Sunday, February 22, 2009

Acting from Adversity

Theatre can be many things to many people. Spiritual, emotional, funny, witty, and just a plain adventure when disparate forces collide and produce something we hope is theatre. But another thing theatre can do, as can sports, is to provide inspirational stories as well. Gold medalist Donovan Bailey had one leg shorter than the other yet became the fastest man on earth. I think many people succeed because of adversity, not despite it. My son Justin has dyslexia, and at 22 years old has never read a book. He was misdiagnosed three times by the testing agencies of the Catholic and Public School Boards. They thought he was just slow. That isn't the kid that I know. It took Doctor Don Richardson to diagnose him, and to provide the support that he needed. Through a collusion of events Justin got the lead in Miss Julie. He is on stage practically the whole time, and he worked his butt off to make sense of the words, that would at one moment make sense and then the next, disappear into alphabet soup. I don't think he will fool anybody into thinking he studied at The Stratford Conservatory, but his acting is very real, very convincing, and I am amazed that this kid who basically can't read or write is onstage for 90 minutes spouting Strindberg. I think for many kids, theatre is a way of living great literature from the inside. All it takes, is heart, imagination, hard work and a dream. Anything is possible.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Theatre: Interactive Magic

If you want to be an actor, there really is one thing that you have to do - you have to get in front of an audience.

Seems simple and obvious, doesn't it?

Ok, but there is more to it than that. You have to get in front of an audience, and you have to show them a story. While you are showing them, you have to find ways to invite them into that story with you. You have to connect with the audience and allow them to connect with you.

What is connecting? It's magic. It's magic that flows both ways, from the stage to the audience, and from the audience back to the actors. It's the art of theatre.

Magic is fickle. Connecting is not always easy. There is a certain critical mass that you need to enable the magic to flow back to the stage. Audience members need each other to feel sufficiently anonymous, so that they are safe and can be open to the magic. It's pretty potent stuff. Not for the faint of heart.

Audiences can sill get a 'good show' without the magic. They just can't get a great show. Without magic, they will come away being entertained. They will have understood the story, but they will not have an emotional response to the work. Masterful, competant technique can tell a good story, but only magic can allow someone else to live it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Artists and Genius

If you have 20 minutes, this is well worth watching.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

In fact, it's worth saving 20 minutes of your life to watch it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How Drama Can Become Abusive

How many times do we tell our children to be careful about their own personal space? How often do schools enforce the 'keep your hands, your feet, and your unkind comments to yourself' rule? How many times do we worry that our children will not be able to say 'no' to someone who has more power than they have?

My bet is that parents will all be nodding vigorously in sympathy to those questions. "I know! I know!"

We teach our children that it is polite to shake hands by way of introduction. We would never suggest that they rub bodies together instead.

Have you ever heard of 'trust' games? They are very much like the games that couples play in groups at Buck and Doe showers. You know the kind. You hold an orange between your chin and shoulder, and you have to pass it around from person to person without it falling. Or, you have to pass a playing card from person to person using only the suction power of your mouth. You know, those psuedo-sexual games meant to embarrass people who would otherwise just shake hands and keep a polite distance. Certainly they would not come lip-to-lip with a mere acquaintance.

Did you know that pedophiles use 'games' to groom their victims? It is a way to override a child's sense of right and wrong by masking the action. A pedophile would not likely come right out and say 'Hey, touch me.' Instead, the invitation is 'Let's play a game. I have a piece of gum. You turn around and I will put it in one of my pockets. If you can find it in three tries, I will give you a whole pack of gum. If you don't play, then all your friends will be mad at you.'

Likewise, in positions of power, pedophiles will encourage or demand that the young people under their care play these games with other, so that they can watch. Creepy, innit?

Isn't that what we encourage our children to say 'no' to?

Let's make no mistake that trust games are intended to break down inhibitions. You will hear claims of 'it allows them to bond, to trust each other on stage'.


What teaches child actors to trust their fellow actors is to rehearse. Does the other person show up on time? That builds trust. Does the other person know their lines? That builds trust. Does the other person know their blocking? That builds trust. Does the other person help me out when I forget a line? That builds trust.

What trust games do is to enforce the power of the 'director' over the actor, over their choices. They teach kids that their gut instincts can be ignored.

