Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)
Darwin Lyons trained in directing with Ravi Jain at Why Not Theatre in Toronto
(March 23, 2018) This is a blog post about my thoughts after assistant directing Animal Farm, the play, written by Anthony MacMahon and directed by Ravi Jain. Animal Farm tells the tale of human adults, dressed in farm animal costumes, arguing about equality and equity in the political landscape of neoliberalism. The main response from people leaving the theatre is, “I have never seen anything like that in my life.” Some of those people said that with joy, some said it with a fire lit inside of them to start a revolution, some said it with confusion, and some said it with discomfort.
Anthony’s adaptation takes the rhetoric and tone of the novel and applies it to our time. Animal Farm is the closest thing I have seen to Epic Theatre in Toronto. Epic Theatre is Brecht’s idea of theatre as a tool to distance, and alienate the audience. I’ve always understood this to mean making an audience think as well as feel, to disorient them by not giving them catharsis. (Brecht scholars can contact me to point out the inaccuracies of my interpretation at ArguringAboutExactlyWhatDeadPeopleMeantIsOfNoInterestToMe@yahoo.com). Animal Farm brings us in and makes us feel, then pulls us away and makes us think. The modulated voices and rhetoric distance us and make us think about current political partisanship; but the sweet characters and hilarious jokes pull us in and make us feel. This push and pull can be unsettling. We are rarely unsettled in the theatre. We are familiar with being entertained, saddened, catharted, or disappointed but not unsettled. So what do audiences do with this feeling? Audiences are reacting differently with the feeling of being unsettled, and we can learn a lot about ourselves from how we deal with that feeling.
|Jennifer Villaverde, Raquel Duffy,|
Michaela Washburn, Leah Cherniak.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Besides Animal Farm I have rarely seen an audience listening so intently but without unified reactions. What I mean is that usually when an audience is on the edge of their seat they all laugh together, gasp together, or cry together. In the case of Animal Farm the audience is listening, but one person will laugh uproariously while another gasps in fear. What this is teaching me is that the push and pull of Epic Theatre is different for each person. One person might laugh at the satire of the one percent, and another might feel attacked. I think this push and pull is what is valuable. This push and pull makes me question my reactions, it makes me question what makes me unsettled. That feeling of being unsettled can make me put my head in the sand, or can make me ask myself: why do I want to feel placated? Do I want to live in a world that is full of selfishness and hate? Do I want to be full of selfishness and hate? I think that from that push and pull, from witnessing what my fellow audience members laugh and gasp at, we can push forward our conversations about our world.
Animal Farm looks at two revolutions, one against a tyrannical farmer and one against an oppressed pig turned oppressor. The second revolution, which we (spoiler alert) don’t see the aftermath of, is the most interesting to me because it teases at the revolutions needed of our time. As an artist, I struggle with ending a play on a question mark. Sometimes I think a question mark is the most useful because it asks the audience to come to their own conclusions. Sometimes I think as artists we need to offer alternative options. Animal Farm’s ending is really unsettling to me, I think because it is the revolution being asked of us now and I don’t know what would come next. We didn’t know what would come after Monarchy, but we fought for something better. What we have now is still oppressive and unequal, so what can we do to change it?
|The ensemble of Animal Farm at Soulpepper Theatre|
Photo by Cylla von Tiedmann
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 1, 2018.
Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.