet. Yet, make no mistake about it, this play is very funny.
August: Osage County premiered at Chicago’s legendary ensemble-based Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007. It went on to take Broadway by storm, winning best play at the 2008 Tony Awards and becoming one of the longest running (non-musical) plays in recent Broadway history. It also won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Making the play’s success even more unique was that the Broadway production did not feature any major stars, but instead the top level Steppenwolf actors. In fact the biggest name associated with the original production was the playwright Tracy Letts, one of America’s greatest contemporary playwrights. Continue Reading
One of my favourite playwrights, George Bernard Shaw, arguably the second greatest English language playwright, really had it in for young people in his plays. A person is hard pressed to find Shaw depicting a person under 35 in a favourable light. The three big exceptions would be Joan of Arc in Saint Joan, Eugene Marchbanks in Candida and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. Both Joan and Eugene have an angelic quality to them. Joan of course is in communication with God who speaks to her. In Candida the young poet Eugene is found by the Reverend James Morell sleeping on a park bench. Morell brings Eugene into his home where Eugene professes love for Morell’s wife Candida. Eugene’s pronouncement of love helps Morell and Candida re-realize their deep love for each other and once their relationship is rekindled, Eugene mysteriously leaves.
In Pygmalion Eliza starts off helpless, shrill and snivelling. It takes Higgins, a character who has many of Shaw’s own personal qualities, to help her realize her power as a human being. At the end of the play Higgins must reckon with this new life force that he has awakened in Eliza. He does not like the new Eliza at all, but it is also this essence of strength that he has loved in her throughout the play. She is no longer submissive to him. Higgins has to reckon with the fact that Eliza created herself more than he did. Continue Reading
A few Fridays back I attended the opening of To Ashes. It was a great night for London theatre. A great play was on stage and there was a sold out house with many folks from London’s theatre community. All were celebrating local theatre. Jubilance was in the air. Before the play my friend and the play’s writer Jason Rip asked if I had seen the original production. I had not, being that I was only nine years old at the time of the premiere. Though my parents were permissive in what they would allow me to see in theatre at a young age, To Ashes probably would not be ideal for a nine year old’s eyes.
Still when I was young I did attend a good deal of local theatre. I thought it would be a fun to play a memory game where I try to remember some of my earliest theatre experiences, both as an audience member and a performer. As I set down these memories I noticed that I had traced the beginning of my involvement with the London theatre. I imagine most people have a similar story. Hopefully my memories will cause you to compose your own time line of your own theatre experiences.
The Wind in the Willows
The first play I ever saw was Michael Shamata’s adaption of The Wind in the Willows at The Grand Theatre. I was three years old and it was 1998. The production was directed by Shamata, who was the Grand’s artistic director at the time. What I recall is Shamata’s incredibly gentle directorial touch in the production. If you have seen Shamata’s famous adaptation of A Christmas Carol at Soulpepper Theatre, you will be familiar with the gift he has for bringing classic texts to the stage. The Wind in the Willows was a nature-oriented, human and open-hearted production. The production instilled in me the idea that the theatre should be a place of warmth.
My father, Stephen Holowitz, was the musical composer for the production. The music was made available on CD in the Grand’s gift shop, which back then filled every corner of the second floor lobby. Narration was added to the disc, read by some of the play’s A-list cast which included John Jarvis, Oliver Dennis, Cliff Saunders, Eric Coates and the father of Canadian theatre, Douglas Campbell, who played Badger. My Dad also enlisted me to narrate sections. They gave me a pop-up version of the book to help me tell the story. Later they edited my pauses and three-year old speech pattern so I ended up sounding like a rather eloquent three year old.
When Jeff Culbert was approached to direct the revival of Jason Rip’s play To Ashes one of his first thoughts was that he needed to somehow use the song Ace of Spades by Motörhead in the play. The song was used in the original 2004 production of To Ashes which Culbert acted in. For Culbert the song sets the tone of the play. Jeff saw Jason Rip soon after being asked to direct the play and Jason said, without knowing Culbert’s own thoughts, “you got to use Ace of Spades.” The new wave, heavy metal song matches up with the high energy and aggressive nature of To Ashes.
To Ashes is a two person play about two men who are both named Thomas Ash. One goes by Tom, the other Thomas. The play’s conflict comes from what should be a minor nuisance, but is instead the spark that lights the fuse. Tom Ash begins to receive calls from a collection agency looking to collect from the other Tom Ash, the one who goes by Thomas. Continue Reading
What started as a play about the Chinese occupation of Tibet has over the past five years developed into a play about two high school students in London Ontario who have lunch together every day. It is all part of the process for London playwright and Tinkerspace Theatre co-artistic director Tyler Graham. Graham’s play Swallow opens at The ARTS Project this week. “How I work is that I get excited about one idea. I write about this idea without really thinking about it. Then I realize that it is a jumping off point. It happens every time” says Graham. From that jumping off point Graham continues to develop his play. The initial idea and end product are rarely the same in content. He has a hypothesis about his writing process. “What it might be is a bridge, an emotional bridge between the last play I wrote and the next play I am writing”.
Swallow is about two high school students, Laura and James, who eat lunch together but they always feel alone. The discovery of a broken mandolin sets off a series of strange events that puts their friendship to the test. The Tinkerspace’s promotional material describes Swallow as “a meditation on friendship, love, isolation, and rage.” Part of the thrill of seeing a new play is that there is an element of surprise. “It is a spoiler heavy play, so I don’t want to give too much away” says Graham
Graham does make it clear that the play not autobiographical. But writing the play was a way for him to go back to that time in his life when he was finishing grade school and starting high school. That time in one’s life is very memorable for many people and for a number of reasons.
A few years ago I was having lunch with a friend who asked me, “Why have you chosen to do your plays in London? Why have you chosen to stay here?” I offered up what I now realize was the wrong answer. I said “I won’t be able to stay in London forever if I want to be a theatre professional”. What I now realize is that it is entirely possible for me to stay in London and work in theatre. There seems to be a false imperative for young theatre people to run off to large urban centres, where they pay higher rent and have little work. There is a mecca-myth that quality theatre can only occur in big cities. This is simply untrue. In fact, living in London gives me a distinct artistic viewpoint. I would not be the same director and playwright if I lived somewhere else. Over this winter I have been in Toronto a large amount of time, as I am attending York University. While I like getting to see the plethora of plays that are on in Toronto, I have also realized how rooted I am in my hometown. I have realized that my theatre work is simply not the same when I am in another city.
Since being asked why I had I chosen to stay in London, I have come to realize how much I am a regionalist artist. London provides, though it’s not immediately obvious, a great deal of theatrical inspiration. I would say that London itself is a fine dramaturge: a provider of creative support to the playwright as they write. I find that all a playwright must do is simply go for a walk and they will pick up pieces of inspiration to create a play. I would like to guide you through one of these walks in the following paragraphs.