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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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Fly on the wall at “The Lady’s Not For Burning” rehearsal

This coming weekend, the cast & crew of The Lady’s Not For Burning swing into Tech.   Usually, designers, operators and crew work out the technical cues under the leadership of the stage manager on Saturday, and Sunday is the Cue-to-Cue rehearsal with actors.  “To lessen the pain”, as SM Margot Devlin says, the producers (Barbara Larose, Ellen Green) will provide lunch for everyone.

I sat in for a piece of last Saturday’s rehearsal (Jan 4), just to see how it’s going.  In a big group scene from near the beginning of the play, Thomas the ex-soldier (Chris Coculuzzi) is trying to convince the villagers that he’s murdered people and should be hanged – “What about my murders?”, he keeps asking.  Only to be continually dismissed by the town’s Mayor Tyson (Christopher Kelk):  “It will all be gone into at the proper time.”  The mayor is somewhat harried because at the same time,  a local girl, Jennet (Andrea Irwin Brown) is accused of witchcraft and turning a man into a dog.  Stage Manager Margot read in for absent actor Chris Whidden, who plays Richard, the mayor’s clerk.  [For those keeping count, there are 3 actors named Chris/Christopher in this production, plus the playwright Christopher Fry!]

I also saw a run of a scene near the end of the play, featuring the entire cast: everyone from the earlier scene – including  Carol McLennan as the Mayor’s sister Margaret;  Ryan Armstrong and Paul Cotton as her  sons; Elsbeth McCall as Alizon, the girl they both want;  and Peter Higginson as the guitar-toting* Chaplain – plus the magistrate Tappercoom (Rob Candy),  and Ian Orr having a grand ol’ time as the drunken rag & bone man Matthew Skipps.  “Aren’t you dead?” asks Thomas.  “You’ve been dead for hours.”

After the scene runs, director Jane Carnwath gave notes to the actors.  Was intrigued to notice the start of a medieval village backdrop, which scenic artist Cathy McKim (who will be creating stone, wood and stucco finishes, and of course using the “magical” colour of burnt umber) reports will be the last thing painted.

Here’s her initial sketch presented to set designer Ed Rosing – it’s from November, so things may have changed: Lady's Not For Burning bkdrop sketch     *I was curious about the guitar that the Chaplain (Peter Higginson) carried.  So I asked him about it.  Here’s his delightfully tongue-in-cheek e-mail response.

BLOGGERGAL:  Hey, do you actually play the guitar you were carrying in Lady?

PETER:   Regrettably, no – I don’t play guitar – though that prop I might be able to manage as a percussion tool as it has no strings!! The Chaplain can only play religious dirges with any accomplishment and, I am assured, will never have to pluck or bow the strings on stage – the paucity of his (my) talent will be represented by discordant sounds through the magic of those that deal with the complexities of producing the audio fabric for this mysterious but magical play – but also, please note, the instrument is more likely to resemble a viola than a guitar.

Audiences will have the opportunity to see the whole thing come together on Alumnae Theatre’s Mainstage as of January 24, where it runs to February 8.  Tickets can be purchased online via our website www.alumnaetheatre.com, or you can reserve seats by phone (416-364-4170 xtn 1) or email  reservations@alumnaetheatre.com and pay cash on arrival.  Showtimes:  8pm Wed – Sat; 2pm Sun.  Tickets are $20 Thu – Sat; 2-for-1 on Wednesdays; and PWYC for Sunday matinees.  No service charge on cash sales at Box Office.  Feeling spontaneous?  Spin by the T.O. Tix booth in Yonge/Dundas Square on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, and pick up half-price same-day tickets (+ service charge).

