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“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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Powerful, moving & beautifully raw storytelling in I Am Marguerite

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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Second night of music from 7 Strong & friends, June 13

Last night (June 12), a lucky audience was treated to the music of Kick Off The Covers (Toby Orr, Dana Cittadino, Dave Blatt, Peter Graham, Patty Wygant, Rob Laurie) and 7 Strong (Adam Orr, Toby Orr, Angus Barlow, Garret Thomson, Peter Chapman, Stuart Constable, Carianne Hathaway).

 

How to categorize? Well, both bands play cover songs (although 7 Strong’s set included an original, “Memories Now” by bassist Stuart Constable). You could say that the genre of both bands is rockin’ folk/country with a twist of irony. In addition to the usual instruments, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele and harmonica are featured! And their covers are sometimes covers within covers of covers – witness 7 Strong’s version of Dylan’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” (also known as the Ab Fab theme song – a trivia question for the audience!) – covered by The Byrds, covered by Serena Ryder. 7 Strong performing at Alumnae Theatre, June 12, 2014.

7 Strong performing at Alumnae Theatre, June 12, 2014.

You like James Taylor? Tom Waits? Bowie? Mumford & Sons? How about satirical American singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton (a longtime favourite of 7 Strong’s precursor ATAG)? You’ll hear them all, but probably not the songs you’re most familiar with! Even Leonard Cohen – a gorgeous version of “Famous Blue Raincoat” with vocalist Adam Orr reaching into his lower register and deploying an effect to digitize his voice.

Big thanks to Yves St-Cyr for manning the mixing board – he came up to the stage to perform Jean Leloup’s “I Lost My Baby” in a mixture of French and English; and to Chris Humphreys for the light show.

And if you’re really good, tonight you might hear “Carrot Juice Is Murder”, originally by The Arrogant Worms. Vegetarians, take note!  7:30 start, $10 at the door.  Also on the bill tonight: pop/electronica band Ileen.  https://www.facebook.com/events/306586349495028/

 

Don’t forget there’s comedy on Saturday night (8pm, $10 at the door)! Michael Graham opens with his songs about “Edward Snowden, the FBI, and poopy diapers”. No kidding.   Check him out at http://themichaelgraham.com/

The main event is Ted & Lisa’s improv show “Complications in Corktown”. https://www.facebook.com/events/605434352882467/

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Music & comedy from 7 Strong & Friends, June 12-14

Well, the season is over at Alumnae Theatre Company, and the building will shortly be undergoing Phase II of a major renovation to make the front entrance accessible to people with disabilities. We’ve always had an accessible side entrance, and last summer’s Phase I reno added an accessible washroom and punched a door in the wall from the auditorium into the lower lobby.

7 Strong logo

Toronto-based band 7 Strong features Adam & Toby Orr, Angus Barlow, Garret Thomson, Peter Chapman, Stuart Constable, Carianne Hathaway.

But before the sledgehammers start swinging for Phase II, one last event: the band 7 Strong (formerly known as ATAG – aka Angus Barlow & The Orrs – see post about a gig in 2011: https://alumnaetheatre.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/angus-and-the-orrs-the-alumnae-studio/) host three evenings on Alumnae’s Main Stage in June. The first two (Thu June 12 and Fri June 13) will be musical: the band performs excellent covers of songs – some familiar and some not. The opening act is Kick Off The Covers; special guest on Day One (June 12) is Yves Saint-Cyr.

Wine, beer and snacks will be available. Tickets are $10 at the door; show starts at 7:30 pm. Proceeds go to Alumnae Theatre.

See Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/728254517214461/ for Thursday details.
Can’t make it on Thursday? 7 Strong is also playing on Friday 13th ! Kick Off The Covers opens; special guests are Yves Saint-Cyr and acoustic/alternative singer Ileen (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ileen/62472003614) . 7:30 show. https://www.facebook.com/events/306586349495028/

And on Saturday June 14 at 8pm, 7 Strong presents an evening of improv comedy with Ted & Lisa.

On the fly, Ted Hallett and Lisa Merchant create a multi-character one-act improvised “disturbingly funny” play which they’re calling “Complications in Corktown”!   Special guest: Michael Graham.

https://www.facebook.com/events/605434352882467/

So come on out for the music on June 12 or 13 at 7:30, and/or comedy on June 14 at 8pm. Tickets $10 per night.

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Raves for “Rabbit Hole”

It’s a tough sell – any play about grief or loss or terminal illness… you get the picture.  A play about parents dealing with the barely-comprehensible tragedy of losing a child, well it takes a brave audience to go there.

