|Elmira Theatre Company's production of On a First Name Basis|
Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Maja Ardal of Elmira Theatre Company’s production of On a First Name Basis by Norm Foster (representing WODL, the Western Ontario Drama League.)
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 always welcome in the comments.
- Norm Foster pours ideas, warmth, humour, heart onto the page; writes ordinary people in a way that is relatable
- There is so much to mine in a text like this which is literally about two people discovering each other
- Interesting décor choices to reflect his sophistication, his travel; particularly taken with the windows suggesting a world beyond this room
- Swing doors can be extremely fun on a set
- Atmosphere: Used classical pre-show music to set the mood; intention was to set the tone of David and the illusion of the world he has created for himself; classical music brings particular contexts with them—other choices could have been heavier and busier music, or evening bird song, or nothing at all
- The two actors demonstrated a familiarity with each other (as actors)
- The first act is harder than the second act: the mystery that neither character knows what is going to come from the other person—how does what they say affect me?: always break down the text beat to beat
- Lucy seemed to be the character who invited the audience in as the person through whom we access the play; this was not necessarily intentional by the director, David is egotistical and that works for him
- David is a character who speaks and then thinks about what he had said; with characters like this, find ways to push past the point of propriety: there are wounds, injuries, bruises between these characters; as well as what will hover in their relationship after the play is over
- The tone of irony that Lucy demonstrates: Is this always how she deals with him, or is it a new tactic she’s using for the first time? If it’s not a new tactic, is David discovering (noticing) this for the first time?
- When interpreting any text, look for “the ticking clock” that keeps the audience excited, on the edge of their seats
- Alcohol, and its influence on characters, is a plot element that audiences will respond to: what does the text say about how they drink (e.g. Lucy can hold her alcohol); how do you show the journey of the alcohol’s increasing influence; what are the moments where tongues have been loosened because of the alcohol
- Examine the impact of characters on each other: How do Lucy and David change each other throughout the play?
- Physical moves—were they always moving on impulse? Sometimes the intention behind the movement didn’t always read, and how that physical space had changed because of the movement
- Some lovely moments of staging—such as Lucy ending up in David’s chair for a climactic revelation
- Production’s evolution since previous performance: a feeling that they found the truths more
- David’s dance: pure communication of character through body language; when music came on, hips started moving right away
- Actors finding the balance between “taking the moment” and feeling like they are long pauses, silences: the audience will fill those moments based on how we read what is going on between them
- Challenge of play: two people having a conversations; finding “what makes it dangerous” in the conversation will be what keep the audience hooked in
- Finding lovability in David: an unsympathetic character can be compelling; overtly lacks kindness on the surface; he is the walking wounded and has not dealt with his emotional truth
- There are explosions of anger in Act 2—these are opportunities in a text to take the characters to the brink
- When breaking down the beats: Why did you say that—think about if it’s coming from the belly? The head?
Learn more about Theatre Ontario Festival 2018