Tuesday, 19 December 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 trained in directing with Thomas Morgan Jones at Theatre New Brunswick in Fredericton NB

(November 12, 2017)  For my final report detailing my time with Theatre New Brunswick, and my training with Thomas Morgan Jones, I want to share three moments from the last two weeks of rehearsal that felt like massive breakthroughs.

The most dangerous thing is a good idea

During the creation of the physical vocabulary for the play, Fortune of Wolves, it became important that the performers find slight variations within their movements each time the play would be performed. In order to properly facilitate this we created a series of rules surrounding each of the physical improvisations to act as a container that the performers could play within. There was one moment where an actor made a physical choice that was performed with such intense focus that my full attention was drawn to his actions and away from the actor performing the monologue. I thought the moment was compelling and that we had to keep it. Later in the note session Thom asked the actor to cut that moment and added some new rules to that section of the play. When I asked Thom about his decision he told me that yes, it was a compelling choice but it needed to be cut because it would pull the audiences’ focus away from the monologue being performed. The rest of the ensemble on stage and their movements were meant to support or comment on the text but not become the main point of focus. I learned that just because a choice or movement is interesting doesn’t mean it belongs in the play. I learned that the director must curate the audiences’ point of focus. I also learned that a really good idea could actually be dangerous if it gets in the way of or does not serve the story.

What are you trying to achieve? 

In one of the first meetings with our lighting designer, David Degrow, he asked Thom a big question, “what are you trying to achieve with this piece?” David also asked Thom to try and distill the answer down to a sentence or two, similar to a thesis statement. Thom later told me that he had never been asked this question by a designer before and thought it was a very useful exercise. The question that David asked is now one that I will ask myself when taking on any new project. I will also try to incorporate this question into my interactions with designers and collaborators.

Trust your gut

Towards the end of our rehearsal process we began shortening our days to focus on running the play. I was asked to bring forward 1-3 notes for discussion at the end of each day. The first few discussions went well, Thom thought my notes were valuable observations and a few of them were passed along during our notes sessions with the team. Then, as rehearsals continued I started to feel that I was second-guessing myself. I would notice something during a scene, overthink it, and then write down an entirely different observation. This became frustrating when we went into the notes sessions and I learned that, in most cases, my first instinct was correct. After spending half of my lunch break pacing and trying to figure out why I was encountering this and what to do to fix it, Thom and I had a great conversation. What emerged from this conversation was that I needed to learn to follow my instincts. What I had been experiencing was actually two different observations entering my consciousness about the work happening on stage. This is fine, but part of the art of directing is figuring out which of these observations are notes and how to deliver those notes to the team to achieve the desired outcome.

I want to close my final blog post with a story about dress rehearsal. Prior to the dress rehearsal no one from the general public had seen our work. The audience had mostly been the creative team and Theatre New Brunswick’s office staff. We had done about six full run-throughs of the play at this point and we were pretty proud of our work and all we had accomplished in such a short time. However, we did not yet know how people would receive the play. Ten teenagers from Theatre New Brunswick’s theatre school were invited to watch our dress rehearsal and they sat excited in the house waiting for the play to begin. Throughout the play I was watching and listening to their responses; they were completely glued to the action the entire time. At the act break and at the end of the performance Thom and I sat with them while Thom asked them about what they saw. They were bursting with ideas, questions, and theories. Thom and I listened as they dissected what they had just experienced. Hearing their reactions to the play was a great reminder of why we make theatre. After the theatre school students went home we began our notes session but instead of delivering his own notes Thom read back to the team all of the observations, questions, and compliments from our young audience. This was one of the most powerful moments of the entire experience for me. I could tell that our work had inspired a new generation of theatre-makers. I also really respect how Thom recognized the value of the words these young people shared with us enough to spend our last note session before opening night expressing their thoughts instead of his own. The effect it had on the team was also tremendous; it boosted everyone’s confidence and injected the energy our young audience projected back into the performers.

I learned so much while working on Fortune of Wolves with Thomas Morgan Jones and the rest of the creative team. I made some really valuable connections with seasoned theatre artists. I feel excited and full of inspiration for whatever comes next.

Related Reading:

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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