Full disclosure:  I am not a parent.  As an actor, I did audition for the role of Becca, the grieving mother in Rabbit Hole, because it’s a fantastic part and I absolutely adored David Lindsay-Abaire’s script, which deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production, directed by Paul Hardy, just opened on Friday (April 11), and the audience response after only two performances has been amazing.  Here are a few samples:

“Beautifully acted, elegantly directed production of a moving play. Don’t miss it!”

“…a very moving and often unexpectedly hilarious show!”

“This play was sooo good! Really powerful and real, very sad but funny too. Loved it, highly recommend it!”

“…a brilliant play… It is poignant yet there is a wonderful levity to it too, despite its dark subject matter. The themes and subtext have been rolling around in my brain since I watched it last night… a great production.”

“A talented cast. Very well done.”

“So much substance! So much food! So good! Last night I fell down the Rabbit Hole at Alumnae Theatre and I will be digesting for some time. Go!”

Yes, go!  You will be transported into the family life of Becca (Paula Schultz) and Howie (Cameron Johnston), eight months after the sudden death of their only child, 4-year old Danny.   The actors, including Joanne Sarazen as Becca’s sister Izzy and Sheila Russell as their mother Nat, are perfectly real.  It’s like you know these people; you’re sitting in their very real kitchen (kudos to set designer Jacqueline Costa and the tech wizards who arranged running water onstage!) or sunken living room  eating cake and chatting.  Schultz has the brittle, dry-eyed quality of a woman barely holding it together as she navigates the pointless wasteland her life has become.  When she accuses her husband of thinking she’s “not grieving enough for you”, you can feel the pain of both parents.

Must particularly mention the scene transitions.  Sometimes they can be awkward moments in semi-darkness when actors or stagehands move furniture or place props for the next scene.  In this production of Rabbit Hole,  Hardy has the actors smoothly pick up props, replace a chair into position, etc.  in a sort of gentle dream-state. Meanwhile, Angus Barlow’s original compositions perfectly underscore the moment. As Hardy hoped, “the music is like a character onstage who speaks when silence falls over the performers.”   Exactly.  The silent moment at the end of the play is just stunning.

So’s the whole thing, actually. But you can see for yourself – Rabbit Hole runs to April 26.  Tickets can be purchased online at www.alumnaetheatre.com, or check the site for other options.  There’s a 2pm matinee today – no reservations required, and it’s PWYC.  RUN!

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“The Lady’s Not For Burning” Talkback, Feb 2

Lady's Not For Burning cast

Cast of “The Lady’s Not For Burning”. BACK ROW:
Chris Coculuzzi (Thomas), Ian Orr (Matthew Skipps), Christopher Kelk (Mayor Tyson), Rob Candy (Tappercoom), Paul Cotton (Humphrey), Chris Whidden (Richard).
FRONT ROW: Andrea Brown (Jennet), Elsbeth McCall (Alizon), Carol McLennan (Margaret), Peter Higginson (The Chaplain).
NOT PICTURED: Ryan Armstrong (Nicholas).  Photo:  Dahlia Katz

As is traditional on the second Sunday of the run, yesterday’s matinee of The Lady’s Not For Burning was followed by a Talkback.  About a third of the audience stuck around for an informative Q&A with director Jane Carnwath, sound designer Angus Barlow, set & lighting designer Ed Rosing, and of course the cast.  Costume designer Margaret Spence was unfortunately not able to make it.  The Q&A was hosted by one of the producers, Barbara Larose.  Scenic artist Cathy McKim took pictures of the set which will soon go up on her blog as a slideshow, and of course I will re-blog for Alumnae.  Following is a sort-of transcript of the questions and answers during the approx 30-minute Talkback.

 Q:           It’s mentioned in the press release that Jane has loved The Lady for a long time.  Can you tell us why?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – It was instinctive – before I knew better!  I heard the recording of the original production – 1949?  1950?  [according to my research it was actually 1948 – bloggergal] which starred John Gielguid as Thomas and Pamela Brown as Jennet, and fell in love with the language.  At first I wanted to play Jennet, and then as time went on and that became unlikely, I wanted to play Margaret [the mayor’s sister, mother of Humphrey and Nicholas].  And then when that didn’t happen, I decided I wanted to direct it. Why do I love it?  I love the themes of hope and the possibility of redemption, and I love the characters.

