In my own practice with Shakespeare, I originally embraced modern dress. This was done for several reasons including budget.
Firstly as actual “original practice”, Shakespeare’s actors wore modern dress – they happened to be Elizabethan. Shakespeare’s theatre was written for his modern audience. Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus where presented as a Rome much like modern Elizabethan and Jacobean London complete with reference to modern technology like cannons. This was easily recognisable to his audience.
The second reason was audience clarity. In order to give the audience a direct and immediate connection or recognition to the characters, we strived to present them in a recognizable way. How would Julius Caesar and Brutus dress or behave in our world. Who would they be if we looked around us?
The third reason was artistic. If these plays are immortal, we have to prove it each time out. By modernising the wardrobe and settings, we are in a position to directly challenge the belief of Shakespeare for all ages and through this challenge find the truths he has embedded in the text.
One has to be careful in modern dress. There is a potential for limiting the play rather than supporting it. A prime example is the recent Timon of Athens at the National Theatre. Timon’s descent was wonderfully modern with him living homeless under a bridge (and a great performance!). The poet, painter, merchant and Apemantus were based strongly on modern British celebrities. Rather than helping lift the piece to us, however, this choice limited the scope. The characters became to close to Stephen Fry and J K Rowling thus taking us out of the play to our now, rather than deepening our understanding of it. The idea of Apemantus as an aging rocker is a good one and was extremly well played by the artist, but may have been more successful had it not been so precise to an individual in popular culture thereby allowing the character to exist to the plays needs him to, rather how our society needs him to, and allowing the audience make up their own minds.
In my own work, we had similar discussions around Julius Caesar done shortly after President Bush’s election and just before a provicial election. Through modern dress and power suits we were able to respond to the modern world and explore the similarities the play and us. Shakespeare’s Rome however is not my Ottawa or Victoria or my neighbours Washington. They have similarities but also differences. Putting Caesar in cowboy boots would have brought up the question of “how can the sky rain fire” in Washington rather than allowing the sky to rain fire in ancient Rome and allow the play to progress.
The worlds created in Shakespeare’s plays are not our own. They have many similarities but also many differences. In order to allow the difference such ritual murder in Titus Andronicus or the existence of fairies in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, an approach could be “this is similar to…” rather than “ This is…”.
In Defense of the Classical Text
In 2009 after Mad Duck’s Coriolanus, I put producing and directing Shakespeare aside in order to pursue other work in new practices including large theatre, new play and translation development and multi-disciplinary work. The remarkable discovery was that my work on Shakespeare had greatly prepared me for work in all these forms.
There is very little in modern playwriting that Shakespeare did not already engage in. His work embraces a gritty realism (the murderers in Richard III and Macbeth, the soldiers around the camp fires in Henry V), absurdism (Comedy of Errors), flights of fantasy and magic (The Tempest), a non –realistic approach to Time/Space (Hamlet) and real time approach to time space (The Tempest), High Drama right next to Low Comedy (The Tempest again), poetic and emotional character perspectives (Lear), meta theatrics (pretty much all of them), social commentary (Coriolanus) and character perspectives. In short, the sheer theatricality of his work engages in almost every theatrical devise with the possible exception of non-linear narrative. As the Elizabethans still lived in a world of metaphor Shakespeare’s expressions of life and living takes many forms.As a director the material is suited to wonderful blend of realistic or method work and conceptual design work. Like Opera, the poetry inspires large imagery that can be woven through the works without detracting from the text itself.
It is impossible as an artist to approach Shakespeare through any other lens but his or her own. We don’t know enough about the Elizabethan/ Jacobean’s performance practices to do anything but make educated guesses. As a result a certain amount of translation has already been done as we apply our own perspectives to the material (how far we wish to go in that direction is up to us as the artists). It is similar to Translation where a piece will invariably be of the time of its translation simply because the translator is of that “now” and will be affected in their thinking by their current society and the events surrounding them no matter how faithful they are trying to be to the source.
Simply by telling a story, I am doing so in a modern Canadian voice. I am a Canadian. I was born and raised in Canada. My perspectives, values, questions, fears, concerns, etc. are informed by the environment I was raised in and the world that surround me as are my inspirations. As a result, no matter what I do, it will be in a Canadian voice and of the time I am working on it. With Mad Duck our production of Julius Caesar was heavily influenced by the American election, Titus Andronicus by the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars and Coriolanus in an attempt to understand the right wing militaristic side of society and use of mob mentality in politics. All these issues were constantly in the media, spoken about on the bus or in coffee shops and unavoidable in daily life.
