Thursday, 26 October 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Victoria Stacey

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

Victoria Stacey is training in directing with Thomas Morgan Jones at Theatre New Brunswick in Fredericton NB

Victoria Stacey at Theatre New Brunswick
(September 27, 2017) Here I am in Fredericton, New Brunswick! I have been here for one week and a day but from the amount I have learned and the people I have met it feels like I have been here for one month and a day. I am feeling so grateful for the opportunity granted to me by Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) to focus all of my energy on this one project, Fortune of Wolves by Ryan Griffith. Without the PTTP I would not have had the opportunity to work with such experienced, intelligent, and inspiring artists at this early point in my career.

Ryan Griffith is, in my opinion, the next great Canadian playwright. I could read his play a hundred times and continue to find nuance and new details; every monologue is a mini play. The characters he has created feel like real Canadians, I can attach them to people I have met in my life and when they speak, their entire world appears around them.

From day one the actors have been showcasing the intense specificity with which they approach their work. The unique and unexpected choices they have made for each of their 20+ characters are incredible. Thom and I have both said that we wouldn’t have been able to stage this production in this condensed, three and a half week, rehearsal process without their expertise and refined craft. 

Deanna Choi, sound designer for Fortune of Wolves and former PTTP recipient, has been very eager to share her experiences and advice with me. Her artistry and professionalism were really brought into view when the concept that she and Thom had thought up for the production was tested out on day one and it just didn’t work. In a very short amount of time, through just a few conversations, she and Thom were able to get back on track and figure out an approach to the sound design that worked beautifully. This learning moment gave me a deeper understanding of how directors should aim to communicate with designers. The best part about this was that none of the work they had done prior to the rehearsal process was thrown out. Those designs ended up being reworked and added to the second act of the play. I feel very lucky to have been able to witness the development of the sound design.

Thomas Morgan Jones, director of Fortune of Wolves and my mentor, creates an environment where everyone involved in the project feels that their voice and contributions are valued. One moment that really stands out to me is when Thom invited our stage manager Tammy, one of the teachers from the theatre school Sharisse, and myself up onto the set along with him to explore the space before the actors. This gave the actors the opportunity to see how bodies look in this space and to watch how stories can be formed by bodies in this space before adding text. The exercise ensured that the actors were eager to get up and play and try things! The exercise also provided real examples to refer back to later on in the process and helped the entire team develop a shared language. In this moment the Viewpoints training that Thom and I participated in together in June became very integral to the process. 

Fortune of Wolves. Photo by Matt Carter
I am feeling excited and challenged by my relationship with my mentor. The entire team on the project checks in daily about what is front of mind. This can be anything but generally we speak about what we are struggling with, what we learned, or what we are curious or excited about. Thom and I also have moments to check in separate from the group. Sometimes I have burning questions, which he always takes the time to answer in detail. Sometimes there are big lessons for me to learn, based on what just happened in rehearsal, that we need to break down together. Sometimes we share what stories are coming to mind after watching the pictures come together on stage. Thom is always very clear that these are his choices, interests, and ways of thinking that define who he is as an artist. He never makes me feel that his choices are the only choices but this is the way he chooses to frame his work. Based on these conversations I know that moving forward in my career I need to figure out what my specific lines of inquiry are. 

Back to the play…

 Fortune of Wolves takes place over 13 months (81 monologues/scenes) and we have made it through six months and 42 monologues in six days. Thom established a formula or a way of working that has allowed us to give each piece and transition it’s time without losing sight of the big picture. From this, I have learned about working within extreme time constraints and that one job of the director is time management.

Fortune of Wolves. Photo by Matt Carter
Thom began building the world and rules or conventions of the play within which the ensemble can create the moment rehearsals began. Now that these things are established the ensemble can make physical choices to compliment or contrast each monologue as it is delivered without pulling focus in a disruptive way. As we begin to approach the climax of the play next week I am looking forward to seeing when and how these rules for physicality and movement can be broken or altered to comment on where we are in the plot. As Thom says, the rules can always change!

One major thing I have learned about physicality and movement while working on this play is that we can get trapped by our own unconscious habits, the need to make big choices, or the ‘right’ choice. Through our explorations on this play I have seen that the smallest shift in the position of the feet or angle of the head or alignment of the hips can clarify or establish an entire character. I have also seen how simple movements like one performer turning their back while the others remain facing out can explode with story, or build tension, or any number of infinite things. From my previous training with Viewpoints I knew that this could happen in improvisations but I have never seen it work so successfully in the staging of a professional play. 

In my original training plan for this mentorship I focused a lot of my attention on exploring physicality and learning how Thom would tackle all of the different locations and transitions required by the play. None of that has changed. In my proposal I did briefly mention the fact that this play is a new Canadian play and a world premiere. I did not realize then how big of an impact this would have on the process. It is really exciting to witness and participate in new play development and dramaturgy. We are always asking really tough questions of our script because this is the first time the play is being put on stage. We are in constant contact with the playwright; in fact a new draft of a scene and an entirely new monologue were delivered to us at the end of this week of rehearsal. This is the first time this play is being tackled and so we get the supreme pleasure of seeing what is possible. 

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The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2018.

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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