“I Am Marguerite” post-matinee Talkback, April 19

After yesterday’s matinee (Sunday April 20), patrons were treated to a Talkback with the cast, director Molly Thom, and playwright Shirley Barrie. Everyone was asked by producer Ramona Baillie to introduce themselves. What follows is a rough transcript – as fast as I could scribble – of the Q&A. Warning: may contain spoilers if you haven’t seen the show!


Q:           What happens to Marguerite? What’s the end of the story?

A (Shirley Barrie):   Marguerite did go back to France. Some stories report that she taught young girls. Enough people wrote about her that her story has endured for more than 4 centuries.


Q:           If this version of the play is “stripped down”, what was left out?

A (Shirley Barrie):   In other versions there was more talk, more backstory, more about the Queen of Navarre’s court, and how Marguerite might have had knowledge of the New World. Molly called all that “diversions”!


Q:           Was this originally a radio play?

A (Shirley Barrie):   Yes, the first version of this story was done as a radio play. It was much more straightforward – Marguerite was in France telling her story to the little girls.


Q:           Is this the last version?

A (Shirley Barrie):       Every time I wrote the story, I thought it was “the last”! But yes, I think I’m done now.


Q:           Was Jean-François in France when Marguerite returned?

A (Shirley Barrie):     Yes, he was there. He became a Calvinist – he had those extreme religious tendencies anyway – and was murdered in Paris a few years later. Outside a Calvinist church. He was never punished for abandoning Marguerite – it was fairly acceptable behaviour for the time and place, much the way honour killings are regarded today.

A (Molly Thom – director):   You’ll all be glad to know that his settlement [in Canada] was a disaster!


Q (Ramona Baillie – producer):   Last Wednesday, we performed a matinee for 130 students from Karen Kain School of the Arts, who are studying the “New France” settlement. The teachers said Jean-François might have been Marguerite’s uncle, not her brother?

A (Shirley Barrie): There are different reports of their relationship. As a writer, I had to choose one, and thought the brother/sister dynamic was better.


Q:           Daniela, what discoveries did you make as an actor playing this character?

A (Daniela Pagliarello, actor who plays Marguerite):   It’s a tough role. At first I thought “Oh, I can’t do this” – switching from past to present; going crazy… I discovered I could. There are very few roles like this for a young performer; I want to thank Shirley for writing this amazing part. It’s been scary, but great!


Q:           The music and soundscape of this play are wonderful! Can you talk about that?

A (Molly Thom – director):   We had a composer [James Langevin-Frieson] who did the songs and the dance music. Then our sound designer [Angus Barlow] manipulated the music, and added sound effects like the seagulls, waves crashing, wolves howling, etc. It really made the place come alive. Oh, but unfortunately the fog machine wasn’t working today. Normally when the phantoms appear at the start of the show, they’re coming through fog!

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite, Christopher Oszwald as Eugène.  Photo:  Bruce Peters.

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite, Christopher Oszwald as Eugène.     Photo: Bruce Peters.

Q:           What does Eugène do for a living? Why would her brother object to him marrying Marguerite?

A (Christopher Oszwald, actor who plays Eugène):   He’s a nobleman and a musician. Well, he’s the younger son of minor nobility, and the costume design kind of indicates that he’s not so noble. He planned to go on this expedition to the New World and make his fortune writing songs about it.

A (Shirley Barrie):   Eugène is the “spare, not the heir”, so he has to make his own way in the world.


Q (to Christopher Oszwald): Is that your real hair? [Ed note: much laughter from cast & audience]

A (Christopher Oszwald):   Yes, it is.


Q:           What was the audition process like?

A (Molly Thom):   About 150 actors sent resumés. We discarded about 100. I wanted actors with classical experience who could handle text.


Q:           Shirley and Molly, you’ve worked together many times before. What’s your next collaboration?

A:            Nothing planned at the moment. Yet.


Sara Price as the Queen of Navarre.  Photo:  Bruce Peters

Sara Price as the Queen of Navarre. Photo: Bruce Peters

Q:           The costumes are gorgeous.

