Galatea Returns to Derry

The Irish version of Galatea had its roots in Derry and the Sole Purpose production was welcomed home with gusto.

As was the case last year, the performance at the Derry Playhouse was part of Foyle Pride, and the audience was in a warmly embracing mood, cheering the actors – all from Derry themselves – with as much pride and affection as they could muster. This provided a wonderfully warm and satisfying close to this year’s tour.

Once again, I had the chance to speak with audience members and get a sense of what this play has meant to them. There was a formal Q&A talkback after one performance, with questions for both myself and the actors, but I also spoke with people during the interval, after the show, and even in encounters on the street – and was again struck by how much this was a Derry story now, not (only) a Canadian one.

The Foyle Pride parade, now in its third year, is rapidly becoming a “normal” event in the city’s calendar, with the mayor and other politicians marching, face painting for kids, music and speeches, a tiny band of protestors waving their placards from across the street, and a rainbow flag that stretches as far as the eye can see. This year’s theme was “Exploring Identity,” and it was so clear to me from the comments I heard that “Galatea” was very much a part of the festival’s theme. I’m delighted to have been able to join the tour (thank you, Canada Council!) and grateful to have been made so welcome by my Derry friends.

As I’ve mentioned before, I hope that this production of Galatea will encourage Sole Purpose, its financial supporters and the community at large to ensure that something theatrical continues to be an integral part of Foyle Pride in the years to come – and that henceforth it will be Derry’s own playwrights who get to share their work with their friends and neighbors.

Thoughts from the Galatea tour

I`m back in Derry again as the Galatea tour winds up this week and have savored the feeling of being “home” again. It was while living here in 2010 that I first met Pat Byrne of Sole Purpose Productions, and it’s felt like putting on a favorite pair of old shoes again as I wander along familiar roads, revisit the landmarks of my time here, and reunite with old friends I haven’t seen for a long time.

It’s also been a chance to reflect on what may be the most interesting part of the tour, which has been the visits to a couple of smaller towns in Northern Ireland – Newtownabbey, a largely Protestant community of some 80,000 just north of Belfast, and Strabane, a Catholic border town of 20,000 a short drive south of Derry.

The towns themselves are studies in contrasts that were reflected in the tour. One of the sponsors of the tour is the Rainbow Project, a Northern Ireland organization that provides a variety of services to local gay and lesbian communities. From the start the group has been a strong supporter of the production and tour. I suspect that this is both because the story presents its story of two gay couples in a healthy and positive light – which perhaps is not as commonly available here as one might wish – and also because the project has provided an opportunity for community building over the last year.

Perhaps because of its proximity to Belfast or perhaps because of a fairly conservative hue to its population, Newtownabbey doesn’t seem to have a well organized local gay and lesbian community, and this was reflected in the modest size of the audience that turned out for the show. In contrast, Strabane has a well established local group who were out in force, as was the vice-chairman of the Strabane District Council, all of whom went out of their way to offer me a very warm welcome to their community.

Damian Friel and Alex Wilson in the Sole Purpose production of Galatea

For me, the most profound realization about this production has been the degree to which it has helped to galvanize the community here. One might not have expected this; while I think the play does provide a positive portrayal of gay life to its audiences, it’s hardly an overt political piece. But the community has adopted the show with gusto and I think the production has made a modest contribution to its evolution in return – whether by its simple presence in a town like Newtownabbey or in how it’s inspired some of the audience members I spoke with in Strabane.

I am hopeful for a lasting effect as well. The play itself wraps up at the end of this week here in Derry, but I suspect the community will continue to enrich itself theatrically. Sole Purpose held a writing workshop for the gay and lesbian community, and I can imagine organizers in the future arranging to present the work of local playwrights in the towns we’ve toured. I look forward to being in the audience when that happens!

Galatea in Belfast

Galatea (Northern Ireland)The Sole Purpose tour of Galatea opened in Belfast on Friday, and – biased as I am – I thoroughly enjoyed the production. Patricia Byrne first presented the play in Derry last summer as part of Foyle Pride, where it sold out the Derry Playhouse, and decided to take it on tour this year.

To kick off the tour, Pat decided to open in Belfast, and to do so in conjunction with Belfast Pride at a wonderful new venue, Upstairs at the MAC. The production has evolved a bit since last year. One of the four actors was unavailable, and the new fellow did very well indeed. Pat introduced a couple of interesting new touches, including some fun musical references to “My Fair Lady” and some bits of business that fleshed out the characters a bit more.

As for the actors, the veterans all seemed more comfortable with their roles – they really seem to have become better acquainted with the characters – while the new guy brought an entirely new spin to the character of Harry. This is one of the bits about theatre I always enjoy: different productions see new and varied things in the scripts. But in this case, Glen Tilley’s interpretation of Harry was a bit harder and sharper. (Last year, Frank Rafferty’s interpretation was of a sadder, more hesitant and “older” man.) I think both versions work perfectly well and highlight different aspects of the character.

