Friday, 26 May 2017

Ontario Off Stage

by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Conversation Starters

Behind the Scenes at Ontario’s Theatres


TO Toasts

In Case You Missed It

You can also receive news from Theatre Ontario every month by email. Our archives are online and the May issue is now available.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Celebrating Learning Opportunities for Community Theatre Practitioners at Theatre Ontario Festival 2017

Theatre Ontario Festival features a variety of educational events for the passionate, dedicated community theatre practitioners. Highlights included:

Highlights of the Detailed Adjudication of “Lucy” at Theatre Ontario Festival 2017

Sault Theatre Workshop's production of Lucy
by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Annette G. Procunier of Sault Theatre Workshop’s production of Lucy by Damien Atkins (representing QUONTA, the northeastern Ontario community theatre association.)
  • Home theatre has a 20-foot proscenium, 16-feet deep (with 4-feet added for this production); seats 90 people around tables with dessert service
  • Found the play at last year’s Theatre Ontario Festival; director responded to portrayal of autism in a positive light; autism is a significant part of her life: works with people with autism, family
  • Strength of the play is that text invites examination; interested in the fate of the characters after the play is over
  • Seemed like they performed originally in a more intimate space: things happen in small, intimate ways; does the larger environment help the actors?
  • Furniture C.S. would have benefited from places to create triangular/diagonal action to enhance the space; Morris’s office D.S.L. was an excellent choice: the cold side of the stage (theory is that since English reads from left to right, that is the way the eye looks as well, makes us uncomfortable) 
  • Lucy had her own spotlight, effective choice
  • Set design had black and white squares: Director wanted it to be unfinished, with gaps; White panels turned around to show us Lucy’s drawings—in the original production they looked too good to be Lucy’s work; drawings may have benefited from more colours; What about Vivian drawing too?—showing the growing closeness of their relationship
  • Projections represented outside; were intended to be used in the exterior scene
  • D.S. was used only for Vivian and Gavin’s opening scene; compromise in moving from space to space
  • Lucy’s hoodie: kept us from seeing her face a little too much
  • Sound design featured strong choices: not pastoral, music depicted a different living environment
  • Autism sign on the set drew our eye because of the colour
  • Company worked strongly on creating character; sometimes heard to hear the performers (e.g. in the opening scene: “How long?” “A year” – this was critical information we needed to hear better)
  • Action was most poignant and provocative when the vocal work was at its clearest and strongest
  • Vivian and Julia had a believable relationship; Julia’s intensity rose her with voice
  • Characters are always trying to drive action, or convey information: What is it you want / From who? In rehearsal, play with driving the action, push further so the director can rein you back
  • Vivian leaving her child with Gavin is an unusual choice: there is a lot to be mined in their relationship
  • Intensity when Gavin returned was successful—his stakes were really high
  • Challenge in climactic scene, both Morris and Julia felt they would have a normal response to intercede; especially since we have seen Julia intercede in the past. They didn’t want to draw focus—perhaps Julia could have tried to intercede and Morris stopped her. Actors should never feel uncomfortable in a scene; play around with the situation: interaction between Vivian, Gavin and Lucy was strong, but how to Julia and Morris fit in?
  • Lucy was making her debut: Fun and difficult challenge for her: character is closed-off, actress is touchy, makes eye contact, etc.; she appreciated how the director helped her make her monologues feel real, less “fake/dramatic”
  • Lucy was successful in being on stage, without being involved in the action
  • Vivian’s truthfulness to her character’s “quirks”—the moment with the paint was a strong moment of connection between the two of them; similarly the touching of their foreheads was played truthfully
  • Lighting and sound helped us visualize an internal situation; problem with dark spaces—seemed to be a problem throughout the Festival; actors need to keep their heads up and lighting designers should raise level slightly: atmosphere is important, but seeing the actors is more important
  • When Lucy gives Vivian the fossil, the audience needed to see it more clearly: hold it up, be theatrical rather than realistic
As always, this is my best effort to record the conversation at the Detailed Adjudication, with apology for any misrepresentations of the ideas of the members of the company and the adjudicator. Corrections and clarifications are welcome in the comments.

