Thursday, 26 January 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Jennifer Stewart

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

Jennifer Stewart is training in directing classical theatre with Jeannette Lambermont-Morey at Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie

(December 26, 2016) The Libertine – Weeks One and Two of Rehearsals

“There is no right or wrong but what conduces to or hinders pleasure.” Don Juan, The Libertine, by Thomas Shadwell, London, England (and Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, ON).

Our first morning of rehearsal began with the standard meet-and-greet of cast and creative team. Jeannette shared her vision for a contemporary adaptation and production of this extremely dated and misogynistic play. She particularly stressed the importance of the ending. In this version of the play, Don Juan spends his life brutally using, abusing and murdering both women and men, without ever being caught or punished for his crimes.

Therefore, Jeannette decided she wanted the audience to decide his fate. Without relying on divine retribution she wanted to create an ending that was both satisfying and appropriate for all involved. She compared Don Juan to men living in our time: Jian Ghomeshi and Donald Trump to be exact. Two narcissists who desire power and fame, without realizing their actions have a price, which is usually paid by other people.

Following Jeannette’s speech and a design presentation by our costume, set and props designer Cathy Elliot, we sat down for a full read-through of the play with our fabulous cast. Jakob Ehman plays Don Juan, with Tim Walker as Jacomo, Ben Blais as Don Antonio, Ted Charette as Don Lopez, Theresa Tova as Ernesta, Mikaela Davies as Leonora, Ruby Joy as Maria and Tiffany Martin as Flora and Clara.

We spent most of the first week on text analysis and choreographing the sword fights because Simon Fon (our fight captain extraordinaire) was only available during this time. As a theatre artist I do not have a lot of experience in stage combat, let alone sword-fighting, and watching Simon and the cast develop these fights was invaluable. We have two rehearsal spaces so I spent most of my time with Jeannette as she discussed each section of the play with the all actors involved in the scene, while Simon continued working on the fights in the other room.

Before rehearsals started Jeannette divided the play into smaller scenes or “blocks” as they are called. Each day we would work our way through the play, block by block, breaking down the text, discussing character development, relationships between characters, before getting the scene on its feet and staging it. Our goal was to have a rough shape of the entire play for the following Friday afternoon, when we would stagger through everything for our lighting designer Jareth Li.

Due to the fact that this story is dated, and the play itself is not very well written, Jeannette has decided to add other elements such as sword fighting, music and rhythm to our interpretation. She also wanted to include flamenco into the mix for one of the dream like sequences between Don Juan and all of his various “brides” or “women.” I have a dance background so she asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping with the flamenco choreography. In this way my mentorship has evolved to include minimal choreography as well as assistant directing. I do not mind, because I am sure there will be times in my career as a director, where I will be called upon to direct as well as choreograph or create movements pieces within my shows.

Since the Don Juan story takes place in Seville, Spain I decided to use the very famous and popular Sevillanas flamenco dance as the base for the choreography of this play. I taught the cast the basic steps and we have thus far incorporated this dance into our “Brides” scene. After our stagger through this past Friday Jeannette had more ideas to incorporate into the dance, which would help to clarify the story of these tragic women. We will incorporate these ideas into the scene during our remaining rehearsal time.

We have another week of rehearsal in Toronto before we move the show to the Mady Centre in Barrie. First, we are going to start at the beginning of the play and detail the work or make changes when specific scenes or moments are not quite working. Second, I will be given an hour a day to rehearse and continue to build the dance sequence. And third, I will assist, support and take notes for Jeannette during the scene work and eventual run through of the play at the end of the coming week.

Thus far, my mentorship with Jeannette has been fabulous. I have learned so much from watching her work. Not only in all the ways I was hoping to learn from this work on the production of a classical play, but in the way she commands the room, gives positive yet constructive notes to the actors as well as from her incredible skills with time management. Her rehearsal schedules are meticulous and we are always moving forward with the work. If we don’t get to something scheduled by the end of our day, she works it into the process for the following day.

Her knowledge of the play, the text and her vision is always clear and concise. When she talks about an idea I can always picture what she is suggesting in my head, because she knows how to use words in a precise way, to express what she wants on the stage. This may sound simple enough, but it is of the utmost importance for a director to speak concisely and clearly to everyone involved on a production, for the success of the director’s vision and process to appear before an audience on opening night.

All of the pieces of our Libertine puzzle are coming together, slowly but surely, step-by-step, and I look forward to getting into tech next week to add the elements of sound, lights, costumes, props and set to this ambitious production.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2017.

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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