Tag Archives: Molly Thom

My first audition, and other notes: A newcomer learns about the New Ideas Festival as a writer and participant

by Suzanne Bowness

New Ideas Festival 2019.
Image design: Suzanne Courtney

This week I attended the first of three opening nights in the 2019 New Ideas Festival (NIF). In two weeks, it will be my opening night as a playwright of one of the festival plays, The Reading Circle. It is my first opening night because it’s my first play in production.  Quite a lot of firsts for me, thanks to NIF, so I thought I’d share a few more of them.

My first audition
I went to my first audition in January. There, at least one actress confessed that it was her first audition as well. The difference is that that brave girl was saying it from the stage. I’m not an actress. I fear the stage. For me, it was just my first time watching an audition, so more fascinating than terrifying.

Fortunately, my director, a title I now like to name drop even though my director has an actual name, Marley Kajan, is much more knowledgeable about these things. My director is an actress herself and willing to be peppered with questions, something that I am testing the limits of. Do performers always have a monologue prepared? (Yes. Marley herself has several!). What’s a side? (An audition piece from the play).  What’s a better side to prep? (One that shows your range or ability to handle dialogue? Debates on this one). Are all auditions this short, like just 5 to 10 minutes? (Many are even shorter!) What’s a callback?

Questions continued into the rehearsal process. Others were also a target for them. I was paired with a dramaturg, Catherine Frid, who provided some humbling yet helpful insight that prompted me to deepen my newly introduced minor characters (my play started out as a one-woman show). Sometimes I’m not asking questions so much as observing what’s going on (not a stretch for me as an introvert writer): at rehearsals I’m mostly on the sidelines watching as my director does her thing, steering actresses’ intonations in different directions, asking about their character intentions and adding elements that never even occurred to me. Musical cues? Sure, why not. Oh, and it hasn’t stopped being surreal to hear the words you’ve written read by real people whose voices sound better than the voices you had in your head.

 NIF turns 31

I may be a newcomer to this festival, but NIF itself is already 31 years old. To find out more about what I had (happily) gotten myself into, I turned to former festival coordinator Carolyn Zapf, who was until 2018 co-artistic director/producer (with Pat McCarthy) of the festival for eight years. She tells me that the founding producers of NIF were Molly Thom and Kerri MacDonald. The first festival took place in May 1988. The plan was to create “a laboratory to develop new talent and new theatrical ideas.”

“Since then, NIF has played and continues to play a role in playwright and script development, and has also provided opportunities for many Toronto directors, actors, stage managers, and technicians at an early stage in their careers,” says Zapf.  NIF is also a source for Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival, which helps move plays a step further in Alumnae’s development process.

NIF plays can also move along to other productions. A play from NIF 2016, Omission, by Alice Abracen, was programmed in Alumnae’s hundredth anniversary mainstage season last year. A play called Theory, by Norman Yeung, was part of this year’s Tarragon Theatre season. Theory was a workshopped reading in NIF 2010, went on to SummerWorks 2010, and was produced at Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival in its inaugural season in November 2013.  Theory won the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition in 2015.


Back in the audience

While I’ve got couple of nervous weeks to get through before my words debut, this week I got to make my debut as a festival audience member and enjoyed seeing the works of fellow playwrights, which I’d only heard to this point  as snippets in auditions. From the hilariously funny and physical Bazookas (a final highlight of auditions was watching a parade of grown women each announce with straight face that they were “here to audition for the part of Boob One”) to the thought-provoking question raised by The Last Date, to the “modern fairy tale” qualities of Outside Looking In to the very current issues raised in Body Parts, Week One offered a good variety of characters and emotions.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival continues to March 24 – a new lineup starts on Wed March 13; another on March 20.    Suzanne Bowness’ play, The Reading Circle, is part of Week Three (March 20-24). 