A (Ramona Baillie):   Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson designed them. For instance, Peter just took some black velvet and gold braid and created the Queen of Navarre’s gown.


Q:           This is a question for all the cast. Do you have other jobs?

A (Sara Price, actor who plays the Queen of Navarre): Well, I haven’t made any money at acting! So I’m a supply teacher.

A (Christopher Oszwald): I just recently graduated from university. I have a part-time job.

A (Chris Coculuzzi, actor who plays Jean-François ):   I’m a full-time high school teacher.

Jean-François de Roberval (Chris Coculuzzi) dodges an attack from his sister Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello).  Photo:  Bruce Peters

Jean-François de Roberval (Chris Coculuzzi) dodges an attack from his sister Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello).    Photo: Bruce Peters

[Ed note: when pressed by other cast members, Chris admits to also running another theatre company, Amicus Productions.  “And don’t they have a show opening soon?” prompted Heli Kivilaht. They do – it’s “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, opening April 30. See inserts in your “I Am Marguerite” programs!]

A (Heli Kivilaht, actor who plays Marguerite’s nurse Damienne): I was a professional actor many years ago. Didn’t make much money, and became a teacher, which I loved. Now retired, and have been getting back into acting for the last 3 years or so.

A (Daniela Pagliarello): I’m an actor, a dancer, an artist. I run a gallery – it’s called Nowhere Gallery – on Dundas West. It’s a crazy wonder of a world, with a performance space as well as display space. We wanted a home for young up-and-coming artists of all disciplines.   [Reluctantly adds:]  I also have a “paying” job.


Q:   This is a very intense play. How do you prep and how do you decompress?

A (Sara): I start my prep at home.   Some physical work, some voice work. And when I get to the theatre, when I’m getting into my costume, sometimes I pretend I’m the Queen being dressed [by servants]. Before we go on, there’s a bench backstage that Heli and I hang out on. To decompress, it’s pretty simple. I take off the costume!

A (Christopher O.): I’m an anti-Method actor. To prep, I find my voice, find the resonance in my head and stomach. To decompress, I get out of costume.

A (Chris C): Nothing. Life is acting; everyone is always acting. When I walk into a classroom, I’m playing a role.

Heli Kivilaht as Damienne.  Photo:  Bruce Peters

Heli Kivilaht as Damienne (Marguerite’s nurse).     Photo: Bruce Peters

A (Heli): Well, I make sure I know the damn lines! My husband helped me put them on tape, so I review before each show. Plus we [the cast] have a fight call warmup and a choral warmup. And I improv in my head, like “Damn that Marguerite, why won’t she get dressed?”, and things like that. He [Chris C as Jean-François] gets the worst of it, though. You wouldn’t like to hear what I say about him!

A (Daniela):   I warm up my voice and spine. And I listen to aggressive 90’s hip hop, because I have to be crazy at the start of the play. To decompress, I listen to aggressive 90’s hip hop!


I Am Marguerite’s final week runs Wed – Sat at 8pm, closing on April 25. Tickets for Wednesday are 2-for-1; all other nights $20. Purchase online at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/i-am-marguerite.html , or reserve by calling 416-364-4170 Box 1 / e-mailing reservations@alumnaetheatre.com , and pay cash at the door. Box Office does not accept credit or debit cards for in-person sales.

"I Am Marguerite" cast in costumes.  Caricature by Peter DeFreitas.

“I Am Marguerite” cast in costumes. Caricature by designer Peter DeFreitas.

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“I Am Marguerite”: A view from the booth

At last Sunday’s I Am Marguerite matinee, Fight Director Naomi Priddle Hunter watched the show from the sound/lighting booth, and took some pictures (“strictly amateur”, she describes them!) by pressing her camera up against the booth window.

Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello) and the Queen of Navarre (Sara Price).  Photo shot from booth on Apr 12, 2015 by Naomi Priddle Hunter.

Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello) and the Queen of Navarre (Sara Price). Photo shot from booth on Apr 12, 2015 by Naomi Priddle Hunter.

