Alumnae Theatre Company Director Chronicles: Brenda Darling on “The Trip To Bountiful”

By Suzanne Bowness

Ludie Watts (Jamie Johnson) and his wife Jessie Mae (Kim Croscup)

Following up on our first post about The Trip to Bountiful, here is a Q&A with the show’s director Brenda Darling. Brenda’s past contributions to Alumnae include directing Stepping Out in 2016, several plays for the New Ideas Festival, and acting as NIF co -producer and president, each for 3 seasons.  Her full bio along with those of the rest of the cast and crew is online at https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/the-trip-to-bountiful.html. In this interview, she talks about what caught her eye about Bountiful, her production choices, and the rehearsal process.

WHAT FIRST CAPTURED YOUR ATTENTION ABOUT THIS PLAY AND WHAT DID YOU WANT TO DRAW OUT OF IT?

The need for a place to call “home” struck me strongly in this play. I deeply long for the cottage we sold where I lived in every summer for nearly 60 years—it was in our family for over eight decades!  I wanted to explore what’s missing in mega-cities: that there are so many isolated, lonely and rootless individuals. I also wanted to explore what “home” actually gives to us.

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE CHARACTER OF CARRIE WATTS AND WHAT DID YOU WANT TO CONVEY ABOUT HER JOURNEY? 

Mrs. Carrie Watts (Jane Hunter) and her son Ludie (Jamie Johnson)

 

Especially in the city, where we’re surrounded by millions of strangers, it’s easy to lose empathy and become indifferent to the plight of others. For the first hour of The Trip to Bountiful, Mrs. Watts speaks little and seems more of a shadow of a person. However, away from her stifling environment, this woman, whom we might have overlooked, begins to express herself, claim her identify, find her dignity and show her depth of love. Her humanity shines through and we care about her.

 

WHAT WAS THE REHEARSAL PROCESS LIKE FOR THIS PLAY? WHAT DID YOU DO TO HELP THE ACTORS MOVE INTO THEIR CHARACTERS?

Picture

Horton Foote

Everything was in the text of Horton Foote. He writes in such a naturalistic style, employing the parlance of everyday speech, that at first read we couldn’t help but miss the depth behind every phrase. Even “Yes ma’am” or “I would” carries a wealth of information about the character. We did a lot of talking. We applied it to our own lives. We experimented until, like finding gold, we all sensed we’d discovered the real thing.

 

THE USE OF PROJECTIONS ON SCREENS IS QUITE CENTRAL TO YOUR PRODUCTION. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO USE THEM AND WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING TO ADD?

I could see the scenes in this play in my mind. They were three-dimensional, in certain colours, and with a great deal of depth. There were also five environments, each of which I wanted to be distinct. A painted flat couldn’t reproduce what I was imagining. The use of projections also allowed me to go from black and white stills to colour videos over the progress of the story.

 

THIS PLAY PREMIERED IN THE 1950S, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE STORY THAT MAKES IT STILL APPEALING TODAY?

I don’t think human beings have an identity in a vacuum. We know ourselves in our relationships with our environment including physical places and community. Jessie Mae’s narcissism cuts her off from authentic relationships and she’s a very unhappy woman. Mrs. Watts had lost her “dignity and sense of peace” after 30 years estranged from her childhood home and once she finally returned, at risk to her life, she regained it.

It is also about ageism and elder abuse. It is revealing of our society and its changing consciousness that when this play appeared on Broadway and as a film over 50 years ago, there don’t seem to have been any reviewers who commented on this mistreatment of a senior. That seniors right to respect, civility and control of their finances is more officially protected today. However, this play remains relevant because, like Mrs. Watts, thousands of seniors still face abuse and mistreatment away from public scrutiny.

 

The Trip to Bountiful continues Wed Jan 29  to Sat February 1.  All performances at 8pm.  Visit https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/the-trip-to-bountiful.html  for more details

 

STUDENT DISCOUNT DAYS

  • Students entitled to a $5.00 ticket (plus $2.00 service charge).
  • Student promotions are only available for advance purchases; not at the door.
  • Students must show student ID at the box office for each ticket purchased.
  • Student discounts is only applicable to students (without student ID, discount will not apply).

Tickets can be purchased online and in advance at https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/the-trip-to-bountiful.html  Use special promo code BOUNTIFUL2020

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, The Trip To Bountiful

Opening night in Bountiful

By Suzanne Bowness

As the lights rose for intermission to The Trip to Bountiful, my theatre companion turned to me and shared a story about her own family relationships. The play’s first half had also prompted me to think about the same thing, the dynamics we have with the ones we love.

