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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!
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.
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.
[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.
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 email@example.com , and pay cash at the door. Box Office does not accept credit or debit cards for in-person sales.
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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Sounds wonderful! Many of the cast have previously appeared on Alumnae Theatre stage – most recently Chris Coculuzzi and Carol McLennan in The Lady’s Not For Burning (January 2014). Other familiar names include Kathleen Jackson Allamby (February) and Zvi Gilbert (Homeward Bound).
A Month in the Country director Maureen Lukie was a delightfully flustered Mrs. Bennet in Alumnae’s 2009 production of Pride & Prejudice, with real-life spouse James Lukie as Mr. Bennet.
Family, friends and household staff feel the heat – and, in most cases, not just the seasonal temperature – at the country home of Natalya and Arkady. Secret love and repressed feelings bubble to the surface, creating a chaotic mess of dramatically comic proportions during a series of surprises, confessions and emerging rivalries.
Lukie has an excellent cast, consistently strong across the board, for this comedy of love. Kathleen Jackson Allamby is lovely as Natalya; conflicted, bored and adored, equal parts caged lioness and spider spinning. Chris Coculuzzi gives a stand-out performance as Mihail, sharp-witted with an equally pointed tongue, all the while simmering with a desperate love for his…
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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!). firstname.lastname@example.org
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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