Eugène (Christopher Oszwald) courts Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello) in "I Am Marguerite".  Photo taken from booth, Apr 12, 2015 by Naomi Priddle Hunter.

Eugène (Christopher Oszwald) courts Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello) in “I Am Marguerite”. Photo taken from booth, Apr 12, 2015 by Naomi Priddle Hunter.

She captured a unique perspective, and you can really get the full effect of Marysia Bucholc’s set design in these shots. Plus, Naomi caught stage manager Kelsey Rutledge in action!

"I Am Marguerite" stage manager Kelsey Rutledge calling the show, Sun Apr 12, 2015.  Photo:  Naomi Priddle Hunter

“I Am Marguerite” stage manager Kelsey Rutledge calling the show, Sun Apr 12, 2015. Photo: Naomi Priddle Hunter

That was also the show on which the headphones (the communication link between Kelsey, her assistant stage manager backstage, Kimberly de Jong, and sound operator Gabrielle D’Angelo) stopped working, but luckily Naomi was able to do a quick fix and  get them running again.


I Am Marguerite continues its run – a world premiere! – to April 25. Performances are Wed – Sat at 8pm; Sunday April 19 at 2pm. Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed; $20 each on Thu/Fri/Sat; PWYC on Sun. Reserve by e-mailing reservations@alumnaetheatre.com and pay cash on arrival, or purchase online in advance at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/tickets.html

Remember – this Sunday’s matinee is followed by a Talkback with cast, director Molly Thom, the designers, and playwright Shirley Barrie.


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Playwright Shirley Barrie on telling the story of “I Am Marguerite”

It’s not every day that audiences have the opportunity to hear the playwright of the play they are about to see, talk about the journey of getting it to the stage.  But on Sunday April 12, prior to the 2pm matinee performance of I Am Marguerite (which just opened on Friday), about 30 lucky people in Toronto got that opportunity.  And for FREE! Picture

Introduced with the reading of her bio by Ellen Green, Shirley Barrie is an award-winning playwright, has co-founded two theatre companies (one in London, England; one in Toronto), is a Past President of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and many of the plays she’s written are about fascinating women in history – for example:  Beautiful Lady, Tell Me… (the notorious 1909 murder of Ethel Kinrade in Hamilton, Ont.), and Queen Marie (the Ontario-born comic actress Marie Dressler, a star of vaudeville and silent films).

As Shirley herself admits, she is “attracted to stories of women who refuse to play by the rules.”   The genesis of I Am Marguerite goes back to about 1989.  What we see onstage today is the fourth time Shirley had written Marguerite’s story, in one form or another: a testament to the compelling power of the story – it kept drawing her back.

The first version was a radio play, which was broadcast in 1990.  It was very different – in that version, an older Marguerite, now returned to France, tells her story to a group of schoolchildren.

The second version came about because Shirley felt that she had “not done justice” to Marguerite, so started on a stage play.   Trying to expand her options for production, she actually wrote the play so that it could be performed by two or by five actors.  In retrospect, “not a particularly good idea”!  However, the play was produced with 2 actors in Prague (1993), and with 5 actors in Cornerbook, Nfld (1997).

In 2003, Shirley participated in an intensive workshop with Tapestry New Opera Works (https://tapestryopera.com ), and had to come up with a libretto for one of the assignments.  She wrote a brief lyric scene about Marguerite de Roberval. Then director Molly Thom, who has worked with Shirley for about 15 years and directed several of her plays, commissioned Shirley to write an opera libretto based on a pared-down version of the story in the play.

Around 2012, after the opera project had stalled, Molly challenged Shirley to adapt the libretto into a stage play. Shirley was initially reluctant to re-visit the story she’d worked on for so long, but decided she would do it differently this time.  “I wanted to play with the actors’ voices, with repetition,” she explains, “and with the rhythm of language and the separation of thoughts.”  She also wanted actions speak as loudly as words. Having seen the script, I can attest that the resulting work looks quite different on the page; the format does not look like a standard play.


Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite de Roberval in "I Am Marguerite" by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom.  A world premiere for Alumnae Theatre Company, April 10-25, 2015.  Photo: Bruce Peters

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite de Roberval in “I Am Marguerite” by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom. A world premiere for Alumnae Theatre Company, April 10-25, 2015. Photo: Bruce Peters

One of the things Shirley is often asked is DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN?  “The bare outlines are true,” she told us.  In fact, there are three published accounts of the event from the 16th century – one by the Queen of Navarre!  The known facts are that in 1542, Jean-François de Roberval marooned a noblewoman (accounts vary on whether she was his sister or niece, but most agree that she was related) and her lover on what is probably one of the modern-day Harrington Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, that came to be called at the time Îles de la demoiselle.   And that she was eventually rescued by a French vessel. Everything else in the play is supposition, based on clues Shirley was able to find in her research.

And don’t forget:  much of the initial research was pre-internet!  Yes, back in the distant days 25 years ago, of haunting libraries and waiting for old reference books to be found in the stacks.  Shirley first discovered Marguerite’s story in a 1970’s children’s book called Wilderness Women: Canada’s Forgotten History by Jean Johnston.  (Interesting side note:  the similarity of Peter DeFreitas’ costume design to an illustration of Marguerite in that book is quite startling)  “The story really spoke to me,” Shirley says.  One of her treasured moments was going to the National Archives in Ottawa and reading the Queen of Navarre’s Heptaméron, a wee little book bound in disintegrating leather, published in 1558!  This book of short stories contained a rather disguised and religion-slanted version of Marguerite’s tale.  “If that was the first or only account I’d come across,” Shirley confesses, “it would not have held my attention.”

 Later research – aided by the internet – led her to https://teachingmargueritederoberval.wordpress.com/ “a great site; a treasure trove of information”.

When inspired by a historical event with different versions of the story, a writer chooses one with which to make connections and “weave strands”.  It’s actually much harder to write a play when the subject is well-known – Shirley shared that her current project is a play for 4th Line Theatre about L.M. Montgomery, beloved author of the Anne of Green Gables books!

In a brief Q&A section, Ellen Green asked about Shirley’s role as the author in rehearsal for I Am Marguerite.  Director Molly Thom quickly piped up, “In my opinion, the author belongs at rehearsal.”  Shirley noted that the contracts from Playwrights Guild of Canada stipulate that the writer should be there, especially for a first production.  [This production at Alumnae Theatre Company is a world premiere.]   “I think it’s important to be there – theatre is a very collaborative process,” she adds.  “And I have a very good working relationship with Molly”.  Molly asserts that having the playwright present at rehearsals is “a gift to actors!”.


The talk whizzed by in about 45 minutes, until producer Ramona Baillie called time and ushered us out of the auditorium so that stage manager Kelsey Rutledge and ASM Kimberly de Jong could set up for the 2 pm matinee.    The people who had listened to the talk were joined by a whole bunch more for the matinee.

It was my first time seeing the show in full performance mode (read account of a dress rehearsal in April 1 post), and this time I seriously teared up on hearing the beautiful music (“Marguerite’s Theme”) that composer James Langevin-Frieson had created for the ending.   Read a review of the show at https://lifewithmorecowbell.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/powerful-moving-beautifully-raw-storytelling-in-i-am-marguerite/)


I Am Marguerite runs to April 25.  Purchase tickets in advance at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/i-am-marguerite.html , or reserve by phone (416-364-4170 box 1) /e-mail (reservations@alumnaetheatre.com) and pay cash on arrival. Box Office does not accept in-person purchases by credit or debit card.  Wednesday tickets are 2-for-1; Sundays PWYC; Thu – Sat $20.

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Powerful, moving & beautifully raw storytelling in I Am Marguerite

Originally posted on life with more cowbell:

Marguerite 1 Daniela Pagliarello & Christopher Oszwald in I Am Marguerite – photo by Bruce Peters

In 1542, banished from a French ship by a heartless, domineering brother, Marguerite de Roberval is set afloat on a skiff towards a remote island off the north coast of Newfoundland. With her are her faithful nurse and her lover Eugene. Left with scant provisions and in fear of never seeing home or loved ones again, they land on the Isle of Demons with the prospect of perishing in the face of cold, harsh winters and predatory wildlife.