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“The Lady’s Not For Burning” first read-through, Nov 9

Saturday November 9 was a very busy day at Alumnae Theatre – every space in the building was in use!  Up in the 3rd floor Studio, the FireWorks plays were teching (opening Wed Nov 13).  The lobby was the site of the New Ideas Festival ‘Creative Exchange’ – think speed dating for the writers whose plays have been selected to be produced in March, and the hopeful director applicants!  Also on the main floor, it was load-in day for Alexander Showcase Theatre, who are renting Alumnae’s main stage for their production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which runs Nov 14 – 24 (see http://www.alexandershowcasetheatre.com/new-shows/the-crucible-2/ for info & tickets). And in the second floor rehearsal space, I was invited to the first read-through of Alumnae Theatre Company’s January show, Christopher Fry’s medieval comedy The Lady’s Not For Burning.

Director Jane Carnwath told us (the cast, designers, production folks) that she has wanted to direct this play for years.  It is written in 3 acts (which run about 30-40 mins each), and will be performed with TWO intermissions.

English playwright Christopher Fry (1907 – 2005) wrote it in 1948, and the script hints at the post-WWII events of its day.  Although often described as a “verse comedy”, The Lady’s Not For Burning is only “very loosely” iambic pentameter.  Its meter and rhythm combine soaring imagery with colloquialism/vernacular:   “Savour the language,” Jane advised the cast, “don’t belabor it!”  This production will be our modern vision of the period (1400’s) – there will not be strict accuracy in costumes, language, etc.  Jane also mentioned that she thinks Jennet really is a witch, but doesn’t know it!

Set designer Ed Rosing passed around his drawing, which shows his concept of the town built around a ruined stone arch seen at upstage centre.  Buildings will be shown on a backdrop visible through the arch, in the style of old paintings before perspective was in fashion.  The design incorporates period heraldry devices and torn flags.

Lighting designer Jennifer Fraser warned that she tends to design very tightly, meaning that actors have to hit their marks, but promised “You will look beautiful!”.

So what is the play about?  The big themes are redemption and loss of grace – yet it’s not religious.  And guess what?  It’s about hanging and witch-burning, but it manages to be funny and outrageous!  So much hilarity in the room during the read-through.  The plot concerns Thomas, a disillusioned former soldier (Chris Coculuzzi) who wants to be hanged; Jennet (played by Andrea Brown**) who’s accused of witchcraft because someone thinks she turned a man into a dog; and all the village personalities who contribute to the mayhem, including the blustering but ineffectual Mayor (actor Thomas Gough was absent; the role was read by co-producer Ellen Green); his by-the-book clerk Richard* (Chris Whidden); the Mayor’s officious sister Margaret (Carol McLennan); Margaret’s battling sons Nicholas (Ryan Armstrong) and Humphrey (Reece Presley); the girl they fight over (Elsbeth McCall); the befuddled village Chaplain (Peter Higginson); Justice Tappercoom (Rob Candy); and Ian Orr as Matthew Skips, a rag & bone man whose death may have been greatly exaggerated.


–          “Your ding dong rocks me” – Carol’s sly reading of protective mama MARGARET DEVIZE made me guffaw.  (Oh, she’s talking about the church bells, which have just rung)

–          “You can go down to the dinner of damnation on my arm.” – THOMAS, to Jennet.

         “I’ll dine elsewhere.” – JENNET’s response.

–          “Blow your nose, Tyson, and avoid lechery.” – JUSTICE TAPPERCOOM’s advice to the MAYOR.

–          “Legal matters and such are Greek to me.  Except of course that I understand Greek.” – CHAPLAIN

–          “Mother, I make it known publicly: I ‘m tired of my little brother.  Can you give him to some charity?” – HUMPHREY

–          “…I bark my brain on shadows sharp as rock…” – JENNET (her father was an alchemist who “broke on the wheel of a dream”)

–          “How can they confuse my voice with a peacock’s?  Don’t they know I sing bass in Satan’s madrigal choir?” – THOMAS

–          “I am such a girl of habitI’ve got into the way of being alive.” – JENNET

See?  Funny AND poetic.  And those are just the lines I managed to scribble down – there were some glorious speeches full of imagery (Jennet has a lovely one about jonquils and pearls of dew) that I couldn’t write down fast enough.  Catch The Lady’s Not For Burning when it opens on the main stage, January 24, and runs to February 8, 2014.

