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.

Hate Radio

Chilling.

Mesmerizing.

A play about Rwanda and the radio station RTLM that incited its listeners to genocide. It is a quiet play for the most part: survivors who bear witness to what happened and an hour of otherwise banal radio, except for the subject matter from the soothingly conversational chatter of the radio voices.

It’s a powerful production, a stellar example of what theatre can do. All the more so whilst in Berlin after visiting the Holocaust memorial, itself a brilliant monument down the street from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

More on the production here (English PDF).

At the Theatertreffen in Berlin

I’m in Berlin at the annual Theatertreffen theatre festival, where I’ve had the opportunity to see a wide variety of shows – different companies offering different kinds of performances, tackling different kinds of subjects, offering different kinds of styles … and yet I’ve observed a few features that seem to be there consistently across all these productions. Herewith a few of them:

  • People shout a lot. Not just project their voices, not just raise them in a heightened emotional state. They shout. They rant. They rave. And they wander around the stage while they do it. (Okay, sometimes, they sit in one place.)
  • It rains. I don’t know how expensive it is to handle all that plumbing, but it sure rains a lot in these shows. Global warming?
  • Someone is going to make a point of eating something to express some deep emotional meaning. It might be dirt. It might be a raw potato.
  • Someone, male or female, is going to be wearing a stunning pair of stilettos.
  • Someone is going to get something smeared across his or her chest, face, or other body parts. It might be food, it might be blood, it might be excrement.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be reduced to his underwear. And as often as not it’s going to be girlie underwear, too.
  • Someone, usually a man, is going to be subjected to (simulated!) involuntary coitus with another man.
  • The curtain call is going to take a very, very long time.

Extremely Short Story Contest

Extremely Short Play Festival - New Theatre of Ottawa

*** PLEASE NOTE ***

The Contest is now closed.

And the winner is…

To celebrate its upcoming Extremely Short Play Festival, New Theatre of Ottawa is sponsoring an Extremely Short Story Contest!

Our inspiration is Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word short story: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

Here are the Extremely Short Rules:

  • In the comments to this post, enter your name, email address and SIX WORD STORY. (Your email address will not be posted publicly.) Longer entries will be disqualified.
  • All entries must have a time stamp no later than 11:59 pm, Sunday, April 29, 2011 (Ottawa time).

At the Festival preview on May 1, director John Koensgen will announce the winning entry. The winner will receive two complimentary tickets to the festival performance of his or her choice (May 3 through May 12).

Evolution Theatre’s Double Bill

Less than a week to go until Evolution Theatre presents its newest offering, a double bill consisting of [boxhead] by Darren O’Donnell (directed by Alix Sideris and featuring Christopher Bedford and Stewart Matthews); and Mary Magdalene and Adventures in Sobriety by Berni Stapleton (directed by Andy Massingham and featuring Nancy Kenny).

These both look like terrific shows and I’m glad to see that Evolution has already had some positive buzz, notably in the Ottawa Citizen and in The Visitorium – a look at both [boxhead] and Mary Magdalene. I’m sharing my enthusiasm for these shows not only because I sit on Evolution’s board (in the interests of full disclosure) but because I’m a genuine fan of each of the artists involved with these productions.

The shows open next Wednesday, April 18, at Arts Court Theatre and run through April 28 (except Monday). Show time is 7:30 and tickets are $25 ($20 for students/seniors); there’s also a Pay What You Can Matinee on Sunday, April 22nd at 2 p.m.

You can order your tickets by phone from Arts Court at 613-564-7240 or buy them online here.

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.

T.E. or Olivier?

As my good friend Jessica Ruano has recounted, we took the opportunity to meet Simon Callow yesterday after seeing his show, Being Shakespeare: meeting him was one of those things on Jessica’s list of Things to Do. We decided we might as well go all the way in doing this, so we asked for his autograph on our freshly bought copies of his recently published “alternative autobiography, “My Life in Pieces.”

He asked my name; I told him. As he readied his pen, he then asked: T.E. or Olivier? I parsed the question – it took me a moment – and replied: T.E. He accepted that, though I perceived a hesitation and, I thought, a little sigh of disappointment.

It was later that I noticed the blurb on the back cover remarking about his hero, Laurence Olivier.

Wrong answer.