This is the story, a little-known piece of Canadian history, brought to life on stage in an hour-long, emotionally and psychologically packed play by Shirley Barrie. This is I Am Marguerite, directed by Molly Thom – and it opened to a packed house at Alumnae Theatre last night.

The storytelling is taut and compelling, shifting in and…

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Sitting in on “I Am Marguerite” rehearsal, April 1

Bloggergal picked a good day to check out a rehearsal for I Am Marguerite, which opens on April 10. Not only was the cast in full costume (for the benefit of photographer Bruce Peters, who snapped away during the run), but it was also director Molly Thom’s birthday – no foolin’! Producer Ramona Baillie surprised Molly with a cake, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday”.

Bones (prepared by set designer Marysia Bucholc) for "I Am Marguerite".

Bones (prepared by set designer Marysia Bucholc) for “I Am Marguerite”.  Photo: Bruce Peters

Before the run started, I got a chance to take a close look at the bones onstage – yes, they’re real! Set designer Marysia Bucholc bought them at St. Lawrence Market – a giant cow bone and several large fish – and boiled them to remove the flesh. “I got excellent stock out of it,” she says!

Sound designer Angus Barlow was sitting at a production table in the middle of the house, beside stage manager Margot Devlin (Kelsey Rutledge takes over as stage manager on Saturday for the rest of the performances). Angus played a recording of a new lute piece by composer James Langevin-Frieson for Molly’s approval.

There was a small audience watching the run – assistant director Meg Moran, assistant producer Dale Stewart, set designer’s assistant Fotini Paraschos, lighting designer Wesley McKenzie, and costume designers Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson.

 Having read (OK, devoured) Shirley Barrie’s amazing script for I Am Marguerite, I knew that it is not a straightforward telling of a historical event. But this performance blew me away.

"I Am Marguerite":  Marguerite de Roberval (Daniela Pagliarello - front left); Eugene (Christopher Oszwald - front - right); Jean-Francois de Roberval (Chris Coculuzzi  - left rear); Damienne (Heli Kivilaht - centre); Queen of Navarre (Sara Price - right rear).

The play begins with Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello – left front in this photo by Bruce Peters) marooned on a deserted island off Newfoundland in 1542.   Wisps of smoke conjure up Nfld fog; eerie wolf howls raised goosebumps. And she sees a ship approaching – there is the possibility of rescue.  How Marguerite wound up on the Isle of Demons for two years, and her relationships with her ambitious brother Jean-François (Chris Coculuzzi – left rear), her old nurse Damienne (Heli Kivilaht – centre), her lute-playing lover Eugène (Christopher Oszwald – front right) and her mentor the Queen of Navarre (Sara Price – right rear) is told in a series of scenes that flow into and out of each other, fluidly jumping around in time.  It was not at all confusing: for example, sea noises and gull cries would cue us that a scene was taking place aboard the ship that sailed Jean-François and Marguerite from France to the New World, where he planned to be “King of Canada”.

Shirley Barrie calls I Am Marguerite “a play for a soloist and a quartet of voices”, and that description seemed perfectly apt when reading the words on the page, but it came to magical life when I was watching it play out on the stage.

After the run, all the designers took turns conferring with Molly or the actors about what worked, what didn’t, etc. I eavesdropped on costume designers Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson, talking to Sara Price, who plays the very regal and proper Queen of Navarre. In addition to the most stunning gown – seen below – Sara also sports an amazing wig, which Peter made by attaching various hairpieces to a black velvet cap.

Costume designed by Peter DeFreitas for the Queen of Navarre in "I Am Marguerite" (world premiere April 10-25, 2015 at Alumnae Theatre Company)

Costume designed by Peter DeFreitas for the Queen of Navarre in “I Am Marguerite” (world premiere April 10-25, 2015 at Alumnae Theatre Company)

Having spoken last week to props designer Razie Brownstone (who was experimenting with fabric and gelatin), I was very interested to check out the fish that Marguerite catches and eats in the play. Tonight she worked with a fish made from fabric, with a handy pocket to accommodate her stabbing and gutting it. “There was talk of putting gummy worms in the pocket so I could eat them as fish guts, and I’m so down with that!”, Daniela told me. But the fish I saw tonight may not be the final version in performance.

