Saturday, 16 May 2015

Timeliness, and The Politics of a Period: Adjudication of Born Yesterday at Theatre Ontario Festival 2015

Born Yesterday
Peterborough Theatre Guild
David Adams and Kellie McKenty.
by Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Ron Cameron-Lewis of Peterborough Theatre Guild’s production of Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin.
  • This script opens with a dense scene with a lot of information conveyed in it.  Members of audience were not hearing key information. Some delivery was too fast. Previous adjudicator had told them to speed up. But there is a happy medium. Pace is the rhythm of the show, rate is the speed of delivery: don’t confuse them.
  • The dark room exercise (which has come up in both previous adjudications) was referenced again. 60% of information for audience is conveyed visually, 30% via subtext, 10% via text.  That exercise helps you to rediscover the rhythms of the show by taking out the visual component.
  • Live in the moment that is happening on stage.
  • First-time directors who took on ambitious, large cast show.
  • The set was visually impressive, and well-designed to provide playing areas. Physically massive: “We have no right to expect such a set at Festival.”
  • Sound levels were too low: we needed to hear and enjoy the lyrics of the opening music.
  • Visually-paced opening. Paul nosing around was so appropriate in defining his character.
  • In comedy, always sustain energy to the end of the line and avoid what Ron calls “the great Canadian drop-off” in our vocal patterns—especially in comedy, where the final word of the line is the punchline.
  • The play settled down in the scene between Brock and Devery when they were left alone. In general, it was the two-hander scenes of the play that had the most believable quality.
  • Show us inner monologues: When Brock hands Paul the cigar, this is something expensive and valuable and needs to be examined before “I’ll give it to someone…”
  • Brock’s speech about 1937 and how he got started: this is an opportunity to slow down and explore the text, being in that past time, living in the reminiscence.
  • Terrace was a wonderful playing area for giving us an opportunity to see characters while they were impacted by the view.
  • Good rehearsal exercise to find subtext in lines is to say only the key words from the lines.
  • Brock’s bellowing hurt our ear drums and was thus appropriate.
  • Billie and Devery signing papers: another case of a strong, two-person scene with rhythm that was clearer and well-paced.
  • Lovely costuming work. Especially noteworthy was Mrs. Hedges’ hat. Eddie wore his hat well, and it said a lot about his character. One pair of shoes seemed too contemporary for the period.
  • Blocking could have benefited from more cheating of dialogue out to the front. There must be moments of connection where characters lock eyes, but then try the “water sprinkler” effect of moving your head through the lines bringing it back to the moment of connection.
  • Fun example of character detail work in Billie: the bored chorus girl mouthing the words to a song.
  • Use the power of vowels to carry emotions. Ron led an exercise where the characters sung their lines from the Senator Hedges’ meeting scene. Find a ballad tempo and let the voice do whatever it wants.
  • Billie’s wiggle up the stairs was a highly effective visual moment.
  • Ron led an exercise where Brock delivered a monologue, and Devery, Senator, Mrs Hedges verbalized their reactions out loud at the same time. This helps to create inner monologue. The next step is to find non-verbal ways to express it.
  • Furnishing: The D.S.R. table was really too small for the papers (although it was effective for the card game.) The telephone was a wonderful discovery by set dressing.
  • One of the dangers of a rushed vocal rate is that syllables elide together. “Verrall” sounds like a single syllable.
  • Lighting problem: The wall sconces were too bright. Unfortunately, they were non-dimmable fluorescents. (They flicked into and out of blackouts.) Lights are the most effective way to draw the eye on stage.
  • Paul’s bow to Billie was a missed opportunity for a reaction in establishing their relationship.
  • Good job at finding the comedy in the Paul / Billie scene.
  • Billie’s voice served the character well. Explore varying the pitch during the seduction scene (specifically dropping it.)
  • Excellent choice to drop the smoking. It’s not integral to the action, there is no dialogue about it, and it is challenging to execute effectively. Also, there are municipal rules about smoking in publicly-funded facilities/schools.
  • The gin game was a wonderfully executed sequence of inner monologues. The way Brock and Billie treat each other is appalling. This is an opportunity to see what they are like when they are together and alone.
  • That scene is another opportunity to dim the lighting around the rest of the set (just 10%) while bumping the level on the card game (up 10%)—just slight enough to direct the audience’s eye.
  • Scene change for Act One to Act Two: music level needed to be bumped up so we could hear the lyrics to Anything Goes.
  • Since Act Two opens with no dialogue, just Billie alone, reading and marking up the newspaper, the music did not need to stop—just drop the level so that it fades out when someone else comes in.
  • Glasses are challenging costume as they obstruct eyes, our “windows” to the character’s soul.  When they are fundamental to the text, find opportunities to take them off.
  • Billie: “What makes you think I’m 30?” An opportunity to say the line to him, but then react to us.
  • Tears: Show us the progression to that moment, get upset in the earlier lines.
  • “What is a peninsula?” “It’s that new medicine.” This is a moment for discovery: Billie is triumphant, and in that moment the other characters figure it out.
  • Billie and Devery talking about the cartel: this scene had an effective and clear reaction/response sequence. Again, Billie could drop her vocal pitch to convey her seriousness about the business. (Save the higher pitch for when she is putting on “the bimbo.”)
  • Be careful about key moments of blocking being hidden by furniture, e.g. Brock grabbing at Billie.
  • Holding the fight between Brock and Billie while Helen the maid enters and leaves with the sheets: This is a moment for silent inner monologue while they wait for Helen to leave.
  • The moment of domestic violence reminds us of when this play was written.
  • Fill your blackouts with music; start it before the house lights come down and keep it going until the stage lights come up.
  • Act Three lighting: The time of day did not read like it was 1:30am in the morning. It needed more table lamps and consideration of the light sources, etc.
  • Brock found really meaningful delivery in Act Three.
  • Actions can be louder than words, and can distract an audience’s eye. Be careful of physical movements that are not intended to draw focus.
  • Senator Hedges Act Three costume: Did he really have time to get into a suit? The costume could have conveyed the character’s urgency to be there when woken up and summoned by Brock.
  • Paul: “My wife wouldn’t like it.” / Billie: “She certainly wouldn’t.” This is the marriage proposal and acceptance, a shared moment between the two characters while the other characters are oblivious. Make the most of the moment.
  • Lovely final moment for Billie and Eddie’s reaction.
  • Devery’s final lines are the denouement of the play. Many were delivered up stage. The moment needed a “re-grouping” to re-block characters so that the line could be delivered down stage.
  • Would Paul’s glasses have been better without lenses. Avoids reflecting light. Good design choice to match the frames between Paul and Billie.
  • In their own theatre, they had decorated the lobby as the hotel, with the hustle and bustle of the Assistant Manager, bellhops, etc.
  • Billie’s challenge was keeping as big (or bigger) than Brock. She created a nice emotional arc as she grew up and fell in love.
  • Billie was a brunette. They considered dyeing her hair blonde, but all agreed that it would have been unnecessary and would have added nothing to it.
  • Sibelius Op. 47 is a tricky piece of music to use during a scene without lulling the audience.  Effectively handled by establishing the music and then bringing the volume down.
  • Harry’s challenge was the nastiness. Live and enjoy these types of characters. “I don’t own anything that’s cheap. Except you.” is a wonderful, awful line.
  • Did the play need a trigger warning in the program for the audience about the scene of domestic violence?  Since the audience expectation was a comedy, it would have been appropriate.
(This is the final version of this post, edited post-Festival.)


  1. Never heard of the "water sprinkler effect". Love it!

    1. And my description doesn't do it justice without Ron's demonstration!