Tickets: $15/wk (4 short plays – all world premieres), plus a PWYC staged reading of one longer play  at noon on Sat March 16 (Waiting For Attila) and March 23 (Harbor).   Details/ticket purchase link at https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/new-ideas-festival-2019.html



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Filed under 2018/19 Season, New Ideas Festival

Playwright’s Note: “The Creases in My Sari’ (FireWorks 2016)

The Creases in My Sari playwright Sindhuri Nandhakumar couldn’t make it to her own premiere last night, as she is working in India and Sri Lanka.  But she promised to wear a sari to mark the occasion!  She wrote to Alumnae Theatre Company’s FireWorks series producer Molly Thom:  “My soul will be in Toronto with you and everybody else who has been working so hard on this play.”

"The Creases in My Sari" playwright Sindhuri Nandhakumar

“The Creases in My Sari” playwright Sindhuri Nandhakumar

This is Sindhu’s playwright’s note:

Born to an Indian-Tamil family in the Sri Lankan Central Province of Kandy, I grew up firmly steeped in the periphery of a conflict. Ealam and the war zone were far away from me. My family, while sympathetic to the plights of fellow Tamils in the North and East, were largely apolitical and strove to continue running their small businesses without attracting too much attention from either the military or the Tamil Tigers – money is what had brought them from India to Sri Lanka, after all. Large numbers of my relatives had fled to India after the 1983 pogroms, but there was a certain stoicism about the war. The mentality was that even if we were affected, it wasn’t our battle.

In 2009, two months after the war ended, my family migrated to Canada. The move wasn’t politically motivated – it was economic. We moved in to an apartment in Scarborough, and for the first time in my life, I experienced a sense of Sri Lankanness that I had never seen before – there was an obvious display of pride in Tamil culture, and that too a uniquely Sri Lankan Tamil culture. I have seen more signage in Tamil in Scarborough than I have seen in Sri Lanka. I have learned more about Jaffna cuisine in Toronto than I did in Kandy or Colombo. Not being able to travel to the former war zone until recently, Toronto was the first place where I learned more about the “other” Sri Lanka.

I also learned that people in Toronto had displayed their anger about the war more vocally than most Sri Lankans had. People in Sri Lanka either didn’t or couldn’t protest with such vigour, probably because they feared for their lives at a time when the President and his outfit ran the country with an iron fist and an unforgiving attitude. Canada, on the other hand, provided a platform for these grievances to be aired, and provided a home for many of Sri Lanka’s Tamil refugees to express themselves and their identity.

I felt both a part of this world and excluded from it. Yes, I grew up in a war torn country, but much like Chanaka [played by Suchiththa Wickremesooriya in The Creases in My Sari; his father is a military man], I grew up in privilege. I wanted to write about these tensions within my own identity, and that is what gave birth to this play. I hope you go on a journey with these characters and feel the battle between the political and the personal as much as I did – as much as I still do.

Carolyn Zapf, the dramaturg of this play, is probably the sole reason why this play exists. With her encyclopedic knowledge and kind attitude, she did not let me forget about the play until it went through the many revisions that it did. I owe her all my gratitude. Thank you Carolyn.


The Creases in My Sari runs to Sunday Nov 13 in the Studio at Alumnae Theatre.  Showtimes:  Wed – Sat at 8pm, plus 2pm matinees on Sat & Sun.  Tickets:  $15.  Purchase online (http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/tickets.html)  or reserve at 416-364-4170 Box 1 and pay cash at Box Office .  No credit or debit cards accepted for in-person sales.



7pm on Friday Nov 11 – Pre-show panel discussion (in lobby) with author Koom Kankesan; former Tamil refugee and current PhD candidate Thursica Kovinthan; and Sri Lankans Without Borders member Amra Ghouse.
Saturday Nov 12 – post-matinee Talk Back: Writer and director discuss their artistic process and answer audience questions about the play and the production.


