Thursday, 26 May 2016

Highlights of the Detailed Adjudication of The Drowning Girls at Theatre Ontario Festival 2016

By Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Mimi Mekler of The Curtain Club’s production of The Drowning Girls by Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic and Charlie Tomlinson (representing the Association of Community Theatres—Central Ontario—ACT-CO)

  • Play requires water effects: characters in bathtubs, showers overhead—numerous issues to address (risk of mildew, electrical safety, temperature, hygiene, etc.); operation requires them to work independently of each other; explored different strategies.
  • In original production, raked the stage from 15-feet at the front to 11-feet at the back to drain U.S. into a trough; too complicated to rake the state here, so created a lip.
  • Varied temperature according to needs of actors, as best as possible. They always felt safe performing.
  • Costumes experimented with different fabrics, eventually built the underwear and dresses out of curtain material that was sheer and dried quickly.
  • Strength of production was its simplicity: specific and crystal clear
  • What are the challenges and traps of the play? Director’s concept was of a purgatory. Bessie arrives first, alone until Alice arrives as playmate. Margaret is the new girl who shows up and hast to be taught the games—28 games in total.
  • Props: The newspapers was created, found authentic stories to ground it in reality, and then sprayed (essentially a scotch-guard) so that they were water-safe and could be pulled out of the bathtub.
  • The play has the qualities of a memory play: How do you make them active? Where do the characters make their discoveries?
  • Alice and Margaret each have moments of discovery in narrative, Bessie is more challenging because she constantly forgave him, and gave him the template for his future actions—for her, it is in the gasp after the murder.
  • Characters of Alice’s mother, the landlady are interesting—offered the women help but refused.
  • Margaret’s realization when she is alone and has time to think that she doesn’t really know him—in spite of her background, wouldn’t she be more modest because of that discovery?
  • Is there a moment of discovery that he is the same man? The clang of the prison door suggested something in common, recognized echoes and similarities. Needed clarity of that recognition.
  • Blaming the victim encapsulated in that moment of “How could they be so stupid?”
  • Thank goodness they were funny: the audience wouldn’t be able to take the play without the humour.  (Good example was Margaret pulling out the reading glasses, a moment we all recognized.)
  • Why laughter at the end? Their journey is complete, and they are free from the purgatory. Did the audience reach that same point of sharing that joy?
  • Fog and harmonium set the mood in the opening.
  • Charades executed with great clarity.
  • Crisp and clean calling of cues by the stage manager.
  • Good costume choices: Margaret has buttons in the front because she has no one to help her.
  • Lights had some difficulty balancing the level for the three tubs, in available time.
  • Accent work of other characters was odd (protagonists are to be played without accents), but it grew over the course of the show.
  • Good theatrical magic: props seeming to appear out of nowhere.
  • The “stuttering” lighting effect of the period movie was extremely well-executed: established a convention and mood, but stopped because it would have been too much for the entire scene to be lit that way.
  • The image of the dancing was another clear image: contrasts of varying heights, body types,  blonde/brunette/redhead, etc.
  • Alice giving the pearls to George was a well-executed symbolic moment that clearly communicated scope of what he did.
  • Bessie as the insurance salesman—good vocal work to become much more resonant to distinguish the character.  As the doctor, she took great pleasure in playing a horrible man.
  • The scene with the cleaning ladies is a problematic, long scene. Good use of physical blocking around the tubs to show variety. Tried different accents for the three characters, with the tentative looks above. Would they have benefitted from being more personally affected by the events?
  • Pouring water into the bathtubs—didn’t hear the sound of the water pouring, perhaps pouring from a greater height. Problem is that the water levels are not that high.
  • Strong transformation into and through singing of Nearer My God to Thee.
  • Hard to duplicate lighting effect in home theatre where the LEDs seemed to change the colour inside of the tubs.
  • Production was expected to be a challenge for their audience, but it resonated positively with them.
As always, this is my best effort to record the conversation at the Detailed Adjudication, with a standard apology for any misrepresentations of the ideas of the adjudicator and the members of the company. Corrections and clarifications are welcome in the comments.

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