Highlights of the Detailed Adjudication of "Outside Mullingar" at Theatre Ontario Festival 2017

Toronto Irish Players' production of Outside Mullingar
by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Annette G. Procunier of Toronto Irish Players’ production of Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley (representing ACT-CO, the Association of Community Theatres—Central Ontario.)
  • Script was chosen from their reading group; usually produce Irish-written works, but wanted to explore something from the diaspora
  • Perform at Alumnae Theatre, a converted fire-hall with 146 seats
  • Production had an economical approach to design; the two houses between Act 1 and Act 2 were alike yet different, frame set pieces to suggest
  • Use of cyclorama colours helped provide mood
  • Everything on the stage allowed us to become absorbed into the action, while using areas to give us sense of other places
  • It’s a play of alternatives: holding onto the past, letting that eat up the present; waiting for something else rather than living in the now
  • Wonderful, simple choice to show the passage of time by Anthony moving back and forth across the front of the stage, changing coats to show change of time
  • Constant drinking during Act 2 was a wonderful choice; the characters didn’t drink a great deal, allowed that kind of conversation to start, in the script the scene rings a bit false without it; when he gets a bottle reflects change in relationship
  • Entrances into the house lacked specificity: clarity of front entrance and the back entrance
  • Singing by Rosemary and Aoife of “Wild Mountain Thyme” in the scene change helped inform the characters’ relationship—while functionally serving the set/costume change: we stayed in the world of the play
  • Tony and Aoife’s scene: We believe their long shared history; they sat without a lot of blocking which was a good, risky choice; trusted in the text
  • Anthony’s costumes could have been crustier-looking
  • The physicality of Tony’s death: Director didn’t want it to be melancholy, Tony was a proud man bringing strength to the end, would have stood if he could; Legitimate choice, but suggestion is then to take more time, so that he would read less energetic
  • Showing the ring in the final image of Act 1: make it clear that something is going to happen, especially since dialogue makes clear he has done nothing with the ring in three years
  • Tony’s scene was a poignant exploration of “in love”
  • First-class acting—performers had talent and technique
  • Act 2 was a tour-de-force: Every comment had a reaction, nothing was without a response; took time, trusting audience to go with performers, kept audience engaged
  • Different reaction at home, primarily an Irish audience with bigger laughs on Tony and Aoife talking about places where they come from, but other lines got laughs for the first time in Ottawa
  • Good sense of them as neighbours, plausible that they would wait this long
  • Actors were at their finest trying to “get it out: Anthony’s line “I believe that I am a honeybee” then we see Rosemary trying to process it; similarly “Yes, I’m a virgin” / “We can fix that” was beautifully played—characters were self-conscious but actors were not
  • First performed in October/November; began remount on April 9
  • Lighting designer couldn’t remember all the original cues—always the biggest challenge since costumes are the same, set fundamentally the same, lighting has different instruments, hung differently, not enough rehearsal time: it was clear what were mistakes in execution (rather than design)
  • Similarly, sound levels will be different in new venue
  • As a designer/director you must nitpick (“pick the fly shit out of the pepper”) but audiences won’t when they are absorbed in the production
  • Re-visiting the work meant finding MORE: exploring more; seeing more things, knowing the characters more; things you had forgotten you re-discovered in a new way; director’s instruction was to “re-live”, not re-produce; positive vibes bringing it back into the working space after a successful run
  • A specific example was the timing in the Guinness sequence; the moments were refined; “stage business” is good when it allows the characters time to react
  • Repetition is human nature, character’s repetitive quicks help make characters seem more truthful
  • Aoife walking away in her final scene with Rosemary, movement showed us that she was pronounced, her hip was causing problems, her death was imminent
  • Anthony and Tony relationship: nagged each other, but there was no sense that he was going to leave
  • Director acknowledged Producer as unsung hero, taking care of everyone including the Director
  • Applauded their commitment to craft
As always, this is my best effort to record the conversation at the Detailed Adjudication, with apology for any misrepresentations of the ideas of the members of the company and the adjudicator. Corrections and clarifications are welcome in the comments.

