Laura Mennell plays the mysterious Mila Brook in The Electric Company's Tear The Curtain. Photo by Brian Johnson.
by Michael Wheeler
One of the unconventional things about this residency is that unlike a traditional curriculum that would begin with basic fundamentals and conclude with something grand and complicated, I am taking the best opportunities I can get when they are available. This approach led me to begin my training program by participating in the first half of a 3-week film shoot for The Electric Company’s newest production – Tear The Curtain, commissioned by The Arts Club Theatre Company to open at The Stanley Theatre in Vancouver in early September 2010.
This meant my cross-Canada study of the relationship between direction and design in theatre began with a crash course in how to direct a film. It took me a couple of days on set, and a couple of reads of the integrated script (which overall is formatted as a film not theatre script), to fully appreciate the magnitude and ambition of what I had gotten myself into.
The story operates on two levels: Plot-wise it is a film-noir styled story set in a semi-fictional Vancouver full of gangsters, tycoons, a secret cell of revolutionaries and double-crossing vixens. Fundamentally it is a narrative that will entertain. Thematically, it attempts something very complex and intricate by centring the plot around an embittered theatre critic in an era where film is becoming the dominant medium. The lead character is both fighting this shift, in part to keep his livelihood, and searching for the reason he was so enamoured with theatre to begin with.
Jonathon Young plays critic Alex Braithewaite. Photo by Brian Johnson.
This is not just an intellectual existential problem for the lead character to be considered by an audience. The show is a combination of both mediums. The Stanley Theatre – where the show will premiere – was once a movie theatre that has been transformed into a theatre theatre. All of the filmed sequences have been shot with in the Stanley Theatre and many of the shots are from the audience’s POV of the stage – or acknowledge in some way when that they were shot in the same room where the audience will experience the performance. Experientially – the line between film and theatre as mediums will be blurred as the same actors from the filmed portions will also tell the story through live scenes.
Still with me? Also, all of this was happening in the heart of Vancouver in the middle of the Olympics. Not too many of the huge crew of people that were working three weeks of consecutive 12hr days seemed all that aware of snowboard cross, curling or the luge – even though the Olympic village was around the corner. We had important things to do! (Not entirely true: Managing Producer Nathan Medd scored last minute tickets with his family to the Opening Ceremonies and came back with some impressive photos on his iPhone.)
My role was to observe – and occasionally be a sounding board for – director Kim Collier as she tore through an ambitious and demanding shooting schedule. Although I have been on film sets before, I have never considered each day and shot, from a director’s perspective, as such the learning curve was both steep and fascinating. One of my first realizations was that a production that used a large number of professionally filmed segments like this had only recently been made possible, or at least economically feasible, by new technology. The film sections are not actually shot on film; a RED One high-res camera was used. This is considerably cheaper than shooting on film and allows all of the information to be stored digitally and viewed immediately.
This technology is not flawless. RED One cameras are a little too good – they can show too much detail and not have the pleasant hues that come from shooting on film. To combat this effect – and to contribute to a film noir-ish feel throughout, there was a single person whose only job was to keep a thin mist of haze circulating whenever camera was rolling. Keeping this haze perpetual and consistent was a major battle throughout each day, but was key to both the atmosphere and continuity of the material being filmed.
Kim Collier (foreground right) directs while a Red One camera is operated by a RoboCop-like suit wearing cameraman. Photo by Tim Matheson.
A second element that jumped out at me as a theatre director learning to direct film was how little time there is for experimentation or mistakes. In theatre I think our creative process often leads us to take time feeling our way into things, trying different approaches, and sometimes using good ol’ trial and error. This is not even remotely a possibility on a film shoot – not only do you have to know exactly what shot you want ahead of time, but exactly what you want from each of your actors and your DP for each individual shot well ahead of time. Certainly you can make adjustments on the fly and always keep your eyes open for discoveries and opportunities – but time is money and a professional film crew is a lot of people’s time.
