Thursday, 29 May 2014

Discovering Great Truths: Intern Directing at The Shaw

by Alistair Newton

As I write this, spring has—at last!—come to Niagara-on-the-Lake and summer feels not terribly far behind.  Never having been an especially summery person—nor an especially large fan of airborne allergens—I greet this news nonetheless with a great sense of relief and joy; this past season’s endless cold-and-grey was worthy of Camus; his line, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” sprang to mind when it snowed in April...three times...

Peter Hinton’s magnificent production of Cabaret that I had the great fortune to work on as assistant director is up and running, and I am deep into rehearsals with Jackie Maxwell on O’Casey’s Irish Civil War era family drama Juno and the Paycock—a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to two directors at the height of their powers with divergent aesthetics, sensibilities, and approaches.  One of the many unique gifts that working at The Shaw rewards one with, is the chance to work on (and patronize) many productions set in a similar time period.  As such, I’ve sometimes imagined O’Casey’s tenement-dwelling Boyle family fleeing impoverished Dublin for Weimar Berlin and a night at the Kit Kat Klub...

Aside from assisting on Cabaret and Juno, I have also just begun a scene study exploring Tom Waits and Robert Wilson’s musical version of Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck with members of the ensemble.  The experience of delving into one of my very favourite pieces of theatre—one I’ve directed twice before—with actors of the intelligence and generosity of spirit of the Shaw ensemble is proving as enriching as I’d hoped.  At our next session, Tara Litvack (our fabulous Metcalf Foundation music intern) will be leading the company through the vocal score.  These scene studies are part of the great work of the Shaw Festival Academy which offers the ensemble classes in dialect, singing, and many other aspects of the mandate.  My fellow intern director Rachel Peake will be exploring how translation can inform the building of character through an exploration of the work of Ibsen next month.

As I prepare to select my top three choices for the Directors Project presentations which will complete my internship at Shaw, my time is being filled with reading plays and copious ancillary research on the the socio-cultural milieu that informs The Shaw’s mandate.  I remember first being sold on the importance of the Festival’s period by Associate Director Eda Holmes who explained to me that the mandate (1856 - 1950) covers both the birth of the Modernist imagination and engages with the fuel that ignited the political catastrophes of the Twentieth Century. 

My other primary activity this past two months has been speaking about the world of Cabaret with the many student groups that visit The Shaw; I have had many moments enriched by a feeling of wonderful perspective upon receiving the reminder that an institution is paying me to spend hours and hours speaking about the Weimar Republic...something I would gladly do for free.  I must admit that my first interactions with the students were ever-so-slightly intimidating, but after I quickly realized that no one was going to attack me for a half-hour chat involving statistics on sex work, the history of the birth of Sexology, or the fact that a young Christopher Isherwood came to Berlin to meet boys, the experience has become a joy...and I feel all of my thirty years whenever I stop to marvel at how attitudes towards queerness have changed since I was a high school student; shall I just say that Campbell River BC in the late nineties was no Weimar Berlin?

As I move forward into the second half of my time at Shaw, I keep the words of the Festival’s namesake which appeared on the season poster of Jackie Maxwell’s inaugural season as Artistic Director in the front of my mind: “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”  Onwards and upwards and I hope to see you in Niagara-on-the-Lake...

a handshake of thought,
Alistair Newton
May, 20, 2014

Apply for the 2015 Neil Munro Intern Directors Project at the Shaw Festival. The deadline is June 20.

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