Q:           The language shifted from almost Shakespearean to modern.  Was that in the script?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – Yes.  Christopher Fry wrote the play just after World War II, and the language is full of intentional anachronisms.  Fry states that the period is 1400, “either more or less or exactly” – he’s not very concerned about it.  We decided to just do a tip of the hat to the period, and not worry about exact period accuracy.

Q:           There are a lot of doors and exits – was that specified in the script, or a production decision?

A:            Set Designer ED ROSING –  It was necessary!  People are constantly going and coming through doors and windows.  The concept for the set was a house built around a stone room, like a church.  That’s why you’ll see the walls are stone on the inside.  In those days, fabric was used as insulation – we went a step further and put fabric on the walls.  The set in the original production was very Gothic – church-like with lots of arches.  I never forgot that original, but wanted this set to be much more humble and down-to-earth.        [bloggergal’s note:  in the original 1948 production in London’s West End, a then-unknown Richard Burton played Richard, the mayor’s clerk!]         

 Q:           To the actors, what was it like, working with this text?

A:            CHRIS COCULUZZI (Thomas) – I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare over the last 20 years.  This was more challenging!   Maybe because Fry’s language is not so much a part of our culture and consciousness as Shakespeare’s is.

A:            CAROL McLENNAN (Margaret) – They key for me was I found it was essential to e-nun-ci-ate!  You can’t just garble it all together – it has to be understandable to the audience when they hear it for the first time.  Even now we’re still finding things. When I first read for Jane, she said “You were very natural – this play isn’t.”

A:            PAUL COTTON (Humphrey) – Jane insisted we get the language down first, then work on making it natural after.  Which is a reversal of the usual process.

A:            ANDREA BROWN (Jennet) – It’s a journey and a quest with every performance!  The challenge was how to honour the beautiful and poetic language while making it engaging to the audience.

Q:           The cast did a great job in getting the comedy across.

A:            IAN ORR (Matthew Skipps) – This is a comedy??!!

Q:           I noticed in her bio that Andrea has now played an accused witch in two shows.

A:            ANDREA BROWN – Yes, I played Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible just a few months ago.  Spoiler alert: it does not end well for her!  Jennet has a much happier ending.

Q:           (Jane calls the audience’s attention to the sound design)

A:            Sound Designer ANGUS BARLOW – There are about 25 sound cues.  Some are so subtle, it’s like Margot [stage manager Margot Devlin] calls the cue and nothing happens.  We can’t hear it in the booth, but it’s audible to the audience.  It was a challenge to build and run the sound.  We recorded some of the cast to make the noises of the angry mob and the party, and a professional cellist was brought in to record the awful sounds of the viol tuning [actor Peter Higginson, who plays the musically untalented Chaplain, interjects: “it wasn’t me!”].

Q:           It’s a big cast [11 actors] – was everybody at all the rehearsals?

A:            Director JANE CARNWATH – No, we had a few reads all together and then I broke the script into scenes and tried to bring actors in only when they would be used.   When we finally get to run all the scenes together it takes a huge leap forward.  This was one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with – a lot happened onstage; the actors made it come together.  I had a great time with the production because I was also working with people I’ve worked with before – Ed, Angus, Margaret, Margot… it’s been wonderful.

The Lady’s Not For Burning runs to Saturday Feb 8.  Four more performances:  Wed – Sat at 8pm.  Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed, and $20 Thu – Sat (unless you purchase day-of tickets at half price at the T.O. Tix booth!).  reservations@alumnaetheatre.com

 

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Wit, wonder & wisdom in The Lady’s Not For Burning @ Alumnae Theatre

life with more cowbell

Lady's Not For Burning - image only“Life, forbye, is the way

We fatten for the Michaelmas of our own particular

Gallows. What a wonderful thing is metaphor!”

– Thomas Mendip in The Lady’s Not For Burning (from director’s program notes)

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of The Lady’s Not For Burning, directed by Jane Carnwath, brings the wit, wonder and wisdom of Christopher Fry’s play to life through sight, sound and poetic wordplay – an excellent cast and a beautiful show.

The marvelous ensemble includes some remarkable stand-outs. Chris Coculuzzi gives us a Thomas Mendip that combines the melancholy philosophy of a Jacques with the good-humoured wit of a Fool, and Andrea Brown is luminous as Jennet Jourdemayne, quirky, sharp-witted and compassionate. Together, their performances show us opposite perspectives of the all too fleeting realization of the nature of the human condition: we live, suffer out our short time in these bodies – yes – and…

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