Highlights of the Detailed Adjudication of “Better Living” at Theatre Ontario Festival 2017

Ghost Light Players' production of Better Living
by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Annette G. Procunier of Ghost Light Players’ production of Better Living by George F. Walker (representing the Western Ontario Drama League—WODL)
  • Ghost Light Players is a two-year-old company; no permanent home—they enjoy moving to new spaces; found kindred spirits
  • Director enjoys black comedy, absurdist theatre, “meaty” work: opportunities in George F. Walker; this was an exciting challenge
  • Originally performed at the Bank Theatre in Leamington; seats 150 and they averaged about 75 people per performance which exceed their expectations—proscenium stage, braced set pieces, manual lighting board, two-channel sound system; 40 minutes away from their home in Windsor
  • Texts like this from the late-70s/early-80s are resonating again with political extremism coming back; issues of family violence have not gone away
  • Not an easy play to watch, learning curve for the audience; there will be people in the audience who have lived it; depended upon the truthfulness of the presentation
  • Structure of text can be problematic: Opens with exposition, raucously funny, initially the father isn’t so dreadful—he seems benign; but evil hides in banality
  • Text doesn’t articulate why the women get sucked back in; people do return to abuse, but it is a sparsely-written transition—all plays have difficulty in their writing, and the challenge is to figure them out
  • Production was abundantly truthful—committed to believability and taking us into the world (and we didn’t want to be there)
  • Set was evocative, audience members went up to the edge of the stage to see the detail
  • Give your tech people all the time in the world—they get far less of it; in tech rehearsals, actors need to sit there and shut up
  • Furniture arrangement: Sofa was parallel to the edge of the stage, with the chair perpendicular; if the chair was angle, we would have seen the person sitting in the chair much better
  • Kitchen rocking chair interfered with them using the space; also, it read more like a living room rocking chair; it was Nora’s mother’s chair yet she never sat in it (actor had backstory to explain that, but audience didn’t see it)
  • Loved the characters eating; it demonstrated compulsive behaviour but the heads down sometimes made it hard to hear
  • Costumes and cell-phone made it clear it wasn’t set in the 1980s since the set (out of necessity) couldn’t tell us that
  • Actors should take time with their initial entrance: they are the action and we want to absorb who they are; give us an action that allows us a second to see them (e.g. Junior’s entrance—wanted him to flaunt while not seeing Jack in the kitchen; could have been achieved if Jack was entirely U.S. and Junior flaunted to audience rather than mirror)
  • Wonderful job of truthful movement, especially with a text requiring so much physicality
  • Relationship between Gail and Junior was extremely clear about who was in charge, his naivete was finely acted
  • Theatre is about truth not reality: believable people are essential and the actors committed to that; family members’ responses were distinct from each other
  • Nora’s first entrance in full regalia was successful: actress created a world and lived in it; always be careful vocally: when voices rise, they can emphasize vowels at the expense of consonants (particularly for women)
  • Risk-taking: characters/actors push each other to the limit, listened to each other as thought things were fresh and new
  • Occasionally kept playing through the laughs; this is not stand-up comedy with punchlines (like a comedian telling jokes for predictable laughs), but the humour is essential to the work
  • Pace and internal rhythm was good
  • Nora clearly knew who Tom/Tim was, but decided to live their relationship in another way; it was scary; they talked through the fight scene and changed it a lot—talking is good, but performers can be hurt and should take the time to rehearse it; similarly the Tom/Jack fight was creepy
  • Maryann had excellent flightiness
  • The gun was not seen clearly by the audience; a stage gun would have had more impact than the sound effect
  • The motorcycle helmet gag was a hoot; succeeded because there was no self-consciousness
  • The final family scene left us with question of what happened to him, and then he comes in with the television—would his entrance have been more effective if he came in from the backyard, audience focus would go to him; they had tried that choice, but decided they preferred him sneaking into the family portrait—execution didn’t read as “sneaking”, read as he belonged there; what was the significance of the television? He will show them what’s going on in the world, part of his control over them
As always, this is my best effort to record the conversation at the Detailed Adjudication, with apology for any misrepresentations of the ideas of the members of the company and the adjudicator. Corrections and clarifications are welcome in the comments.