The biggest day of the shoot was my last one, when a huge number of extras were used to create the crowd shots both of the audience filling the theatre and of a party in that occurs in the lobby of the theatre. On that day over seventy volunteer actors (myself included) showed up at 8am on a Saturday to be dressed in high fashion of the 1930s and strike a number of sophisticated poses and while feigning conversation throughout the day. Most ingenious use of the RED One Camera occurred at the end of this day when the seventy actors were shuffled to completely fill small sections of the 600ish seats the theatre with the camera “locked down”. Later in the editing room these multiple iterations of ourselves will become citizens of the same time and space filling the entire audience in a single shot.
I am already looking forward to returning to Vancouver to join the theatre portion of rehearsals for Tear The Curtain leading up to an early September opening night. The whole company has been awfully nice to a guy from Toronto whom they’d never met before, and it was awesome to be included in this ambitious process. I’m looking forwards to learning the process by which The Electric Company and Director Kim Collier integrate the filmed and live materials both in the rehearsal hall and in tech at The Stanley Theatre. Next post – Michael Healey’s Courageous arrives at The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton.
The Africa Trilogycast member Muoi Nene has released a three-part series on the experience of being an African Canadian involved in the many of the early development workshops of two of the three plays in the Trilogy.
His thoughts on the creation process of both Shine Your Eye and Glo, what he learned, what he contributed, the ideas and concepts that in his mind have informed the production, and his hopes for the Trilogy can all be found below on The Africa Trilogy – Online Media Site:
The Movement Project’sHow We Forgot Hereis an interdisciplinary performance about memory and migration that asks a lot of questions. How did we get here? Where are our ancestors from? What have we forgotten along the way?
Two days before opening, members of the cast answered one more question:
WHY DON’T YOU GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM?
Marika Schwandt: I’d love to! First, someone will need to be selected to choose the place that I’ll be going. Then they will need to make an arbitrary decision about where this place is. Then they will need to tell me.
Malinda Francis (docuvixen): But where am I from? Do I go back to Barbados that i grew up for part of my childhood, which ironically is the only place I am seen as Canadian. I am back in Toronto, why don’t I go back where I came from, Holland where my mother is from,…I wanted to go there for a bit but status is not possible without my mother… Where you are from is relative? Is it where your exist in the moment or, where your ancestors are from? Through my interactions with various Diasporic communities. I see that hope of recognition, that familiarity, they see bit of home. And are you from…? So I would re-ask, How do you think, I was able to be born here?
Gein Wong: Sure, can I charge my plane ticket on your credit card?
Ryan Symington:I don’t go back because I don’t know where I am from. I am adopted. I know I was born in Victoria, British Columbia and that my birth mother decided to give me up before I was even born. I was never raised on Vancouver Island because my adoptive parents were from the mainland. I have no real connection to Victoria but during my childhood, whenever I went to the island for swimming competitions or for leisurely visits, there would be a sense of familiarity and calm that wash over me. I always found great comfort while sitting on the deck of the ferries, travelling through the passageways of the islands. Over the past year, something has sparked my interest and I have had this overwhelming desire to search out my real mother and father. The only purpose of doing that is to see what my face really looks like. Everytime I look at myself in the mirror, I have trouble identifying with the image that I see. It’s a bizarre experience that is becoming even stranger as I get older.
Eva-Rose Tabobondung:I would, if I could go back in time and put myself back into my mother’s womb, and she in her’s and she in her’s and she in her’s…. until the beginning of existence. Maybe I would be myself in another life time before this time. But maybe not. Maybe I’d just be happy going back to the land that I came from where my ancestors lived freely off the land and in harmony with each other.
In the past while we’ve received a number of emails with some very reasonable questions. They usually breakdown into three categories. We’ve never really been explicit with our answers so here we go:
1 How do you decide what companies and websites are listed in the sidebar?
If you have a website that is about theatre, just send a quick email to the info account at the top right of the site. State the name, URL and category it belongs in and we’ll throw it up there.
