Following yesterday’s matinee performance, about half of the almost-sold-out audience opted to stay for a 25-minute Talkback with director Taryn Jorgenson and the cast of The Drowning Girls.
While the girls got dried off in the dressing room downstairs, Taryn shared the historical facts and fielded questions about the true story of George Joseph Smith and his murdered brides. See previous posts https://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/the-drowning-girls-a-real-life-edwardian-version-of-csi-part-i/ andhttps://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/oct-3112-the-drowning-girls-a-real-life-edwardian-version-of-csi-part-2/
One thing Taryn mentioned, which I had not previously caught, was that Alice (Jennifer Neales) portrays Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Neil in the play! Neil investigated the serial killer George Joseph Smith, and eventually arrested him.
A sampling of audience questions:
Q: Did this story happen in Canada or England? Why do the brides not have English accents?
A: It happened in England, but the playwrights (Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic, Charlie Tomlinson) are Canadian, and the script specifies that the brides should not have accents.
Q: How did the writers find this story?
A: I [Taryn] really don’t know! Maybe they found it online – they were looking for a performance piece they could do, back in 1999 for the Edmonton Fringe…
Q: How much guidance does the script give about the use of water in the production?
A: The script says the showers are not mandatory, but water is essential. I [Taryn] consider water to be the 4th character onstage.
Q: It was so clear when the actors switched the characters they were playing – good flow.
A: [producer Andy Fraser responded] Set & Lighting designer Ed Rosing came up with the orange light to indicate George. And of course the actors are great!
(Around this point, the now-dry actors – Jennifer Neales as Alice, Tennille Read as Bessie, and Emily Opal Smith as Margaret – joined the Talkback)
Q: Is the water warm?
A: Now it is! [Bloggergal’s note: It took some experimenting during rehearsal to consistently produce a comfortable temperature] It ‘s piped from a bathroom backstage.
Q: Were there any happy accidents – finding characters, etc. – in rehearsal?
A: Yes, we found lots of stuff doing improvs.
JEN: Figured out how to go from playing housemaid Jane [who erupts comically from tub during the scene with Alice’s mother and sister Amelia] to Scotland Yard’s Detective Neil – “13 steps to the gallows…”.
TENNILLE: In the courtroom scene, the script mentions that only Margaret [portraying the “practiced swimmer” Miss Brighton] breaks character and is reluctant to enter the tub for crime re-enactment. It was decided that we’d ALL break character. [Bloggergal’s note: it’s a brief but beautiful moment: we see Margaret hesitate to re-live her death, but the other two brides also break character – Bessie is portraying a court reporter; Alice the prosecuting lawyer – and tenderly encourage her to continue, so she does.]
Q: The timeline goes back and forth, flashbacks and so on. Was that a problem?
A: Yes, we had to be very clear in our own minds when certain events occurred.
Q: Did any of you know each other before?
A: No, we all met while working on this production.
Q: After auditioning the actors, did you know who would play which role?
A: [Taryn & Andy agree] Yes, we immediately knew who was who. This was our dream team!
Taryn mentioned something that she thought the audience might be curious about: Why did Smith kill only 3 of his wives, when he was married 7 times? The answer may be that Bessie (whom he married in 1910) was the first of his wives who was rich. He killed her (in 1912) and got away with it, so he just kept going. There is some thought that he may have used hypnosis on the women – Margaret alludes to this when she realizes how out-of-character she is acting in marrying a man she has known so briefly.
Q: What did Smith look like?
A: There’s a photo of him in the lobby display downstairs.
Q: What did Margaret mean when she confessed to the other girls that she’d told Smith “everything” on their first meeting? And what “mistake” was she not going to make again?
A: [Emily] Margaret’s previous ‘amour’ had been married, and that is what she spilled to Smith, but she had taken care to ensure that he was not married himself!
Q: How early in the rehearsal process did you start working with water?
A: About 3 weeks before opening. It would have been sooner, but there were problems with temperature, tub seals, and paint from the floor transferring to actors!
Q: Once you had water, did it change things for the actors?
A: Yes, a lot! They had to content with water streaming into their mouths and almost choking them, smearing makeup, etc.
TENNILLE: Having water made a huge difference in the scene where I play George killing Margaret. Before, it was like “OK, now she’s dead.” When we did it in water, I get to look down at her, and the splash when I pull her legs up – it’s chilling.” [Bloggergal’s note: yes, it is!]
Q: Loved that Taryn managed to keep the creep factor high, while still providing moments of humour.
Producer Andy Fraser interjected that her mother, on entering the space to see the splayed and apparently lifeless limbs cascading over the sides of the tubs, remarked “Where did you find such realistic mannequins?” Then she shrieked when the actors moved to start the play!
Actor Jennifer Neales confided that the time lying in the tub [the actors are already in place when the audience enters, about 15 minutes prior to showtime] is an opportunity to de-compress and just “be Alice”. Also, since her tub is closest to the audience entrance, she hears the reactions and comments: “I got an ‘oh, Jesus!’ the other day.”
Q: How do you work with the props? Do they all come from the tubs?
A: The props are specified in the script, and are supposed to all come out of the tubs. Some float, some are in little pockets.
Q: What’s with the gravestones?
A: In the script, the
girls write on the floor. But since the set design concept was that the tubs emerge from the ground like coffins, I took the literal and translated it to the metaphysical, and gave them each a gravestone. Each girl writes a short phrase to her family – the actors decided what that would be. [Bessie writes “Good bye”; Margaret writes “Don’t Forget”, and Alice writes “Miss You”]
Q: Do you ever slip in the tubs?
A: A few times. We tried it with rubber bathmats, but some of the scenes (e.g: Margaret’s death) wouldn’t work unless the tub was slippery.
Q: Do you have favourites of the characters you portray in this show?
A: JENNIFER – the lawyer. He’s so quirky and wants to know everything.
EMILY – Miss Brighton. She has only a few lines, but is so fun to play. Oh, and wife #2 who says “You have laid siege to my heart” – when else would you ever get to say that?
TENNILLE – Dr. Billings [who examines Margaret, supposedly suffering from epilepsy].
Tennille also let the audience in on a little backstage ritual: Emily has a warmup routine in which she counts to 10, using the voices of all her characters!
Fun things that happened at this matinee:
– An audible reaction from audience members entering the space (Alumnae’s 3rd floor Studio) and seeing the brides’ legs and arms draped lifelessly over tubs.
– Someone wondering aloud if the actors were ticklish!
– Gasp from audience when the showers drench the brides for the first time.
Thanks to all involved for a fantastic show and a wonderfully informative and entertaining Talkback! And thanks to scenic artist Cathy McKim for the photos that accompany this post.