Saturday, 21 May 2011

Adjudication of Trying

Highlights and my reflections from this morning’s detailed adjudication by Jane Carnwath of Domino Theatre’s presentation of Trying.

  • Play was chosen by the theatre, director Penny Nash applied to direct it because the loved the script
  • A two-hander, and you had to know you could find two people who could inhabit the roles
  • Characters bring an enormous amount of social and emotional baggage
  • One challenge of the text is that from the point of view of a story arc, not much “happens”
  • Moved from the Baby Grand Theatre in Kingston—one member of the company said that the entire building could probably fit on the stage of the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts
  • But the width was comparable, their home stage was much shallower
  • Set design by Grant Buckler used symmetrical beams to define the walls of the space; “nitpicky comment” was that the beams could have used a darker shade in order to reflect the age of the office, would also help tone down any focus that they might draw
  • The width meant that the furniture was far apart; sometimes the sparks between the characters “had to fly a little too far”
  • William Morrow played Judge Francis Biddle, hearing his rich, deep voice at the adjudication made me appreciate the impressive vocal and accent work as he found the character’s mid-Atlantic pitch
  • Sound designer Michael Gourgon decided that since the text clearly placed the period of the show (1967-1968), he could focus on theme and tone rather than trying to evoke the era; reflected the two-person structure by choosing duets of cellos and violins, some baroque some modern, matching the tone and the prominence of the respective instruments to the tone of the scene; the choices were sensitive and not intrusive
  • Lighting design was by David L. Smith, a professional member of the Theatre Ontario Talent Bank: the space was well-lit, the one opportunity that was identified was more sense of the light sources
  • William Morrow described how he physically inhabited the role of an 83-year-old man (since he is much younger); observations particularly of a neighbour who has rheumatoid arthritis, he would practice the walk for long stretches in order to “build muscle memory” when he stepped onto the stage
  • With a cast of two (the other being Naomi Ballance as Sarah “with an H”), Jane’s “let’s try something” adjudication approach meant that they were kept up on their feet a lot; one area that Jane explored with them was eye-line connections, and one could change the status of the characters by changing where the eyes were looking—often the person who is not looking at the other would gain status in the moment (and kudos to the properties person who produced the letter opener from her handbag needed for the exercise!)
  • Logistics of exits in-between scenes—sometimes, when an exit is described with particular significance (in this text, it’s a door to a bathroom where she is directed to go if she wants to cry), using that exit even during a scene change can have unintentional impact
  • A wonderful illustration of a scene earning its laugh: “Lace your skates and get on the ice”
  • Playwrights often come from a very different place from actors and directors when they write the text
  • Actor struggled with how much Biddle reveals to Sarah throughout the play, challenge of how much he can share, too much is inappropriate for this kind of man; agreed that this is a valid struggle for any actor playing this role, recognized that humour can be used as a technique to temper those revelations, it doesn’t make him seem weak, it keeps him in control of the revelation, while also building trust between the characters
  • The sound effect of the stairs off-stage was a wonderful illustration of a production making a discovery beyond a simple description in the text; the sounds of the characters on the stairs punctuated the physical changes to the characters; the fact that pregnant Sarah on the stairs in the final scene sounds very similar to the physically frail Biddle on the stairs in early scenes reminds us that both the ending/taking of life and the beginning/giving of life takes an enormous physical toll on us
  • The production did an excellent job exploring how breaking physical boundaries can show a growing connection between characters
  • Biddle can be a difficult man to like; it was to the actors’ credit that his performance showed no judgement or commentary on him (a theme previously explored in the Thursday afternoon workshop when we discussed Hedda Gabler and the fact that no actor playing Hedda should ever think that she’s a monster; you must not judge the characters)
  • They did a wonderful job in shaping the unseen character of Catherine, Biddle’s wife; the actors and director made sure that she was a well-defined, vibrant, consistent person
  • Lovely costumes (designed by Claudia Wade): Sarah’s colour reflected her youth and her sense of hope; Biddle is defined by his struggle to maintain his dignity (how he looks clearly matters), he still tries to dress formally, but there is an inevitable shabbiness
  • Scene changes are logistical challenges, actors are changing costumes and time is passing so a stage crew is necessary; there was enough light and choreography to keep it interesting nonetheless
Tonight Theatre Windsor presents Edward Albee’s classic Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, the final presentation of this week’s Theatre Ontario Festival 2011. Tomorrow, we will be presenting the Festival Awards at the Performing Arts Centre immediately after the adjudication, and I will be live-blogging. My blog of the final adjudication will be published when I am suitably recovered.

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