When we think of teenagers in love we will automatically apply them to our teenage experiences and those of the young ones around us. The same is true of all the relashonships. Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, lords and servants will all be understood through our own perspectives as we cannot actually see them any other way.In other words Shakespeare had his wars and politics but we have unfortunately have our inescapable own. He has character relationships of his own society and we have ours. And, as we don’t live in isolation, they will affect our perspectives as designers, actors and directors even if we are attempting the most traditional of productions.
The original practises of the bare stage, the still evolving language of the period and the verse and poetry are unique in lending themselves to interpretation. As a result, the director/ interpreter is potentially better able to address the issues of now immediately through the metaphor than an new work trapped in a several year development process or a play limited by specific setting, location and language that leave so many great plays as young as a few years restricted to a specific period of time.
PS: Don’t worry New Works – I will be defending you too soon!
As I write this missive, I am flying over the Atlantic Ocean, on my way to London. I am heading off to do an MFA in Theatre Direction at East 15. This exciting new adventure has been inspired by the diverse artists, aesthetics and forms of theatre production I have discovered over the last three seasons traveling and working across the Canadian landscape. With a personal focus on world and international theatre practices, this is a wonderful new opportunity of discovery and learning in the performing arts.
It has been an exciting summer that started in Ottawa and Calgary with The Magnetic North Theatre Festival. As the final leg of my Three Provinces, Three Mandates, Three Companies Artistic Director Residency Series , it was a perfect way to wrap up the a season dedicated to learning the different practices and models of theatre production, development and creation across the country. This has been a tremendous national journey and I owe a huge thank you to Brenda Leadlay, Ann Connors and the rest of the Magnetic North team and artists.
Back in Vancouver, the rest of July was knee deep in francophone plays in translation. France Perras and I launched BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective with a site specific installation of Governor General Award winning play The List at the Neanderthal Festival. The run was sold out and we received tremendous feedback. Also at Neanderthal, our Ta Gueule Reading Series started with an Encounter with playwright/ actor Gilles Poulin-Denis moderated by Anita Rochon. I then directed staged readings of Étienne Lepage’s outrageous Howl Red and we weere joined, from New York, by translator Chantal Bilodeau. Next I staged a site specific reading of Marc Prescott’s heart breaking Encore in the Cultch bar.
As always, the Neaderthal Festival proved to be a great way to catch up on Vancouver’s emerging young companies and artists like Hardline Productions and Delinquent Theatre.
August was spent in new play development where I participated in Screaming Weenie’s Clean Sheets workshop of A Singularity of Desire . This was shortly followed by Urban Ink and Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal’s workshop of Sal Capone by Omari Newton.
My last few days in Vancouver where spent as a reviewer for Plank Magazine as we took on the task of reviewing the entire Vancouver Fringe Festival.
A tremendous thank you to all the artists and administrators who has helped make these last three years exploring the Canadian Theatre scene such a wonderful theatrical adventure.
A la prochaine and see you soon!
2012 Summer in Review
Artistic Director Mentorship: The Magnetic North Theatre Festival
Three Provinces, Three Mandates, Three Companies
The 2011/ 2012 season was dedicated to developing a working understanding of the diverse theatre production, presentation and development processes of Canadian Theatre both artistically and administratively. The residencies included PACT Meetings, Season Budgeting and Programing, New Play Development to Festival Production, meetings with Artists, Grant Writing and Fundraising, Board Development and Management.
- Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, Emma Tibaldo
- Theatre Conspiracy, Tim Carlson
(Vancouver, British Columbia)
- The Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Brenda Leadlay
(Ottawa, Ontario & Calgary, Alberta)
This final section was dedicated to National Festival curatorship,administration and the presentation/ production of works from across the country. It was also a great opportunity to discover and meet with artists, presenters and theatre creators from other provinces.
BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective
By Jennifer Tremblay
Translated by Shelley Tepperman
Featuring France Perras
Directed by Jack Paterson
Set and Art by Moe Curtin, Sound by Jordan Watkins
Assistant Directed by Michael Gunion
Stage Managed by Anthony Liam Kearns
“…a mesmerizing performance by Perras… Paterson is exploring smaller and smaller spaces — and for The List that tightly focused space really works.” Jo Ledingham, The Courier
Ta Gueule Reading Series
Contemporary Canadian Plays in English Translation
We presented Vancouver’s own multi-lingual theatre artist as he read excerpts from the English translation of his Governor General Award nominated play Rearview and a discussion about working in both of Canada’s official languages. Moderated by Anita Rochon
By Étienne Lepage
Translated by Chantal Bilodeau
Featuring Sam Dulmage, Patrick Mercado, Katherine Gauthier, Jessica Heafey, Julia Henderson, Gilles Poulin-Denis, Alexis Quednau, Damian Rumph and Troy Anthony Young. Staged by Jack Paterson
Written and translated by Marc Prescott
“It would be a poet’s kiss. Passionate. Intoxicating. Exalting…It will break the mold of all the other kisses that preceded it…”
Featuring France Perras and Art Kitching.