Parents have to watch out for their kids. Know what is going on and speak out if you see inappropriate touching, inappropriate clothing, inappropriate language - anything. If you would not tolerate it in real life, you should not tolerate it on the stage. And I am not talking about subtext. I am talking about actual physical and emotional impropriety. And this happens with emotions as well, but that is another post.

Do not abdicate your responsibility to your child by 'trusting' the teacher, or the director. Do not falsely reassure yourself 'well this is theatre, it's all just acting'. Do not think that public school drama classes are not guilty of this. It is standard procedure, taught to the teacher by University, and they don't give it a second thought. They should.

My bet is that the schools will get a complaint about sexual harassment based on these types of games.

Do not let 'art' be an avenue to make your child vulnerable.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Miss Julie and sex

It seems often these days that in theatre great scripts are subverted by a director to be relevant or to be meaningful for today's masses. Afraid that great acting cannot hold an audience's attention, they seek titilation or sensationalism. They move the setting. They cross-gender parts. Miss Julie is a wonderful script for an actress to show off her ability. It doesn't need sex on stage. It needs great acting. Unfortunately actresses, these days are often compelled to leave their part on the playwright's page and to give life to some weaker vision and concept that ghettoizes women as sexualized creatures. I would think that women have it tough enough trying to make it in acting without being forced to compete with the ladies-of-the-night. It's not freedom to act that way, it's confinement, confinement as a stereotype. Miss Julie is a power struggle, between a man and a woman, between the classes, between rich and poor. But it is also about something else, incapable of touching each other in public, the man and the woman use words to seduce and destroy. They don't touch. Often directors chase each other's concepts instead of the truth of the word, afraid of not understanding the art, they choose to make it carnivale, and hence when Earnest Jones abused Shakespeare with Freud's oedipal complex in the scene between Hamlet and his mother, it was passed down from generation to generation as the truth, so we get Olivier and Gibson, distracted from the truth by psychobabble. As David Mamet would say, just do the damn script! Second rate minds can't leave anything alone.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


We've been getting some very positive feedback on our poster for "Miss Julie". I wanted to make sure that credit is given where it is due.

David Ajax is the artist behind the image. David is a quiet man who comes to the theatre and goes about his work professionally and quickly and with results that speak for themselves.

Thanks, David. We very much appreciate your talent.

I am still looking forward to giving some tickets away for this powerful show!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Canadian improv showcase

The Wellington Street Theatre is pleased to be hosting the Canadian Improv Games from Toronto, on May 7th-9th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20/adults and $15/seniors & students.
They are a family-friendly improv group that shies away from inappropriate language which is refreshing in this day and age. One of the members of this troupe is from the Odessa area. Tony Babcock is an extraordinarily funny performer, who can change characters as fast as Robin Williams. Tony and Krock radio host Sideshow, who is also very funny, used to perform their shtick together, when they were younger. Tony has performed for Theatre 5, Domino Theatre, Bottle Tree Productions and Slackwood Players in Selby. With good friend Jacqueline Luney, Tony created Recensio, a story of light and dark, a multi-media production, that was very funny and moving. Anybody who has ever come in contact with Tony has to be impressed with his drive and his talent. He has done t.v. and film while in Toronto, while keeping his comedy skills sharp with The Canadian Improv Showcase. He can turn a phrase in any era, having excelled as Bottomg in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Algernon in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and eight different characters in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. I have a script in front of me with Tony's name on it for a drama class production of The Titantic. It has Tony's name scrawled across it. He was eight years old. It will be good to see him again.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Win free tickets

I am going to give away a pair of tickets to Miss Julie to each of the first three people to post to this blog. You have your choice of the first three days (Thursday, Friday or Saturday) Feb 19, 20 or 21.

Miss Julie is an August Strindberg play about an aristocratic young woman who disagrees with the class system in which she lives. Her family's valet, John (Jean), strives to overcome his lowly position while Miss Julie longs to climb down to a more earthy level.

Strindberg uses naturalism to show the similarities and differences of the struggle between the classes and the sexes.

The show stars Hannah Smith as Julie, Justin Robertson as John, and Claire Notman as Kristine. Izabella nap understudies the role of Kristine, and appears in selected performances.

Run date is Feb 19 - Mar 7, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm at the Wellington Street Theatre.