Or in the case of protagonist Carrie Watts, the need to escape, however briefly.

The Trip to Bountiful

Jane Hunter and Jamie Johnson in “The Trip to Bountiful” (Jan 17 – Feb 1, 2020 at Alumnae Theatre Company)

At the opening night of Alumnae’s latest production, the audience was right there with 80-year-old Watts (played with vigour by lead actress Jane Hunter) as she finally plunged her hands into the cleansing dirt of a flower pot at her idealized hometown of Bountiful. It was a collective sigh of celebration as she finally gained her freedom from the city and her insufferable daughter-in-law and flaccid son (played with a perfect degree of grating irritation by Kim Croscup and Jamie Johnson).

Premiered in 1953 on NBC-TV before moving on to Broadway, Horton Foote’s play about a woman in her twilight years who aspires to return to the idealized hometown of her youth is brought to life at Alumnae Theatre by director Brenda Darling and producer Simone Goldberg (associate producers are Barbara Salsberg and ​Gisela Ramos). See full cast and crew details here: https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/the-trip-to-bountiful.html

This production stands out with a smart use of large screens with projected video and photographs, a backdrop that helps add a new dimension to the main character’s journey to freedom. Photographs of old buildings and 1950s cars help to set the scene initially, and establish a contrast for the wondrous canopy of stars that appears on the bus ride to Bountiful. Adding movement, the final backdrop of tree branches fluttering in the wind, as only video can capture them, helps the audience to further appreciate the freedom that the protagonist is meant to feel.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

“The Trip to Bountiful” producer Simone Goldberg, Alumnae Theatre Company president Barbara Larose, “Bountiful” director Brenda Darling. Photo by Gisela Ramos

Following the production, a celebratory reception was held in the lobby and catered with tasty  appetizers provided by Hot House restaurant. Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell was in attendance this opening night, and greeted the actors upon their appearance at the reception. Alumnae Theatre Company President Barbara Larose congratulated the hard work of cast and crew, presenting flowers to the play’s director and producer, and thanking both members and audience for coming out to celebrate the production’s opening. A festive start to what promises to be an excellent journey for this play!

Alumnae Theatre Will Stage THE TRIP TO THE BOUNTIFUL

Jane Hunter and Priscilla Asiffo in Alumnae Theatre Company production of “The Trip to Bountiful” (Jan 17 – Feb 1, 2020)

Great options for seeing The Trip to Bountiful:

SPECIAL EVENT DAYS

Wed. Jan. 22 – Artists Appreciation Night – Tickets to other theatres will be given away and a Reception will follow the performance.

Wed. Jan. 29 – Neighborhood Night Out – a Bountiful feast following the performance created by Sasi Meechai-Lim, winner of Longo’s Iron Chef competition. The restaurant, Mengrai Thai, a favourite with celebrities, has “the best Thai food outside of Chiang Mai,” according to Fodor’s.

STUDENT DISCOUNT DAYS

On Student Discount Days:

  • You are entitled to a $5.00 ticket (plus $2.00 service charge).
  • Student promotions are only available for advanced purchases and not at the door.
  • Students must show student ID at the box office for each ticket purchased.
  • Student discounts is only applicable to students (without student ID discount will not apply).

All tickets are general admission

  • Jan. 23 – 8pm performance
  • Friday Jan. 24 – 8pm performance
  • Jan. 29 – 8pm performance
  • Jan. 30th -8pm performance
  • Friday Jan. 31 – 8pm performance
  • Saturday Feb. 1 – 8pm performance

Tickets can be purchased online and in advance at https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/the-trip-to-bountiful.html  Use your special promo code BOUNTIFUL2020

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, The Trip To Bountiful

FireWorks Festival: Fairy tale favourites collide with a contemporary feminist twist in the hilariously charming, bawdy If the Shoe Fits

life with more cowbell

Erik Mrakovcic & Marina Gomes. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Alumnae Theatre launches the final week of its FireWorks Festival with Genevieve Adam’s If the Shoe Fits, directed by Heather Keith—opening last night in Alumnae’s Studio Theatre. Fairy tale favourites collide, with a contemporary feminist twist, in this hilariously charming, bawdy deconstructed Cinderella story—and an inside look at what really happens after the “happily ever after”.

