Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Jessie Fraser

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

Jessie Fraser is training in digital communications and archival processes with Adam Barrett at VideoCabaret in Toronto

(June 15, 2017)

It's very dark in here. Not quite the total darkness that will envelop the opening night house but close enough. Monitors glow from inside the house as designers and technicians make the thousands of tiny adjustments needed to make the intricate details of these shows seem effortless. The company on both sides of the knee-wall becoming an increasingly well-oiled machine moving seamlessly through razor-sharp lights and dizzying costume changes, barreling like a train—

"stop" "stop" "STOP" 
"...everybody ok?" 
"Yup, couldn't find my moustache, it was caught in Madame Gauthier's wig." Reset. Start again. 

Bob Nasmith came to the first preview, watched act one from the booth. "Marvellous, just marvellous!" Bob is one of the original Videocab actors and can remember playing many of the roles on stage right now. Paul Braunstein, assistant director, was once Laurier and even onstage actors play opposite characters they once embodied themselves. Such is the legacy of this company. 

I spent much of the early stage of this rehearsal process working in the sound department helping Richard Feren wrangle the vast musical resource that is the Brent Snyder library. Digging through boxes of A-tracks and reel-to-reel video searching for an elusive overture I am face-to-face with the reality of the importance of ongoing archival practice. I am one who believes that in order to support innovation and experimentation of form and invention we must be able to reference and access the innovations and experiments of our past.

As the process continued I found myself drawn to find out more about Brad Harley, co-Artistic Director of Shadowland Theatre and designer of Videocabaret’s idiosyncratic props. Brad’s been working with the company since the early 80’s and staying focused while going through his props and set pieces in storage is a herculean act of self-control. The full list for parts one and two is a daunting two-page document, landscape-orientated, two columns, 10pt font, single spaced. Some props, like the crucified Christ on a cross or the cow, have been around for years (although, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time Bessie has been able to be milked.) Props are modified and adapted to suit the current production while maps are constantly being adjusted as the size of the theatre changes the way we perceive the images.

What's next? Confederation Part I opens this coming Saturday and we have just begun the massive task of negotiating the company through the cue to cue for Part II. I will begin the second part of my time with Adam as we begin to explore the finer points of photo and video editing for online communications purposes. I'm excited, these are skills that I constantly find myself lacking in my own work and I have been fortunate enough to pair my time with Videocabaret with a residency at the east end bar, Farside, where I am going through the personal archives of my grandmother; a wonderful example of the larger themes that become the containers and questions supporting my professional and personal work.

Having the support of Theatre Ontario has afforded me the flexibility to do so much more than simply shadow and observe a mentor. It has given me the flexibility to invest time into both the process and history of an historic company throughout the course of an historic double bill production. As we turn the corner from rehearsal to performance and as Adam and I make the shift from archive to communication I am reminded to keep track of this experience with my own documentation, after all, what’s the point of saving it if I can’t find it later? 

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The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 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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