2 How can I promote my show on your website?
There are two ways to do this: Variations on Theatre was started to avoid praxistheatre.com becoming a clearinghouse for listings and press releases. If you have a show coming up you would like to promote, this is the most straightforward route. Make sure you give at least 2 weeks notice that you would like to do it and send in your Variation at least a week before it should go up.
The other option is to pitch something creative, like when Christine Horne proposed her faux-bitter interview with Susan Coyne. Like we would say no to something like that!
3 How can I write something for your website?
Send an email with a couple samples of your writing and a paragraph that addresses what you think is important about theatre, and what you hope it will evolve into in the next thirty years. We will proceed from there. We don’t pay (yet). When/if we do though, we’ll be paying the people that wrote for free first.
While Praxis Theatre became super-obsessed with our own product and process for a week, lots of other things have been going on:
HIVE 3 has been rocking Vancouver as the theatrical grand finale to the grand funding opus known as The Cultural Olympiad. Simon Ogden of The Next Stage has some interesting thoughts on what the event means for Vancouver and building and attracting new audiences by re-branding theatre.
In Toronto, Tarragon, Factory, and Canadian Stage all announced their seasons in quick succession in a bid to spare their subscribers the added cost of HST if purchased before April 30th. Buddies in Bad Times has made some hints about the first season curated by Artistic Director Brendan Healy, stating the new season, “will reflect a renewed engagement with Buddies’ social and political roots.” Luminato also officially announced the theatrical components of this year’s festival.
Roy McGregor wrote a very interesting piece in The Globe and Mail about the often skewed relationship between “hits” and good journalism as the world of information gets all 2.0 and hit-count-y.
Speaking of interactive theatre…. Check out this awesome show that’s gaining steam Down Under. If this is half as cool as the article makes it out to be I want my ticket yesterday.
Finally, The Theatre Centre’s annual Free Fall runs March 18th – 28th. Included in the festival is a show that occurs in the shared office space Praxis rents at The Great Hall, but is being used briefly by One Reed Theatre (who also rent a desk in the office) as a mini-theatre for their show.
Dave Tompa on how he scored the juicy role of an NDP Member of Parliament in Praxis Theatre’s Section 98
Praxis Theatre’s one-night-only workshop presentation of Section 98 is finally here. Do you have your tickets yet? Last night we had an invite-only dress rehearsal, and we learned a lot. In particular, after all these years of audiences being told to turn their cell phones off, we’re finding it a bit of a challenge to encourage you not only to leave them on, but to actually put them to use during the show. So we’re hoping to see you and your cell phones at the Harbourfront Centre tonight at 8pm.
Check out Praxis Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director Michael Wheeler talking to Harbourfront about our “Open Source” show, and why you need to bring your phones. See you tonight!
Harbourfront Centre’s Upfront talks “Open Source Theatre” with Praxis Co-Artistic Director, Michael Wheeler
We’re here on Day Three of HATCH at the Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre, preparing for our work-in-progress presentation of Section 98. Some of you are familiar with the nature of “Tech Day”, but part of the purpose of our Open Source Theatre project is to reach a wider, non-theatre going audience… so for those of you who are not familiar with tech days, our Stage Coordinator Brittney Filek-Gibson – also known as BFG, also known as Praxis Theatre’s Social Media Sheriff – has created an amazing little video for you, that I like to call “Tech Day in 2 Minutes or Less”. In reality, tech days are much longer. 8 hours longer. Sometimes 12.
Don't go to the theatre regularly? Tell us why in the comments section and we'll give you a free ticket to our show!
So, to all you non-theatre goers… did you have any idea that theatre artists and technicians go through all of this just to make things pretty for your arrival? If you don’t normally go to the theatre, or if you used to go to the theatre but don’t anymore… we want to hear from you. What’s keeping you away? What can we do to get you here? Tell us why you don’t go to the theatre in the comments section below, and we’ll give you a free ticket to our show this Saturday night!
My mum has had a really hard time getting my dad to the theatre ever since she took him to a production of Man of La Mancha over 25 years ago, and a man “pranced around the stage on a broom pretending he was riding a horse”. To make matters worse for my dad, it was Good Friday and all the bars were closed.
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”