2-alumnae-theatre-if-the-shoe-fits_origChris Coculuzzi & Erik Mrakovcic. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Hosted by our glittering Narrator (Eugenia De Jong, with a twinkle in her eye and an arch in her brow) as she interacts with both audience and characters, we’re introduced to the intrepid Sir Eglantine (Chris Coculuzzi), who’s been tasked by the Prince to find…

View original post 708 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, FireWorks 2019

FireWorks Festival: Navigating the media circus in the face of profound loss in the moving, razor-sharp, thought-provoking Grief Circus

life with more cowbell

Bronson Lake & Alison Dickson. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Paige Foskett. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Alumnae Theatre opened its second week of the FireWorks Festival last night, with Crystal Wood’s Grief Circus, directed by Paige Foskett. As moving as it is razor-sharp, this timely multimedia piece holds up a mirror to society’s morbid fascination, involvement and sharing in the death of strangers. A family has lost a beloved daughter and sister, an event that becomes fresh meat for the news and social media feeding frenzy. As they navigate the media circus that follows, mother and sister take very different paths to work through their grief.

Leah (Alison Dickson) speaks to us directly, our host and narrator as we witness scenes—sometimes in flashback—around the events of her older sister Jesse’s (Claire MacMaster) disappearance. Jesse’s body was later found in a…

View original post 669 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, FireWorks 2019

FireWorks Festival: Real-life fame, fortune & fall in the entertaining, heart-felt Belle Darling Klondike Queen

life with more cowbell

10-belle-darling-klondike-queen_1_origLindsay Sutherland Boal. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Adriana DeAngelis. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Nicholas Porteous.

Alumnae Theatre Company (ATC) opens its annual FireWorks Festival of new works with Natalie Frijia’s Belle Darling Klondike Queen, directed by Lori Delorme, with music direction by Anita Beaty—running upstairs in the Studio. Part cabaret, part vaudeville, all heart—this highly entertaining and engaging piece of musical storytelling takes us on vaudeville star Klondike Kate’s (born Kathleen Rockwell) real-life journey of fame, fortune and fall, all set against the backdrop of fading days of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Put on your boots, leave your pick and sing along at the Portland Alaska Yukon Society’s 1931 Sourdough Reunion, featuring headliner—none other than the famous star of vaudeville stage—Klondike Kate (Lindsay Sutherland Boal)! Alumnae Theatre’s Studio Theatre has been transformed into a vaudeville music hall for this real-life tale of…

View original post 576 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, FireWorks 2019

Actor Chronicles: Pt 2 of Voices from Inside Alumnae’s Latest Production, “The Heidi Chronicles”

WRITTEN BY SUZANNE BOWNESS

Following up on our first post about The Heidi Chronicles, here is a second Q&A with our other leading man, Eitan Shalmon , https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/bios-the-heidi-chronicles.html  who plays Heidi’s close friend Peter Patrone. Read on for his thoughts on his character, the play’s message, and the rewards of working with Alumnae Theatre Company. Thanks to everyone who attended our live Q&A at the post-show Talkback this past weekend!

Cast of “The Heidi Chronicles” (Nadine Charleson, Rebecca MacDonald, Noah Sisson, Eitan Shalmon, Joyce Chan-Baretta,
Daniel Jones, Brianna Diodati, Breanna Dillon)
with moderator (Producer) Kim Croscup at post-matinee Talkback on Sept 29, 2019.  Photo: Alison Smith

 WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE PLAY AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

I love that we get to see the growth of the play’s four main characters throughout the span of almost 25 years: how their aspirations have changed, what becomes more and less important to them as they get older, and how the changing social and political climate has affected their lives. At the end of the day, all Heidi and the rest of the characters want is to be happy, and I think everyone can relate to that. I also think it’s a really funny, sensitive and insightful play with a complex and intelligent character like Heidi steering the ship.

Heidi (Breanna Dillon) dances with her friend Peter (Eitan Shalmon) in Wendy Wasserstein’s
“The Heidi Chronicles”.
Set Design: Teodoro Dragonieri. Photo: Bruce Peters

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO PLAY THESE DIFFERENT DECADES FROM TODAY’S VANTAGE?

It puts into perspective how far we’ve come when it comes to the rights of women and the LGBT community. However, there are still those resonant moments in every scene that feel too familiar to the present time, and you realize that women are still fighting for equality and respect. It’s a look into how far we’ve come, but how these problems are still present today.