Of course, when there’s a new actor and a new version of the character, then the relationships have to adjust as well. And the other three actors (two, really, as Alex Wilson’s Freddie never really crosses paths with Harry) step up and adjust accordingly.

Pride is a big-deal good time in Belfast – over 20,000 at the parade and festival in a city of half a million – with mothers giving their young kids rainbow flags to wave and little old ladies smiling and dancing to the music. (The very few people protesting Pride – no more than a dozen – were confined to a small fenced-in area in front of City Hall and surrounded by police officers.) So in a city like this, it’s no surprise that the audience at the MAC was very warmly supportive of the production. The tour now moves to a couple of smaller – and presumably more conservative – towns in Northern Ireland, so I will be interested to see how the show is received there.

Postscript: a friend in Belfast has passed on a local review of the production.

Galatea Rehearsals – The Irish Version

Galatea (Northern Ireland)Last year, Sole Purpose Productions put on a production of my play Galatea at the Playhouse in Derry, Northern Ireland. I’d had the opportunity to live in Derry while working on the script for The Lavender Railroad in 2010 and met Pat Byrne, the artistic director of Sole Purpose. She took a fancy to the script and her production in Derry was a great success – so much so that she managed to find funding and support to take the show on tour across Northern Ireland in August 2012.

Thanks to support from the Canada Council, I’m looking forward to seeing the show during its tour next month. I wish I could also join the company for its rehearsals, which recently started in Derry, but have to make do with reports from Pat and the actors involved. Sole Purpose has posted some photos from their rehearsals on Facebook. Here are two…

Micheál Kerrigan (Georgie) and Glen Tilley (Harry) in rehearsal

Damian Friel (Eli) and Alex Wilson (Freddie) in rehearsal

One of the things about the Irish production that I found fascinating was how the company made it “local.” I was able to sit in on some late rehearsals last year, which is when I first met the actors involved. None of them sounded like the people where I live, the people whose voices I might have first imagined as the characters in the play. But as I watched and listened, the Canadian tones of the play melted away and it was plain to me that this was as Irish a play as it was Canadian.

The enthusiastic response of the audience to the performance confirmed this. One individual noted that “we could sense resonance between the play and the ‘lived lives’ of the people acting in it.” I was grateful to hear this observation, because Galatea is a play about relationships, and the joys and sorrows of our loves and our relationships are a universal thing, whether in Canada or Ireland or Iran or Cambodia.

This year’s tour starts Upstairs at the MAC in Belfast on August 3, and I hope that those of you living in the vicinity have the opportunity to see the show. I’ll be posting some more of my musings and some backstage observations once I join the tour next month.

The Show Must Go On

Last night was my first opportunity to see a performance of Ex Cathedra at the Ottawa Fringe. While I’d had the chance to chat from time to time with the folks putting it on and did sit in on their tech rehearsal, this was going to be my first chance to see how they interpreted the play.

Alas, fate does sometimes intervene, and one of the two actors is unable to perform due to illness. I imagine no one is more troubled by this than she is – after all that work and time, to be stuck in a sickbed is surely the last place she wants to be, and I do hope she’s better soon.

But what do you do when half of your cast can’t perform? This is Fringe, after all, and no one has the resources for understudies. And yet, as the saying goes, the show must go on!

To their credit, Troupe de la Lune has found someone to step in as a kind of understudy, and although she’s had minimal time to prepare the company was able to offer a perfectly fine “dramatic reading” of the script – and honestly, it was easy to forget after about twenty seconds that anyone was reading from a script.

Were there certain subtle nuances missing? Of course – these come out of the rehearsal process and the luxury of time to digest the script and consider the meaning of the lines. But in my own rather unscientific sample of the audience who were present last night, it was clear that people got the point of the play and were perfectly forgiving of an unfortunate situation; it would take quite the curmudgeon to feel otherwise!

So kudos to the company for figuring out how to keep going – after all, the show must go on!

Did you see one of the dramatic readings? What did you think?

Going into Tech

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is about to open and I’m excited that one of the productions being presented is my play Ex Cathedra, part of The Lavender Railroad. The company that’s putting on the show, Troupe de la Lune, approached me about the play when Jer’s Vision put on a staged reading of the play for one of their workshops some months ago.

I haven’t been directly involved with this production, though I’ve met with the people putting it on to answer questions they had about the script, so when I sit down in the Fringe audience a few days from now their work will be as fresh to me as it is to anyone else in the house. But I did drop by their tech rehearsal yesterday just to say hello, and it was great fun to get a sense of what their show will look and sound like, even though I didn’t see (and didn’t want to see) anything from the play itself. It was enough to get a sense of what they wanted to do with their lighting and sound, as well as how they planned to use the space they have.

And speaking of that space … they will be performing in the Léonard-Beaulne studio, which is the same space that the Evolution Theatre production of Lavender Railroad was done in.

For a quick video preview of the production, check out Ottawa Tonite.