Ramona insisted that everyone on the production team gather onstage with the actors to have a photo taken. There will be official photos coming soon.

In the meantime, don’t forget to reserve or purchase a ticket for the WORLD PREMIERE of I Am Marguerite, running April 10 – 25. http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/i-am-marguerite.html

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Photos from rehearsals of “I Am Marguerite”, opening April 10

New Ideas Festival just closed yesterday (March 29) up in the Studio, but down on the Main Stage, the crew and actors for I Am Marguerite have been quietly building the set and rehearsing in preparation for the show – which is a WORLD PREMIERE by our own Shirley Barrie, and directed by Molly Thom – to open on April 10. Which is now less than two weeks away. No pressure, folks!

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite.  Photo:  Chloe Whitehorn

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite. Photo: Chloe Whitehorn

Producer Ramona Baillie was snapping pix with her cell phone this past weekend – Saturday was the level set, and Sunday was the cue-to-cue and costume parade.   Check out the shots at https://www.facebook.com/events/1618260128404157/




Costume designer Peter DeFreitas posted a photo of one of the dresses on Facebook – see it at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153030302830376&set=gm.1638105813086255&type=1&theater

Props designer Razie Brownstone confided that she was concocting a fish out of fabric and gelatin, but I have no pictorial evidence.

So what is I Am Marguerite about? Playwright Shirley Barrie provides a handy synopsis:

“It is inspired by the true story of Marguerite de Roberval, who, in 1542, contrived to accompany her brother who was leading a great expedition to establish the first French colony in the New World. Onboard ship he discovered that she’d fallen in love with an unsuitable young nobleman, and abandoned her, along with her lover and nurse, on an island in the Strait of Belle Isle [off Newfoundland] for daring to choose love over duty.  The play is set two and a half years later…”

 Chris Coculuzzi as Jean François, Sieur de Roberval (Marguerite’s brother)
Heli Kivilaht as Damienne (Marguerite’s devoted nurse)
Christopher Oszwald as Eugène (Marguerite’s lover)
Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite de Roberval
Sara Price as The Queen of Navarre

Director: Molly Thom

Producer: Ramona Baillie
Assistant Director: Meg Moran
Composer: James Langevin
Sound Design: Angus Barlow
Lighting Design: Wesley McKenzie
Set Design: Marysia Bucholc
Costume Design: Peter DeFreitas / Toni Hanson
Props: Razie Brownstone

April 10 – 25, 2015.

PERFORMANCES: Wed – Sat at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.
Sun April 12 @ 12:45: Pre-show talk with playwright Shirley Barrie.

TICKETS: 2-for-1 Wed; $20 Thu – Sat; PWYC Sun.
Purchase online, or reserve & pay cash at door. Credit and debit cards not accepted at Box Office.
RESERVATIONS : 416-364-4170 box 1 / reservations@alumnaetheatre.com

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Otherworldly spaces, unwitting celebrities, murder mysteries and tomatoes in NIF Week 3 program


Week Three review! Running to Sunday March 29.

Originally posted on life with more cowbell:

nif 2015Alumnae Theatre Company opened the Week 3 program of its annual New Ideas Festival (NIF) last night. This is the final week of the fest, running until March 29 up in the studio space. Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

Rowing, Onward (by Eugenie Carabatsos, directed by Anne MacMillan). A man and a woman in a row boat, out at sea. A seemingly Sisyphean task of endlessly rowing together. How did they get here? Where have they been? And where are they going? The only thing we know for sure is they’re very tired and one of them wants to stop rowing.
A lovely, intimate short piece set in a confined space where he only sees her back and she only sees the empty horizon. Beautiful, tender and intense moments within the frustration and desperation. Lovely work from Aleksandra Maslennikova, who gives an ethereal and bright performance as the…

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