 

THE SHOW COVERS A LOT OF DECADES. IF YOU COULD BEAM YOURSELF BACK TO ONE, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY?

Heidi (Breanna Dillon) and her friend Peter (Eitan Shalmon), a pediatrician, in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles”.
Set Design: Teodoro Dragonieri. Photo: Bruce Peters

To be honest, I’d probably stick to the present day! The 60s, 70s and 80s all had great music, fashion and movies, but with all the advances we’ve made in technology, medicine and the rights of marginalized people, I don’t think I’d want to go back in time! Maybe I’d go back to the 80s for a cool track suit.

 

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVOURITE THEMES IN THE PLAY AND WHY?

Probably the pursuit of happiness, and how identity and career play into that. Once you have your dream job, are you happy? Does your job make you who you are? Heidi articulates it in the play better than I can: “Do you ever think what makes you a person is also what keeps you from being a person?” It took me a while to understand that, but in essence I think we’re all just looking for happiness and a sense of identity.

 

THERE ARE LOTS OF COSTUME CHANGES IN THIS PLAY, WHAT’S THIS LIKE AS AN ACTOR?

Fortunately, I’ve only got one intense quick change that I’ve rehearsed down to a science! It’s pretty exhilarating, actually. I have about 20 seconds to completely change, head to toe, from one outfit to another, and enter the next scene cool as a cucumber.

I have 2 cast members help me into my suit and cram my feet in a new pair of shoes while I wildly fling off my old costume. It’s pretty wild, but not nearly as insane as what Breanna [Dillon, who plays Heidi] has to go through for almost every scene! I don’t know how she does it.

 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF THIS PRODUCTION?

There have been so many rewarding and incredible moments throughout this production. Working with Ilana has been such a great learning experience, and the entire cast and crew have been so dedicated and passionate. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow cast members, and we’ve become quite close!

Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles runs to October 5. Click here for tickets:

https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=atc13

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, The Heidi Chronicles

Review of “The Heidi Chronicles” from Hye’s Musiings

From the website Hye’s Musings, a review by Heidy M. :

The AluToronto Arts & Culturemnae Theatre Company opened its 102nd season with Wendy Wasserstein‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles. Over a span of 20 years, the titular character Heidi and her friends seek to achieve political, professional and personal fulfillment in a rapidly-changing world.

The Heidi Chronicles captures the experiences and anxieties of the baby boom generation, spanning through the 1960s to the 1980s. During this time, Heidi’s life plays out as pictures help depict historical and political events, from Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign to John Lennon’s assassination to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As we see Heidi’s (Breanna Dillon) life evolve through high school dances, political awakenings, and finally becoming an Art History Professor, advocating for women in the arts. Alongside her, we get to know her high school besties, Susan (Joyce Chan-Baretta) and Peter (Eitan Shalmon). They are Heidi’s constants, for better or worse as she tries to figure out how to navigate a world in which people are often telling her what to think, how to act, or worse yet, not letting her speak her mind.

Toronto Arts & Culture
Eitan Shalmon, Brenna Dillon

Some of the interactions between Heidi and Peter are some of my favourite moments of the play. Peter is the one person who can relate to Heidi’s inner struggles, as being a gay man during those times was very difficult. This is one of the most honest parts of the play.

There are other scenes which also stand out, like when Heidi is out with Susan and some of her friends from a feminist group. A good reminder of how women are stronger together.

Also worth mentioning here is ​​Joan Jamieson‘s costume design and Elaine Freedman’s projection Design work. We see photographs of pivotal moments in time projected onto the stage. Through the cast’s wardrobe, we see Heidi and friends grow up over the decades. These may be overlooked by some, yet these are also essential to enhance a play.

For the record, there are aspects of the play that can be irritating to watch as it seems like not much has changed for women and LGBTQ+ people in our society. Nonetheless, there are redeeming reasons for remounting this play. It reminds us of the fact times have changed, but also reminds us of the work we have yet to do to reach equality and rid ourselves from sexism, homophobia, racism and so much more.

The Heidi Chronicles continues at Alumnae Theatre until October 5, 2019. There is a Talk Back with cast members after this Sunday’s Matinee performance. For more information and to get your advance tickets, visit alumnaetheatre.com.

Toronto Arts & Culture

Photos: Bruce Peters

Poster Design: Suzanne Courtney, Ticking Time Bomb Productions

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019/20 Season, The Heidi Chronicles