Thursday, 25 May 2017

Highlights of the Detailed Adjudication of “Better Living” at Theatre Ontario Festival 2017

Ghost Light Players' production of Better Living
by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Annette G. Procunier of Ghost Light Players’ production of Better Living by George F. Walker (representing the Western Ontario Drama League—WODL)
  • Ghost Light Players is a two-year-old company; no permanent home—they enjoy moving to new spaces; found kindred spirits
  • Director enjoys black comedy, absurdist theatre, “meaty” work: opportunities in George F. Walker; this was an exciting challenge
  • Originally performed at the Bank Theatre in Leamington; seats 150 and they averaged about 75 people per performance which exceed their expectations—proscenium stage, braced set pieces, manual lighting board, two-channel sound system; 40 minutes away from their home in Windsor
  • Texts like this from the late-70s/early-80s are resonating again with political extremism coming back; issues of family violence have not gone away
  • Not an easy play to watch, learning curve for the audience; there will be people in the audience who have lived it; depended upon the truthfulness of the presentation
  • Structure of text can be problematic: Opens with exposition, raucously funny, initially the father isn’t so dreadful—he seems benign; but evil hides in banality
  • Text doesn’t articulate why the women get sucked back in; people do return to abuse, but it is a sparsely-written transition—all plays have difficulty in their writing, and the challenge is to figure them out
  • Production was abundantly truthful—committed to believability and taking us into the world (and we didn’t want to be there)
  • Set was evocative, audience members went up to the edge of the stage to see the detail
  • Give your tech people all the time in the world—they get far less of it; in tech rehearsals, actors need to sit there and shut up
  • Furniture arrangement: Sofa was parallel to the edge of the stage, with the chair perpendicular; if the chair was angle, we would have seen the person sitting in the chair much better
  • Kitchen rocking chair interfered with them using the space; also, it read more like a living room rocking chair; it was Nora’s mother’s chair yet she never sat in it (actor had backstory to explain that, but audience didn’t see it)
  • Loved the characters eating; it demonstrated compulsive behaviour but the heads down sometimes made it hard to hear
  • Costumes and cell-phone made it clear it wasn’t set in the 1980s since the set (out of necessity) couldn’t tell us that
  • Actors should take time with their initial entrance: they are the action and we want to absorb who they are; give us an action that allows us a second to see them (e.g. Junior’s entrance—wanted him to flaunt while not seeing Jack in the kitchen; could have been achieved if Jack was entirely U.S. and Junior flaunted to audience rather than mirror)
  • Wonderful job of truthful movement, especially with a text requiring so much physicality
  • Relationship between Gail and Junior was extremely clear about who was in charge, his naivete was finely acted
  • Theatre is about truth not reality: believable people are essential and the actors committed to that; family members’ responses were distinct from each other
  • Nora’s first entrance in full regalia was successful: actress created a world and lived in it; always be careful vocally: when voices rise, they can emphasize vowels at the expense of consonants (particularly for women)
  • Risk-taking: characters/actors push each other to the limit, listened to each other as thought things were fresh and new
  • Occasionally kept playing through the laughs; this is not stand-up comedy with punchlines (like a comedian telling jokes for predictable laughs), but the humour is essential to the work
  • Pace and internal rhythm was good
  • Nora clearly knew who Tom/Tim was, but decided to live their relationship in another way; it was scary; they talked through the fight scene and changed it a lot—talking is good, but performers can be hurt and should take the time to rehearse it; similarly the Tom/Jack fight was creepy
  • Maryann had excellent flightiness
  • The gun was not seen clearly by the audience; a stage gun would have had more impact than the sound effect
  • The motorcycle helmet gag was a hoot; succeeded because there was no self-consciousness
  • The final family scene left us with question of what happened to him, and then he comes in with the television—would his entrance have been more effective if he came in from the backyard, audience focus would go to him; they had tried that choice, but decided they preferred him sneaking into the family portrait—execution didn’t read as “sneaking”, read as he belonged there; what was the significance of the television? He will show them what’s going on in the world, part of his control over them
As always, this is my best effort to record the conversation at the Detailed Adjudication, with apology for any misrepresentations of the ideas of the members of the company and the adjudicator. Corrections and clarifications are welcome in the comments.

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