Staged by Jack Paterson
“Howl Red has given me added insight into how we are the way we are, how we make choices, why we make choices… Few pieces have ever made me this uncomfortable.” Kimberley Dawn, GVPTA Blog: A Collection of Voices
Featuring Leanna Brodie, Dominique Brownes, Dawn Wendy McLeod, and Jack Paterson
When twentysomething Valerie / Vond begins hir transition journey from female to male, s/he crosses an event horizon in hir life. The Singularity of Desire explores difference and desire: differences in religion, in cultures, and in the mysterious sources and gravitational forces of sexual desire.
The fatal police shooting of a talented but troubled young DJ irrevocably changes the lives of his three friends. The future of their once promising hip-hop group is now in jeopardy. Can these troubled poets salvage their dreams in the face of this tragedy?
Using elements of hip hop, spoken word, experimental sound & video, The Lamentable Tragedy of Sal Capone examines class struggles, racism, homophobia, and the legitimized fear/distrust of authority as only a few of the factors responsible for the nihilistic world view festering in neighbourhoods across North America.
BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective and The Neanderthal Arts Festival present:
The Ta Gueule Staged Reading Series
Contemporary Canadian Plays in English Translation
Neanderthal Festival, The Cultch ● 1895 Venables St.
Pay What You Can at the Door
Vancouver’s top talent in an exciting selection of contemporary Francophone award winning plays in translation.
Tuesday, July 24 2012, The Cultch Culture Lab
By Étienne Lepage, Translated by Chantal Bilodeau
Ten characters caught on the spot, as if a door was cracked open on a moment in their lives. They talk, they scream, they say everything they mean and a few things they don’t and then the door closes again. Controversial, gritty and often beautiful.
Featuring Sam Dulmage, Patrick Mercado, Katherine Gauthier, Julia Henderson, David Mott, Gilles Poulin-Denis, Alexis Quednau, Damian Rumph and Troy Anthony Young. Staged by Jack Paterson
“Howl Red has given me added insight into how we are the way we are, how we make choices, why we make choices, if there’s anything to life that isn’t mired in muck, and what I believe about faith and hope and humanity. Few pieces have ever made me this uncomfortable.”
Kimberley Dawn, GVPTA Blog: A Collection of Voices
“Howl Red was one of the funniest plays I have ever seen (heard?). Thank you to all who brought this piece to Vancouver!”
Scott Button, Audience Member
The Ugly One closed this weekend to great houses and terrific audience response. Plan B, an artists driven collective, played to an audience over 500 with many repeat viewers. A tremendous thank you to everyone who came out and supported the West Coast premiere of this internation hit.
“…excellent production…a strong ensemble…Hats off to the designers…Directed crisply by Richard Wolfe… I really appreciate seeing Canadian productions of contemporary plays by foreign writers…” - Plank Magazine
And from our audience:
“Incisive, biting and incredibly satisfying…a great night at the theatre!”
“ Great show!..I laughed my a** off!”
“…definitely worth seeing…..a superb script and a superb cast!”
The Ugly One
By Marius von Mayenburg
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by Richard Wolfe
“…fiendishly clever…scalpel sharp.” - Sunday Telegraph
Lette thought he was normal with a successful career, and a happy marriage. So when his utter ugliness is revealed, he turns to plastic surgery for help. After the bandages come off he awakens with an Adonis-like face and his world is turned inside out. Lette begins to question… is there such a thing as being too beautiful? The Ugly One is a scalpel-sharp comedy about beauty, money, and cosmetic surgery.
Award winning director Richard Wolfe (Artistic Director of PI Theatre) leads a collective of some of Vancouver’s top talent. Featuring veteran stage, film and television performer David Beairsto (Theatre North West, Smallville) as Lette, the man with the face; up-and-coming favorite Amber Lewis (Soulpepper, Bard on the Beach, Arts Club); Jessie Award Winner Jack Paterson (Shaw Festival, Mad Duck Collective); and Jessie Award Winner Brian J. Sutton (Axis Theatre).
Lighting Design by Jessie winner Jergus Oprsal, Sound Design by Jordan Watkins, Set & Costumes by Roxana Chapela, Stage Managed by Wren Handman, Assistant Stage Managed by Jocelynn Mortlock, and Assistant Directed by Michael Gunion.
The Ugly One ran at the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery) from Feb 22 to March 4, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Running time: 1hr. Tickets are $20 for reservation or Pay-What-You-Can at the door.
photos by Michael O’Shea