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.
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
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
[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 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org , 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 designer Peter DeFreitas.