The play runs for half a dozen performances during the festival – schedule details are here:

http://www.ottawafringe.com/shows/ex-cathedra

Really Running Late

A friend pointed out to me that I had written about the rehearsals of my play Late but that I had unaccountably neglected to say anything about the production itself during the run of the Extremely Short Play Festival of which it was a part.

Well, the festival has come and gone, but … better late than never, right?

The main reason I didn’t write about it was that I didn’t actually get to go as I was in Germany at the time at the Theatertreffen Festival in Berlin. Missing the short festival was a disappointment, not only because I didn’t get to see the performances of Kristina Watt and Kate Hurman in my piece but because I missed all the other fine plays as well. I’m told that the event was quite the success, and that John Koensgen, who thought up the idea, has plans to make the festival an annual event – which I think is a wonderful idea!

Careful readers who did see the show will note that there were two significant changes introduced to the play between its initial conception and its presentation at the festival.

The first was a function of casting. As written, the play is about a man and a woman meeting for lunch as they energetically avoid talking about their shared past. To hammer the point home, the characters are identified in the script only as HE and SHE. But John called me up one day to say that he had some casting issues as he distributed his four actors across the dozen or so plays he was presenting. Would it be possible, he asked, to give the parts to the two women in his cast, namely Kate and Kristina. As I revisited the script I realized that except for the HE and SHE there was really nothing whatsoever in the text that required either character to be a particular gender.

In fact, we realized quickly, having both characters be women could well add a nice extra “oomph” to the story as it became clear to the audience that these weren’t just two old friends meeting for lunch; these were ex-lovers, and their former relationship was clearly an unhappy one. Once rehearsals started, it was clear that both Kate and Kristina saw the dramatic possibilities in this and they ran with it brilliantly. Since the play is really all about the subtext, I think they both had a lot of fun with finding ways to say “The salad looks good” while conveying “Why were you so awful to me when we were together?”

The second change was a smaller and subtler one. The title of the play that I came up with was “Running Late,” borrowing from Kristina’s character’s apology that opens the play when she arrives late for the lunch date. At one point in rehearsals, we decided to call the play “Late,” which managed to be both a simpler title and a more profound one, with its rather unhappy suggestion that it really may be too late to salvage this particular relationship. (And so with the title change I’ve retroactively tidied up my references to the play here and elsewhere.)

These two changes illustrate something I love about the theatre: it is truly a collaborative art, and I take delight in seeing what the other artists involved come up with – for whatever reason – in suggesting changes to what I’ve originally put on the page. In this instance, I think the suggestions enhanced the production and my only regret is in not having seen a performance.

Two nice things about ten-minute plays is that they are relatively easy to produce and there are plenty of short-play festivals all over the world that need material. So if perchance Late gets produced elsewhere – and I think the play will indeed retain the new title – I’ll be curious to see whether future directors will care to follow John’s lead in casting. I’m of two minds on the question, in part because I didn’t actually see John’s production: casting two women certainly works. so I’d like to see that version of the play, but I’m still curious to see what the story would be like if it were presented as originally conceived. And to see a performance of the play too, of course.

The first rehearsal…

Yesterday was the first rehearsal for my play, Late, which will be part of New Theatre of Ottawa’s Extremely Short Play Festival next month.

The first rehearsal is always exciting for me – the first chance to hear the actors take the characters’ dialogue from the page and bring it to life. In this case, director John Koensgen has asked Kristina Watt and Kate Hurman to play the parts and their work yesterday has made me all the more excited to see what happens next.

In this instance, the play is a simple conversation between two old friends meeting for lunch. Two chairs, a table, and a roller-coaster ride down memory lane… What was so interesting at the rehearsal was to watch two fine actors dissect their characters and peel away countless layers of meaning from the things said (and not said!) in that conversation. This is the essence of theatre as an interpretive art: their discoveries were fascinating, and I learned volumes about the characters, their relationship and their pasts. Were these facts already there, dormant in the dialogue I’d crafted months earlier? Or was their discovery dependent on the insights and skills of these particular actors? I’m not sure that these are significant questions; what matters is that their performances next month will be immeasurably enriched by the work they have now begun putting into sculpting their characters.

The Festival includes 11 “extremely short” plays (10 minutes and under) and runs May 3-12, 8 pm, at Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Avenue. (There are also previews on May 1 and 2). Tickets are $30 (adults) / $25 (students and seniors).

 

Extremely Short Play Festival

Extremely Short Play Festival - New Theatre of OttawaI’m excited that New Theatre of Ottawa has selected my short play Late to be included in its Extremely Short Play Festival in early May at the Arts Court Theatre here in Ottawa. Director John Koensgen and actors Catriona Leger, Kate Hurman. Adam Pierre, and Brian Stewart will be getting to work on the plays that have been gathered – none longer than ten minutes – and I’m hoping to get a peek at the odd rehearsal, so more to come.

In the meantime, mark your calendars: May 3 through May 12, with previews on May 1 and 2.