Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Matthew Thomas Walker

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

Matthew Thomas Walker is training in directing with Kim Collier at Bard on the Beach / Electric Company in Vancouver BC.

(May 26, 2016)  Now is a great time to pause and write about my ongoing PTTP mentorship with Kim Collier. We’ve just finished the studio portion of our rehearsal period for her production of Romeo & Juliet and are now shifting gears for our move to the Bard on the Beach site—a giant festival tent that gets rebuilt each summer and equipped with all the necessities of a fully functioning theatre. The stage backs on to the Pacific Ocean, with the mountains in the distance. It’s quite impressive and a very unique playing space to take command of.

The show is growing beautifully. Through the demonstration of her own passion and belief in what the show can achieve, Kim elicits deep investment from her team. I continue to be very impressed with her ability to swing discussion from the big universal thoughts that have shaped her vision to the tiny details that will stack up to achieve it. She approaches the text with such tireless curiosity.  

One discussion we had that spoke directly to where I am in my growth as a director related to how Kim’s site-specific, independent theatre beginnings have informed her work for other larger institutions such as Bard. What she shared with me is that she continues to think of every show as site-specific no matter where she works. This involves consideration of not just the architectural structure and atmosphere of a space, but also the greater picture such as the neighbourhood that surround the theatre and the rituals associated with coming to this show at this time of year. I’ve loved meditating on these things and seeing her put them into action.

In creating her production of Romeo & Juliet for Bard, Kim has certainly taken into consideration how to maximize use of the physical structure, staging the actors in all available corners of the theatre. Since the beginning she has also been conscious that the impressive vista in behind the stage can be both friend and foe depending on how you interact with it. This has led to careful consideration of staging and design in order to play to the unique space’s strengths.

Perhaps most inspiring to me has been how Kim’s consideration of the audience has shaped her vision. Bard is a far-reaching company that will appeal to all ages. It is entirely reasonable to expect that any audience will include both long time Shakespeare scholars in close proximity to youth who are attending their first piece of theatre. What I like about Kim’s approach is that she keeps this at top of mind without ever allowing it to steer her towards pandering or softening her choices. In fact, she’s used this knowledge to strengthen and specify her vision. She searches to achieve rich humanity within the many layers of communication Shakespeare has provided, while always remembering the impact that we can have on the youth in the audience. Perhaps I find this particularly pointed because of the play we’re working on. The timeless story follows the love between two teenagers who attempt to transcend their parents’ history of hate. When working with the actors Kim frequently references “that 14 year-old girl or boy in the audience” who stand to be impacted most. She has given much thought, and engaged fascinating discussion with the actors playing the two lovers to uncover what “our” version of this love will model for today’s youth (and their parents). The groundwork has been eliciting beautiful and affecting performances from the actors, which I feel will contribute to an enlightening experience for not just the youth in the audience, but for all.

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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