The Sept 23 Sunday matinee performance of February was followed by a well-attended Talkback session, for which the cast was joined onstage by director Michelle Alexander and first-time playwright Lisa Moore. Producer Tabitha Keast (whose bio in the program notes that she is also “producing a small child whose title is still TBA”) fielded audience questions, and asked a few that people likely wanted to, but were too shy to ask.
The script which was performed is slightly different from the one originally submitted to Alumnae Theatre. It has developed significantly since a workshop in Newfoundland last year. For example, Lisa told the audience that it was Michelle’s idea to include a wonderful speech for the character of Cal, about the wave that sinks the Ocean Ranger oil rig and drowns him and all the other men on board.
Tabitha asked Lisa about the differences between the first read-through [which was on July 27 – see post at https://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/first-read-through-of-february-early-magic/] and the final performance. Lisa said she was “blown away” by the commitment of the actors and the nuances they brought to their roles. She didn’t realize that so much development and even small changes from show to show are inherent in theatre, and credits the enthusiasm and vision of Michelle and assistant director Darwin Lyons for bringing her novel from the page to 3-D life on the stage. Lisa didn’t know what to expect on opening night, and described it as “such a thrill”!
Tabitha asked Michelle what the process was like, working on a new script. “New play development can be tough,” Michelle responded. “When problems come up in rehearsal, you have to ask ‘Is it a script thing?’ ‘Is it an actor thing?’ So you try everything! This was very easy script development – Lisa was very open, and the actors were so willing to try, and they committed to choices.”
Tabitha asked the audience if there was anything in the novel that they didn’t see on stage (and wanted to). One audience member responded that reading is a “solitary experience” and the reader can go at his own pace – he found the beginning of the play too fast. Another audience member commented that he was struck in the novel by how the community rallied in support of Helen (and the other Ocean Ranger widows). For example, there is a scene in the novel when a taxi driver takes Helen, who’s in labour, to the hospital. Michelle and Lisa exchanged grins: it turns out that Michelle wanted more scenes with Louise, Helen’s sister. So in the play, it’s a frantic Louise (instead of a taxi driver) who takes Helen to the hospital. Lisa shared that she often wrote two versions of scenes to be tried out, side by side.
SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T READ THE NOVEL: Another audience member commented that his favourite part of the novel is when Helen gets a phone call from her son John telling her that his baby daughter is born. This is not in the play [Editorial comment: not anymore! But it was in the version I heard at the July read-through].
Yes, the ending of the play has changed since the read-through. (AND HERE COMES ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT…) What did we think of it? Does it work?
An audience member responded that she liked very much the mirroring of two separate conversations (Helen and Barry; John and Jane) and thought the new ending worked very well.
An audience member asked about the foreshadowing of the Ocean Ranger disaster in the novel (but not the play), when Cal’s shipmates play a trick on him by holding his door shut and putting water on the floor. Lisa noted that this was an actual occurrence – the poorly-trained men knew they were in danger on the rigs, and humour was their way of dealing with the constant fear.
Tabitha then asked the actors about their experience with this play. Kathleen Jackson Allamby (Louise) said that she really enjoyed watching everyone bring their characters to life. Lavetta Griffin(Helen) raved: “I’m in love with Helen!”
Justin Skye Conley (Helen and Cal’s son John) relished the challenge of finding “playable moments” from the novel to bring to his stage portrayal. “Michelle didn’t make it gloomy and dour,” he remarked. Victoria Fuller (waitress in bar/ John’s former flame Jane), who like Lavetta is a genuine Newfoundlander, commented that “the East Coast sensibility really comes through. It’s part of the fibre.”
So what’s the next step for February the play? Lisa has found this premiere extremely helpful, and hopes the actors and directors will give her feedback as she works on it some more. She’s seen three performances, and is amazed that even small changes in pacing or an expression can make it different every time – “Theatre is ephemeral.” Lisa’s publisher, Sarah MacLachlan [no, not the singer] of House of Anansi Press, spoke up: “Lisa can’t work on the play right now, because she’s got a novel due at the end of September!” Yep, deadlines. Anansi will publish the novel in June 2013.
An audience member commented that when reading the novel, “I couldn’t put it down!” and congratulated Lisa for making the adaptation from book to stage work so beautifully – flashbacks, changes of emotion, pacing and all.
Another audience member remarked that when his own father passed away, his mother would hear him in the room, and speak to him as Helen does to Cal’s ghost in the play. Also noticed the well-done parallel between John, who in his training session essentially re-lives his father Cal’s death.
The Talkback concluded with congratulations from a woman who grew up next door to Lisa in St. John’s! This former neighbour had brought her family to see the play – “we’re so proud of her.”
Oh, and if you’re planning on coming to see the show before it closes on Oct 6, House of Anansi Press is selling Lisa Moore’s gorgeous novel February as well as short story collections in the lobby. http://www.houseofanansi.com/Search.aspx?k=lisa%20moore