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Filed under 2016/17 season, FireWorks 2016

“Radical” in FireWorks 2015 – Playwright and Director interview

This is the last week of FireWorks! FireWorks 2015 - RadicalThe final play in the series is Radical (Nov 18 – 22) written by Charles Hayter and directed by Neil Affleck (who acted in the New Ideas 2014 version).   Radical is the true story of a brave Toronto doctor, Vera Peters, who pioneered the now-common lumpectomy surgery for breast cancer, when the accepted course of treatment – as late as the mid-1970s – was the disfiguring radical mastectomy.

Q: What inspired you to tell this story?  What was the germ of the idea?

A (playwright Charles Hayter):

Helly Chester as Dr. Vera Peters in "Radical". Photo: Bruce Peters

Helly Chester as Dr. Vera Peters in Radical. Photo: Bruce Peters

I have known about Vera Peters for a very long time through my day job as a radiation oncologist. In the medical world, she is still remembered and revered for her compassion, curiosity, dedication, and perseverance. The doctor in me continues to be inspired by her ideals, and awed by her challenge to the arrogance, narrow-mindedness and sexism of the medical establishment. Part of my motivation came from wanting to bring her story to a wider audience that may not know much about her. The playwright in me saw natural opportunities for drama in her conflict with the surgeons over mastectomy.


Q: FireWorks is a showcase for full-length plays which have been workshopped and/or dramaturged through Alumnae Theatre Company.  What’s the development history of Radical?

A (Charles Hayter):   I’ve been doing research and drafting pieces of a play since 2010. The project finally took off when a few draft scenes were accepted for the New Ideas Festival 2014. These scenes grew into a first draft which had a public reading at NIF in March 2014. Subsequently, a rewritten and longer version directed by Edgar Chua was presented at the Toronto Fringe 2014. After more rewrites, the play had another reading in the Page to Stage Reading Series at New Stages Theatre Company, Peterborough, in April 2015, under the direction of Randy Read. The version produced in FireWorks is yet another rewrite. Through all of this I have been greatly helped by my dramaturge Molly Thom [a co-founder of Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival], and the wonderful actors and directors who have participated in readings, workshops, and rehearsals.

Q: Neil, tell us about the process of directing Radical.
A (director Neil Affleck): The direction of Radical very much represents a three-way creative partnering between myself and my Associate Director Ingryd Pleitez and our writer Charles Hayter. I like to think we all brought complementary skill-sets to the task. There was a generational aspect to Ingryd and my directorial collaboration that I found intriguing and informative. It has been more than thirty years since I worked in the theatre, during which I slogged away in the vineyards of Animation, and while some of the creative muscle groups that I called on were the same, there was a lot that I had to scramble to relearn. Ingryd, on the other hand, is at the start of her directing career. So different energies and life experience but I believe we’re both equally excited by Charles’ script and the opportunity to bring it alive.

I’ve deeply impressed by Charles’ dedication to his story and development of the play, his willingness to drill deep into his characters and the situations he dramatizes. He has great writers’ instincts.

Q: Is there anything specific you would like the audience to know, or to watch out for in the production?

A: (Charles Hayter): Only the character of Vera is based on a real person. The other characters (Rose, Helen, Bernie, Frank) are fictional representations of elements of the world she inhabited.

The only scene which remains intact from the very first version is the scene where Rose rejects the breast prosthesis (Scene One). The instructions that Rose reads (“Jump!” Twist!” “Turn!” Lean over!”) are copied verbatim from the packaging for a breast prosthesis c. 1970.

I’d also like the audience to know that this is a work-in-progress and comments about what works and what doesn’t work are very welcome!

Q:   Do you have future plans for your play? 

A (Charles Hayter): : I plan to submit it to theatre companies across Canada for further development and possible production. I am also toying with writing a screenplay version.

[Ed. Comment: YEESSSS!] 


FIREWORKS SHOWTIMES: 8pm Wed – Sat; 2pm Sat & Sun.

TICKETS:   $15 except Sun – PWYC.

