Friday, 16 May 2014

Highlights of the Adjudication of The Curtain Club's Lenin's Embalmers

by Bruce Pitkin, Executive Director
  • Bea began by singing in Russian and tells of her own experiences of Stalinism in her native Hungary when she was a child in 1953
  • Bravo, everyone, it is a risky choice. Risky because of title, content and style. Risky to take to Festival, since it is reliant on split-second timing and has high technical challenges. A lot of preparation is required by the technicians and actors to make sure everything works.
  • Bea posed questions to each actor
  • Lenin: What do you think the author wanted to do with this role? Do you think your character changes during the show?
  • Boris/Vlad: What is your central motivation and how are you different from each other
    Mark Hayward and Phil Dionne in
    The Curtain Club's Lenin's Embalmers
    Photo by Davis Strong

  • Nadia: What were the challenges in your three roles?
  • Stalin: What is the core of the character? Are you an evil clown?
  • Krasin: How did you develop this character and the physicality? What was the key to your character?
  • Agent 1 / 2: What were the distinct characteristics of each role? How did you keep them different?
  • Question for the Director, why this play and why now?
  • You are trying to create pretty heavy duty stuff. The audience is not aware of this story or these characters. How do you take them into this world? How are they reacting to it? The audience was absorbed and they were also puzzled. This play provokes them and does not answer all the questions. It is an inconclusive world.
  • Lighting crew was quite a large one. The Curtain Club talked about everyone who was involved, how smoothly they functioned together and how much fun it was. It is a demanding show for lights and sound. Were the footlights fully operational all the time? The lighting designer said, not all the time as a design choice. Audience commented that they could not read the sign boards as they traveled across the stage. Lighting the sign boards presented a challenge in the new space. The audience missed some of the content, but Bea appreciated the concept of titling the settings.
  • What happened at the top of the show with Lenin’s first entrance? Lenin seemed not to realize that he was not in his light. After that, things went smoothly, although it does have a ripple effect on the rest to try harder.
  • Fabulous work on the precision of the physicality. Very difficult to execute and maintain. You have to be able to do the pattern with speed. It sets up a nice contrast to the larger than life aspect of the characters, such as Stalin.
  • When reading the script, there is so much openness and room for interpretation, which is not easy to develop and keep a progression going.
  • Vodka plays a large role in the show and it was interesting to watch the pattern of the drinking in the show, which was well executed. Nice alacrity in the use of props. Director explained her choices with the props and set pieces, in order to keep a simplicity in the style. Bea talks about how that sets up a convention and being consistent throughout. Audience then experiences the shifts more readily.
  • First time for Bea to see a cadaver being operated on onstage. Even though there was a gruesome aspect to it, the audience stayed with you via comedy. Bea would have liked more clarity during the guard sequence, as the lighting was murky. That was a technical issue rather than a design choice.
  • Who chose the music? The sound designer did well in choosing many different kinds of music, which were quite evocative and captured the moments well. Music heightens the sense of survival, since it is all you have left and preserves your sanity in difficult times.
  • Through all of the farce in the play, the audience must still feel the reality of the pain. How do you do that when the main protagonists can be unlikeable? What is the difference between the two characters?
  • How did the director get the cast and crew to buy into her vision? Director talked about how she connected with everyone involved in the production and created the unity of the vision.
  • Does Stalin dip into madness? What is his journey? What was your actor’s journey? Stalin talked about exploring the bi-polar nature of the character and making his mood changes very fast.
  • Who do we rely on to get information? What version of history will stand? Who do you trust in this play? Author knows of the price that the ordinary person pays living under a dictatorship. And then how do you make a comedy about it?
  • What was the author doing in creating the role of Lenin? It is really hard to play an idea or be a symbol. The through-line for Lenin is tricky, in not being just a symbol, you need to play him as a man.
  • Nadia, which role gave you the most challenge - Nadia 1, 2 or 3? Nadia talked about the differences in the three characters and constantly seeking. A good actor keeps seeking to find and refine their process. Cameo roles can be difficult, due to the specificity and quickness of the development time on stage. Be aware of not playing the resolution of the character, keep seeking.
  • Stalin is also still questing to the very end of the play, so he doesn’t play the resolution.
  • How did you create the physicality of the Krasin character? Krasin spoke of his process in discovering how he got into the head of the character. What was achieved with Krasin, was that he evoked pity from the audience, which is essential for the audience to care about the character. Gave this subservient character some dignity. ‘A man caught in the middle,’ is how the author describes the character, he is stretched to the extremes.
  • Agent 1 and 2, what were the distinct characteristics that defined you? Agent 2 and 1, talked about the motivations of their characters. The rewards of power are important.
  • How romantic was the kiss over the cadaver
  • Bea half-seriously expected to see some dancing onstage, due to the boisterous energy of the music.
  • Nice playing of the pauses in the script. Good delivery of the lines. There was a really nice progression in the vodka drinking sequences. Nice timing on ‘A job for life.’ Great build to ‘Trust me.’
  • Discussed if could have parked Lenin in one place or in the same place, for greater effect.
  • First appearance of Stalin in his white jacket is stunning, because of the stark contrast to the beiges and greys, beforehand.
  • Bea had difficulty hearing some of the actors onstage at the very beginning. Not sure if it was only a lack of adjustment to the space. Be aware of projecting and articulating in the larger space.
  • Finally, it’s great to celebrate the work, and the insanity too, that goes into taking on a new challenge. You are good risk takers.

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