Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Viktor Lukawski

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Viktor Lukawski trained in directing with Andrea Donaldson and Joel Greenberg at Tarragon Theatre.

(May 20, 2016) I have just completed my director training, working as an assistant director on two productions in Tarragon Theatre’s 2015-2016 season: Within the Glass with Andrea Donaldson, and  with Joel Greenberg (Studio 180).

I discussed my time with Andrea in my last post, so I’ll focus on my work with Joel here:

Viktor and Joel in sync.
Joel was an incredibly inspiring director to work with, and was so honest and inviting from the first meeting, before rehearsals had even started. I felt very comfortable asking questions and discussing various topics about his process, preparation, and thoughts throughout the rehearsal period. We found that we had very similar thoughts on the production based on the notes we each took during the process. This was a great discovery, to have been able to be on the same page as the director, to be in tune with the director’s vision. (Even our clothing choices were in sync, as evidenced in the photo you see here, taken by actor Mark McGrinder during rehearsals.) 

At the same time, we were also very open about our differing styles of direction and creation, which allowed for in-depth discussions that I found to be very important throughout the second half of my training. Since I come from a collective creation/devised theatre background, the whole point of my training was to expose myself to different methods of theatre creation, development and rehearsal processes. As a result of assisting on these two productions, my training was very successful, informative, and will surely have an impact on my future work.
The process within You Will Remember Me differed greatly from Within the Glass in two very specific ways (aside from the different director, cast, and crew): 

1. The script was already set, was previously produced in Quebec (and translated into English), and the playwright was not present. In “Within the Glass,” a world premiere, Anna Chatterton was with us through the rehearsal process and was editing and re-writing the script as we went along. Here, the script didn’t go through any changes, other than a few small cuts here and there. Fran├žois Archambault didn’t see the show until his arrival to Toronto on opening night.

2. The style was very different: although both shows dealt with very serious subject matter, Within the Glass teetered closer to farce with a lot of physical comedy, while You Will Remember Me stayed more focused in the drama. That being said, both Joel and I were pleasantly surprised to hear laughs from the Tarragon staff, volunteers, and Audit the Season members during the first read-through. When I mentioned my surprise to Richard Rose (Tarragon AD), he quoted a very well-known and astute phrase: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I realized how important it was to provide opportunities for an audience to laugh, especially when the subject matter (a man suffering from Alzheimer’s) is so tragic, that being in that state of tragedy for so long would be almost unbearable.

Throughout the rehearsals of both these productions, I found that I was not only learning as a director, but I was also getting an incredible masterclass in acting. As an actor myself, I had the great privilege of observing performers that had a wide range of experience, from the well-seasoned to the emerging. Probably the greatest reward was watching R.H. Thomson in “You Will Remember Me” as he worked to make sense of the mental gymnastics that were required to follow the emotional arc of his character, Edouard Beauchemin, a man who was slowly losing his memory. It became clear that this process is an important thing for the director to be aware of, to realize the great challenge that an actor is faced with, and to, more often than not, get out of his or her way. The director is there to support and steer the ship in the right direction, while the actor is tackling the text and the character from all sides. A director goes through a similar “tackling” in the preparation for the show, months before the rehearsals even start. However, once we’re in the room, the actor then finds their own way through it. Having worked primarily as an actor, this experience allowed me to understand the processes from both sides of the table, and how they complement each other. Similarly, it’s important not to tread on each other’s toes—after all, both actor and director have their own distinct methods that aid them in achieving the final product.

Viktor and the team from You Will Remember Me
after a hard day's work in rehearsals
(hence with the image is a bit blurry...)
While at the Tarragon, I had a very unique interaction during my training: the theatre has a resident artist every season as part of their Urjo Kareda Residency. This year, they had Joel Bernbaum from Saskatoon's Sum Theatre, who was assistant directing Richard Rose on his productions in the season. This was quite fortuitous as I found a comrade to share my thoughts and experiences with during parts of the process. I was a pleasant addition to my training, and would encourage future trainees to seek each other out and exchange ideas.

Finally, since I have spent most of my career as an actor and tend to perform in shows that I direct, I haven't had the experience of walking away from a production when it's just picking up steam. It was a weird experience to say goodbye to these shows on their opening nights. However, like both Andrea and Joel, I felt it was always the right time to step away.

It reminded me of an old theatre tale (who told me this or where it was from, I can't remember) about a theatre director arriving for the last few previews and feeling like he doesn't have a place to hang his hat. It was a very clear sign that it was time for the director to let the show go and step back. It comes with a certain sense of melancholy and joy. Sadness to not continue the journey with the actors and crew, but joy to see the show land on its own two feet and hit the ground running.

I mention this because I held off on writing my final report until the show closed. I knew I would be returning to watch the show on its closing performance. What surprised me with both productions was how different the shows ended up from the opening night to the closing. The shows continued to evolve in the capable hands of the actors, as they felt more comfortable, and made more discoveries. I realized that Peter Brook was right when he wrote in “The Empty Space” that a show is never fully finished, that you have to approach each rehearsal and each performance “putting yesterday’s discoveries to the test, ready to believe that the true play has once again escaped us.”

It was beautiful to experience this, as it was something I had never realized as an actor: the show would begin and end with me, from the first day of rehearsal to the closing performance. I had never had the experience of walking away from it and then returning to it after.

These kinds of realizations have shaped my work as a director. I feel more comfortable now in this position, more sure of my choices and my vision. I also feel less nervous about directing seasoned actors who are more experienced than I am, as in the end, we're all just searching for the same thing, no matter what our ages and experiences are.

It was also a period of self-discovery, in the moments when I was just observing: “How would I do this production? How would I direct this scene? What do I think of these choices?”
It was good for me to see things differently sometimes, even though it might have been a bit frustrating. The frustration was beneficial. It showed me that I was at a new step in my career, ready to continue with my own projects and further explore my own vision.

Furthermore, the discussions I had with Andrea and Joel have influenced how I approach the rehearsals. The most important thing I realized is that there's no such thing as ‘too much preparation.’ Preparation is key, and one must start doing it way before the rehearsals even begin, no matter what the scale of the project is. The more prepared you are, the smoother the rehearsals will go. Knowing the smallest details allow the director to be more confident in the room, and in providing the proper support and direction to the actors. If you’re not taking the time to prepare properly, it’s akin to walking into an audition without having even looked at the script: you’re not doing yourself any favours.

Already I’m implementing these discoveries and lessons into my own work, and I’m finding a new joy and pleasure in my preparations for upcoming projects.

Thank you to Theatre Ontario, Tarragon Theatre, Andrea Donaldson, and Joel Greenberg for having provided me with such an immersive and inspiring training experience, which has become a huge stepping stone in my career as a theatre director.

Related Reading:


The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 3, 2016.


Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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