Purchase tickets online (except for Sunday PWYC matinees) or reserve seats and pay cash at Box Office.  No credit or debit cards accepted for in-person sales.

RESERVATIONS:   E-mail reservations@alumnaetheatre.com or phone 416-364-4170 Box 1.

For more into, and to purchase  tickets online, please go to http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/fireworks.html


POST-SHOW TALKBACKS – “Behind The Curtain”:
Thursdays: Directors Pamela Redfern, Julia Haist or Neil Affleck with their Assistant Directors Melissa Chetty, Lisa Alves, Ingryd Pleitez.
Fridays: Lighting Designer Gabrielle D’Angelo and Sound Designer Bill Scott.
Saturday Matinees: Costume Designers Peter DeFreitas, Toni Hanson, Trish Worrall.
Saturday Evenings: Set Designers Marysia Bucholc, Mark Cope.
Sunday Matinees: Playwrights Chloe Whitehorn, Taylor Marie Graham or Charles Hayter.


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Filed under 2015/16 season, FireWorks

“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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Filed under 2014/15 Season, I Am Marguerite

Playwright Shirley Barrie on telling the story of “I Am Marguerite”

It’s not every day that audiences have the opportunity to hear the playwright of the play they are about to see, talk about the journey of getting it to the stage.  But on Sunday April 12, prior to the 2pm matinee performance of I Am Marguerite (which just opened on Friday), about 30 lucky people in Toronto got that opportunity.  And for FREE! Picture

Introduced with the reading of her bio by Ellen Green, Shirley Barrie is an award-winning playwright, has co-founded two theatre companies (one in London, England; one in Toronto), is a Past President of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and many of the plays she’s written are about fascinating women in history – for example:  Beautiful Lady, Tell Me… (the notorious 1909 murder of Ethel Kinrade in Hamilton, Ont.), and Queen Marie (the Ontario-born comic actress Marie Dressler, a star of vaudeville and silent films).

As Shirley herself admits, she is “attracted to stories of women who refuse to play by the rules.”   The genesis of I Am Marguerite goes back to about 1989.  What we see onstage today is the fourth time Shirley had written Marguerite’s story, in one form or another: a testament to the compelling power of the story – it kept drawing her back.

The first version was a radio play, which was broadcast in 1990.  It was very different – in that version, an older Marguerite, now returned to France, tells her story to a group of schoolchildren.

The second version came about because Shirley felt that she had “not done justice” to Marguerite, so started on a stage play.   Trying to expand her options for production, she actually wrote the play so that it could be performed by two or by five actors.  In retrospect, “not a particularly good idea”!  However, the play was produced with 2 actors in Prague (1993), and with 5 actors in Cornerbook, Nfld (1997).

In 2003, Shirley participated in an intensive workshop with Tapestry New Opera Works (https://tapestryopera.com ), and had to come up with a libretto for one of the assignments.  She wrote a brief lyric scene about Marguerite de Roberval. Then director Molly Thom, who has worked with Shirley for about 15 years and directed several of her plays, commissioned Shirley to write an opera libretto based on a pared-down version of the story in the play.

Around 2012, after the opera project had stalled, Molly challenged Shirley to adapt the libretto into a stage play. Shirley was initially reluctant to re-visit the story she’d worked on for so long, but decided she would do it differently this time.  “I wanted to play with the actors’ voices, with repetition,” she explains, “and with the rhythm of language and the separation of thoughts.”  She also wanted actions speak as loudly as words. Having seen the script, I can attest that the resulting work looks quite different on the page; the format does not look like a standard play.


Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite de Roberval in "I Am Marguerite" by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom.  A world premiere for Alumnae Theatre Company, April 10-25, 2015.  Photo: Bruce Peters

Daniela Pagliarello as Marguerite de Roberval in “I Am Marguerite” by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom. A world premiere for Alumnae Theatre Company, April 10-25, 2015. Photo: Bruce Peters

One of the things Shirley is often asked is DID THIS REALLY HAPPEN?  “The bare outlines are true,” she told us.  In fact, there are three published accounts of the event from the 16th century – one by the Queen of Navarre!  The known facts are that in 1542, Jean-François de Roberval marooned a noblewoman (accounts vary on whether she was his sister or niece, but most agree that she was related) and her lover on what is probably one of the modern-day Harrington Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, that came to be called at the time Îles de la demoiselle.   And that she was eventually rescued by a French vessel. Everything else in the play is supposition, based on clues Shirley was able to find in her research.

And don’t forget:  much of the initial research was pre-internet!  Yes, back in the distant days 25 years ago, of haunting libraries and waiting for old reference books to be found in the stacks.  Shirley first discovered Marguerite’s story in a 1970’s children’s book called Wilderness Women: Canada’s Forgotten History by Jean Johnston.  (Interesting side note:  the similarity of Peter DeFreitas’ costume design to an illustration of Marguerite in that book is quite startling)  “The story really spoke to me,” Shirley says.  One of her treasured moments was going to the National Archives in Ottawa and reading the Queen of Navarre’s Heptaméron, a wee little book bound in disintegrating leather, published in 1558!  This book of short stories contained a rather disguised and religion-slanted version of Marguerite’s tale.  “If that was the first or only account I’d come across,” Shirley confesses, “it would not have held my attention.”

 Later research – aided by the internet – led her to https://teachingmargueritederoberval.wordpress.com/ “a great site; a treasure trove of information”.

When inspired by a historical event with different versions of the story, a writer chooses one with which to make connections and “weave strands”.  It’s actually much harder to write a play when the subject is well-known – Shirley shared that her current project is a play for 4th Line Theatre about L.M. Montgomery, beloved author of the Anne of Green Gables books!

In a brief Q&A section, Ellen Green asked about Shirley’s role as the author in rehearsal for I Am Marguerite.  Director Molly Thom quickly piped up, “In my opinion, the author belongs at rehearsal.”  Shirley noted that the contracts from Playwrights Guild of Canada stipulate that the writer should be there, especially for a first production.  [This production at Alumnae Theatre Company is a world premiere.]   “I think it’s important to be there – theatre is a very collaborative process,” she adds.  “And I have a very good working relationship with Molly”.  Molly asserts that having the playwright present at rehearsals is “a gift to actors!”.


The talk whizzed by in about 45 minutes, until producer Ramona Baillie called time and ushered us out of the auditorium so that stage manager Kelsey Rutledge and ASM Kimberly de Jong could set up for the 2 pm matinee.    The people who had listened to the talk were joined by a whole bunch more for the matinee.

It was my first time seeing the show in full performance mode (read account of a dress rehearsal in April 1 post), and this time I seriously teared up on hearing the beautiful music (“Marguerite’s Theme”) that composer James Langevin-Frieson had created for the ending.   Read a review of the show at https://lifewithmorecowbell.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/powerful-moving-beautifully-raw-storytelling-in-i-am-marguerite/)


I Am Marguerite runs to April 25.  Purchase tickets in advance at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/i-am-marguerite.html , or reserve by phone (416-364-4170 box 1) /e-mail (reservations@alumnaetheatre.com) and pay cash on arrival. Box Office does not accept in-person purchases by credit or debit card.  Wednesday tickets are 2-for-1; Sundays PWYC; Thu – Sat $20.

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Filed under 2014/15 Season, I Am Marguerite

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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Sitting in on “I Am Marguerite” rehearsal, April 1

Bloggergal picked a good day to check out a rehearsal for I Am Marguerite, which opens on April 10. Not only was the cast in full costume (for the benefit of photographer Bruce Peters, who snapped away during the run), but it was also director Molly Thom’s birthday – no foolin’! Producer Ramona Baillie surprised Molly with a cake, and everyone sang “Happy Birthday”.

Bones (prepared by set designer Marysia Bucholc) for "I Am Marguerite".