*busy actor Chris Whidden is also playing another character named Richard (in the FireWorks play Theory, Nov 13 – Dec 1).  When he pointed this out, Chris Coculuzzi joked, “So you’re playing a couple of Dicks?”  Ba-dum-dum.

** Andrea Brown is playing witches in two consecutive productions,  starting Nov 14 as [accused witch] Elizabeth Proctor in Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of The Crucible.

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Audition notice for “The Lady’s Not For Burning” (Alumnae Theatre, Jan 24 –Feb 8, 2014)

Our 2013/14 season has barely begun (the first production, The Underpants, just opened Sept 20), and already we’ve auditioned for production # 2 (the FireWorks series) and now announce auditions for production #3!

Lady's Not For Burning script coverAlumnae Theatre Company seeks non-union actors for our January production, Christopher Fry‘s The Lady’s Not For Burning, directed by Jane Carnwath.
Performance dates:  Jan 24 – Feb 8, 2014.
AUDITIONS WILL BE HELD Oct 1 – 5 AT FRASER STUDIOS – see below for address, dates & times.

The Lady’s Not For Burning  is a romantic comedy about witches, arranged marriage and a war-ravaged soldier who wants to escape a world he finds irredeemably bleak. This acclaimed verse play, set in 15th century England, was a hit in the UK and on Broadway. Thomas, the soldier, wants to be hanged, but the townsfolk are more focused on burning Jennet, a young woman they believe to be a witch. Thomas’ quest to die and Jennet’s to live bring them face to face with the hypocrisy and paranoia of the mob, as well as their new and growing love. Written in post-WWII 1949, its lively characters and themes resonate sharply today.

RICHARD, a clerk – 18-early 20s. A foundling with unexpected reserves of courage and ingenuity.
THOMAS MENDIP, a discharged soldier – 30-40. Fights despair with wit and outrageously bad behaviour.
ALIZON ELIOT – 17. Fresh from the convent, innocent but finds the strength to make brave choices.
NICHOLAS DEVIZE – 20s. Driven by impulse and hormones.

MARGARET DEVIZE, mother of Nicholas – 50-60. Comfortably domestic, unflappable – usually.
HUMPHREY DEVIZE, brother of Nicholas – 30s. Town Councillor, born to the role, uses it to wield power.
HEBBLE TYSON, the Mayor – 50-60s. Plagued with post-nasal drip and a need to be respected.
JENNET JOURDEMAYNE – 20-30. Faces a terrifying situation with humour, courage and honesty.
THE CHAPLAIN – Schooled in a theology that fails him in the face of brutality and fear, longs to be a musician.
EDWARD TAPPERCOOM, a Justice – 50-70. Pragmatic, sensual, has opinions on everything.
MATTHEW SKIPPS – 60-70. The drunken rag-and-bone man who saves the day. A terrific cameo.

Tuesday, October 1, from 6-10 pm
Wednesday, October 2, from 6-10 pm
Thursday, October 3, from 6-10 pm
Saturday, October 5, from 10 am – 6 pm
Callbacks the following week.

Please read the play before auditioning!   Script is available at Toronto Reference Library’s  5th Floor Arts Desk,  and at Theatre Ontario.
Please prepare a short (2-3 min.) classical monologue.  You may also be asked to read from the script.
Please bring your photo and résumé.

E-mail ladyauditions@gmail.com  or leave a message at 416-364-4170 ext 3.
Be sure to include your phone number so we can contact you! And specify your preferred role.

Auditions will be held at Fraser Studios, 76 Stafford Street (one street east of Strachan – corner Stafford & Adelaide W.).

SMALL PRINT:  Alumnae Theatre is a non-professional theatre company that encourages diversity in its membership and casting. Participation is unpaid – do it for love, not money!

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