Friday, 20 May 2011

Adjudication of Balconville

Highlights and my musings from this morning’s detailed adjudication by Jane Carnwath of Espanola Little Theatre’s presentation of Balconville.
  • This was a very brave and innovative production
  • Director Walter Maskel chose the play; he had read it a long time ago, and liked it as an exploration of social, economic, political issues that still had good comedy
  • Espanola had been auditioning a different play, but based on the strong francophone talent that came out, Walter thought this was an opportunity to do Balconville; four of the nine cast members spoke French as their first language
  • With the significant Franco-Ontarian population in northeastern Ontario, there was a natural fit for audiences
  • Production achieved a detailed exploration of character, finding the nuances and connectedness in them
  • Central question was the dark comedy: could the production find more of the darkness in the text?
  • Feedback at their previous adjudication was that it had been too dark
  • Personally, this is something I have always struggled with during this process: in an educational Festival with multiple “tiers”, how does one make best use of the feedback that you receive from adjudicators, how much opportunity is there for further exploration, how does one integrate an educational process into one where there is also an obligation to perform
  • Discussion around what the play is about and the central conflict in it: these are characters who are fighting against The System; when people feel powerless, they try to find someone over whom they can exert some power
  • As an actor, always make the high stakes choice: rather than “be uncomfortable” try “be afraid, be angry”
  • The higher stakes choice gives the actor a more interesting place to come from; look for ways to raise the stakes through more difficult objectives: “I want to avoid…” is an easier goal than something like “I want to demolish…”
  • Discussion around the suggestion of incest in the text; Walter had consulted with the playwright David Fennario who said that it hadn’t been his intention to suggest it, even though it has appeared in many subsequent interpretations of the play
  • Festival logistics are always a challenge for the participating productions: Fennario uses the song “Hot Child In The City” throughout the play (and the characters need to compete to be heard over it), it didn’t have that volume during the performance; the companies move into the space and have to set sound levels in an empty theatre, it’s always difficult to achieve the desired effect without a preview
  • The lighting poses similar challenges; in Espanola they have about 8-9 feet of ceiling and twelve lighting instruments—Walter (who also designed the lights) had an opportunity to use cyc lighting, and would have loved a couple of days to play; the priority has to be “Can I see them? Can I hear them?”
  • Explorations lead to some wonderful discoveries of unscripted moments; reinforced yesterday’s workshop theme of the benefits of “a playground”
  • Jane likes to get actors on their feet to do exercises during her adjudications to illustrate points: how can one reinforce the through-line with simpler or stronger choices?
  • Tremendous praise for the two first-timers in the cast: Raymond Landry as Paquette and Jessica Lajoie as Diane
  • Wonderful use of silence between characters; silence can be a risky choice, but is also a powerful one
  • Set design by Richard Gamelin and Walter was excellent; called for multiple levels but had to adapt the setting to a single storey due to the space in Espanola—gave them an opportunity to surround the home of the French family with the homes of the English families, reflecting the theme of Quebec within North America
  • Discussion about the set dressing; used laundry lines to help define the characters and fill the stage, but they also were used functionally by characters—therefore does the laundry need to change to reflect the passage of time over the course of play?
  • The company did their own costumes; particular highlight was the costuming choice for Cecile going to church which clearly established what that experience meant for her
  • The cast worked extremely well as a team; during the climactic fire, the staging was clearly challenging to choreograph and rehearse, yet executed wonderfully
  • Likewise, the transitions between scenes were well-choreographed, and never felt like a break
  • Final moment of “the world in flames, what are we going to do?” is a very Brecht-ian moment; so that the effect would not be jarring to the audience, they made a good choice to establish the convention earlier in the show (during Bolduc’s political announcements)
  • Closed with a fun curtain call

This afternoon features Playwright-in-Person Emil Sher at The Curtain Club, and tonight Domino Theatre from Kingston takes the stage at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts with Joanna McClelland Glass’ play Trying, as Theatre Ontario Festival 2011 continues.


  1. Helen Landry ELT20 May 2011 at 17:08

    I played the part of Irene. During the first run of the show and the remount in March for the festival, I had been responding to Johnny with anger, yelling quite a bit and coming across as a bi..h! Our adjudicator asked us to try to soften the impact, cut the yelling out somewhat and show more vulnerability. We did this and it works. As an actor I was able to show anger with vocal tone, body language and at different levels of intensity. Irene then became more likeable and audience members now have more empathy and at times, sympathy for her trials. Without that first adjudication and the opportunity to remount the show I would not have been able to grow as an actor, in that particular way.

  2. Thanks Helen! That's exactly the value I see in remounting for Theatre Ontario Festival - it enables one to apply the lessons learned in a regional Festival adjudication; to explore different choices and to try different techniques.