Bones (prepared by set designer Marysia Bucholc) for “I Am Marguerite”.  Photo: Bruce Peters

Before the run started, I got a chance to take a close look at the bones onstage – yes, they’re real! Set designer Marysia Bucholc bought them at St. Lawrence Market – a giant cow bone and several large fish – and boiled them to remove the flesh. “I got excellent stock out of it,” she says!

Sound designer Angus Barlow was sitting at a production table in the middle of the house, beside stage manager Margot Devlin (Kelsey Rutledge takes over as stage manager on Saturday for the rest of the performances). Angus played a recording of a new lute piece by composer James Langevin-Frieson for Molly’s approval.

There was a small audience watching the run – assistant director Meg Moran, assistant producer Dale Stewart, set designer’s assistant Fotini Paraschos, lighting designer Wesley McKenzie, and costume designers Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson.

 Having read (OK, devoured) Shirley Barrie’s amazing script for I Am Marguerite, I knew that it is not a straightforward telling of a historical event. But this performance blew me away.

"I Am Marguerite":  Marguerite de Roberval (Daniela Pagliarello - front left); Eugene (Christopher Oszwald - front - right); Jean-Francois de Roberval (Chris Coculuzzi  - left rear); Damienne (Heli Kivilaht - centre); Queen of Navarre (Sara Price - right rear).

The play begins with Marguerite (Daniela Pagliarello – left front in this photo by Bruce Peters) marooned on a deserted island off Newfoundland in 1542.   Wisps of smoke conjure up Nfld fog; eerie wolf howls raised goosebumps. And she sees a ship approaching – there is the possibility of rescue.  How Marguerite wound up on the Isle of Demons for two years, and her relationships with her ambitious brother Jean-François (Chris Coculuzzi – left rear), her old nurse Damienne (Heli Kivilaht – centre), her lute-playing lover Eugène (Christopher Oszwald – front right) and her mentor the Queen of Navarre (Sara Price – right rear) is told in a series of scenes that flow into and out of each other, fluidly jumping around in time.  It was not at all confusing: for example, sea noises and gull cries would cue us that a scene was taking place aboard the ship that sailed Jean-François and Marguerite from France to the New World, where he planned to be “King of Canada”.

Shirley Barrie calls I Am Marguerite “a play for a soloist and a quartet of voices”, and that description seemed perfectly apt when reading the words on the page, but it came to magical life when I was watching it play out on the stage.

After the run, all the designers took turns conferring with Molly or the actors about what worked, what didn’t, etc. I eavesdropped on costume designers Peter DeFreitas and Toni Hanson, talking to Sara Price, who plays the very regal and proper Queen of Navarre. In addition to the most stunning gown – seen below – Sara also sports an amazing wig, which Peter made by attaching various hairpieces to a black velvet cap.

Costume designed by Peter DeFreitas for the Queen of Navarre in "I Am Marguerite" (world premiere April 10-25, 2015 at Alumnae Theatre Company)

Costume designed by Peter DeFreitas for the Queen of Navarre in “I Am Marguerite” (world premiere April 10-25, 2015 at Alumnae Theatre Company)

Having spoken last week to props designer Razie Brownstone (who was experimenting with fabric and gelatin), I was very interested to check out the fish that Marguerite catches and eats in the play. Tonight she worked with a fish made from fabric, with a handy pocket to accommodate her stabbing and gutting it. “There was talk of putting gummy worms in the pocket so I could eat them as fish guts, and I’m so down with that!”, Daniela told me. But the fish I saw tonight may not be the final version in performance.

Ramona insisted that everyone on the production team gather onstage with the actors to have a photo taken. There will be official photos coming soon.

In the meantime, don’t forget to reserve or purchase a ticket for the WORLD PREMIERE of I Am Marguerite, running April 10 – 25. http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/i-am-marguerite.html

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Filed under 2014/15 Season, I Am Marguerite