Week One of the 25th anniversary New Ideas Festival wrapped on Sunday (March 10). Barely had the audience cleared out of the Studio after the Sunday matinee, when the Week Two groups started arriving for the tech times. The Festival is very efficiently scheduled by Artistic Directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf. Ladies, I salute you!
So, Week One. Because I had a play in this week, I saw all 6 performances. Go ahead, call me a geek. It’s theatre – I like to see how it grows and changes. And one play sure did: Shirley Barrie’s Revelation. It was a retrospective remount from 2001, and for the first three performances, all went smoothly. The New Orleans-style funeral music made me smile every time, as did the thunder crash that greeted actor Steven Burley’s exclamation of “I’ll be damned!”. Then actor Patricia Hawk was unable to perform on Saturday or Sunday, due to a nasty virus. She told me afterwards that the queasy dizziness actually started on Friday night – she had to hang on to Steven’s hand at the curtain call, or she would have fallen. So an hour before matinee showtime on Saturday, Pat McCarthy pressed Jane Carnwath (most recently the director of Così, but she has acted in If We Were Women and Amy’s View, among others) into service. With just one cold read under her belt (and that involved first finding Pat Hawk’s script!), Jane and Steven took to the stage in their street clothes, and performed Revelation. It was pretty darn impressive. For the Saturday evening show, Jane and Steven wore costumes, and Jane’s performance was lovely – she even organically did most of the blocking – they did not rehearse that, Steven assured me.
At the Sunday matinee,the play’s director Molly Thom (who’d been unavailable on Saturday) played the role, wearing Pat’s costume, as they are much the same size. Of course, Molly knew the blocking perfectly, and most of the time did not need to refer to her script for the lines. So in the space of a week, I got to see three different actors play the same role, AND observe how the unflappable Steven Burley expertly shaded his own performance, depending on what his scene partner threw at him. See, live theatre: it’ll constantly surprise you!
Play #2 in the lineup, Suzanne Gauthier’s Still Waters, was written last fall for Write Now!, a writing challenge devised by Alumnae Theatre’s New Play Development Group (NPD) – the theme this year was running water. Also, Suzanne mentioned at Saturday’s Talkback that she wanted to write roles for older actors. One of my favourite laugh-out-loud moments was Frank’s (John Illingworth) demonstration of the water wheel he’s built to help wife Monica (Sandra Burley – yes, she’s distantly related to Steven, through her husband!) sleep: “Uuup and over. Uuup and over…”. Cracked me up every time. And there’s this lovely exchange: Monica remarks that at this stage in their lives, it’s the beginning of the end. Frank responds, “Then let’s not spend it in separate beds.”
I can’t really be objective about my own piece, Say The Words. My main concern was not to bore the audience with such a bare-bones piece (an 8-minute monologue about love, loss, and words unsaid), but various audience members praised actor Alexandra Manea and director Kim Radmacher, and seemed to like the script. I’d loved Kim’s initial ideas about projections, but it wasn’t possible due to technical difficulties. Instead, she and Alex worked on dissecting the text and trying out abstract movement before paring it down. The final result was very minimalist, but it worked for the audience.
Stalled was just delightful. New Ideas co-founder Kerri MacDonald directed the piece, which New York playwright Eugenie Carabatsos told the Talkback audience was inspired by her own car getting demolished in an accident. “I was surprised how devastated I was,” she said. Kerri’s staging, with actors sporting black T-shirts with tire tracks playing real characters as well as humanizing the car (which provides running commentary of noises) was so innovative. Jillian Welsh as the car radio was hysterical, blaring French talk as well as snippets of 1980s and ‘90s hits like Ace of Base’s “The Sign”, Hanson’s “MMMBop” and Madonna’s “Material Girl” when her dial was spun. Best line came from Maggie’s (Julie Cohn) dad (Rob Candy): “You had sex with BOTH my daughters?!”
The staged reading in Week One (noon on Sat. March 9) was Falling , a lyrical and magical 35-minute play written by Jamie Johnson, dramaturged by Diane Forrest, and directed by Ed Rosing. It featured Ruth Miller as Lou, mother of a troubled girl named Constance, who was played at different ages by four actors: Carys Lewis as the child who doesn’t yet realize that her life isn’t perfect; Cora Matheson as the rebellious and somewhat dangerous teen; Kristen Scott as the unhappily married 20-something; and Cathy McKim as the present-day Constance in her 40s. The play begins with Lou telling a fairytale story about the moon protecting a little girl named Constance, who would ever after “be at home in the night”. Gradually each character reveals a story from her own version of the past, and the audience gets the full picture of Constance’s life.
The reading was followed by a Talkback, and playwright Jamie Johnson noted that Falling – based on concepts of time and memory: how we remember and react at different stages in life – was originally a story that he wanted to turn into a play. He churned out five or six drafts, including 3 “major” revisions in the past four months. The original submission last September to the New Ideas Festival didn’t have Constance split into ages/voices, and her two husbands (who are only mentioned now) were actual on-stage characters until the third draft. Johnson joked that the descriptions of the moon and the night, which an audience member commented were “magical”, were maybe the only things left from the original script!
The genesis of the story was a conversation Johnson had with his own mother, who endured a pattern of abusive relationships. To a question about what triggered the reconciliation between Constance and her mother in the play, Johnson responded that Lou (the mother) recognizes that Constance has taken control and done what Lou could not: killed her abuser. This sensitive topic was delicately treated, and it was interesting to note that five such pitch-perfect female voices were produced by a male writer.
At the Saturday matinee Talkback, the Festival ADs Pat and Carolyn confirmed that they had tried to group the plays thematically each week. For Week One, the clear theme was feelings not expressed. Hmm – I wonder what the theme is for Week Two? Check out the details of the March 13-17 lineup at http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/ideas2013-2.html. Tickets ($15) can be purchased by clicking on the arrow-shaped TICKETS icon on that page, or make a reservation by phone at 416-364-4170 box 1, and pay cash at the Box Office on arrival.