Trailer for His Girl Friday the 1940s film. Directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant
by Krista Jackson
It’s hard to believe it is the middle of July and in less than a month we begin rehearsals for our own Directors Projects. Despite the long hours in the rehearsal hall, being in all three theatres tech-ing, production meetings, teaching academy sessions and joining the audiences of Present Laughter and His Girl Friday on the terrace for my pre-show chats, this internship has felt like a sabbatical. I have had the time to read novels and plays from the mandate.
I am learning phonetics from the amazing voice and dialect coach Laurann Brown. (we are using the IPA while working on an American Southern dialect). I have regular Alexander sessions with the Victoria Heart; a technique I have not explored since theatre school. I have also had a Manners of The Mandate tutorial from Sharry Flett and look forward to a more intensive workshop with Guy Bannerman and Sharry before the season ends to incorporate these details into my project.
My first choice for the project was approved! I I will be doing two shorter American one acts with the same set. George S. Kaufman’s If Men Played Cards As Women Do will transition into Alice Gerstenberg’s Overtones. Kaufman has four men meeting to play cards and Gerstenberg has two childhood friends – with a history – meeting for tea. She gives each woman “a primitive self” who speaks what she is really thinking and feeling. The shows compliment each other even though they are very different in style.
Trailer for His Girl Friday by John Guare. Directed by Jim Mezon, assistant directed by Krista Jackson
I submitted Tina Howe’s translation of The Bald Soprano by Ionesco as my third choice and a John Galsworthy’s short Punch and Go. It turns out it was also Associate Director Eda Holmes’ second choice when she was did this internship in 2001. I am in the process of casting and have lined up some fantastic ensemble members so far, but i’ll let you know the full cast in the next post and let you in on some design ideas as well. It is a very small budget but we have the furniture, props and costume warehouses to pull from. This past winter, all the costumes at the warehouse were barcoded and ensemble members who have been here for many seasons have their own closets.
The Festival celebrated a second round of openings the first week of July which included His Girl Friday! Tonight is our first dress rehearsal for Hedda Gabler. Bill Schmuck’s set and costumes, Kevin Lamotte’s lights and Todd Charlton’s sound design are gorgeous and I can’t wait to see everyone in their costumes. Investigating Ibsen again (I played Regina in aproduction of Ghosts) from the other side of the table with Martha Henry has been a masterclass. Martha has put me to work staging the two transitions and I have been soaking up her vocabulary of over fifty years in the theatre.
A few of her insights from my notes…
“Props have a life of their own – once they expose themselves. Don’t put them away until they have finished accomplishing their purpose.”
“All the motivations come from the other person.”
“Actors’ technique is knowing how to arrange your being so that you are emotionally availablein the moment.”
I have also learned that the key to a characters’ journey can lie in a single word and thatsometimes the pronoun as the operative word is your friend!
Okay so things have been busy here at The Shaw Festival.
My last post had come as I had just finished my work as an assistant director on the musical Ragtime. I still remain connected to the show through hosting pre-show talks on the terrace of The Festival Theatre at 730pm before evening performances until September. My talk is a mix of musical, production and early 20th Century history.* There’s a lot to go over in roughly 20 minutes and the content is evolving over the summer. Emma Goldman, played by Kate Hennig, is a big hit with audiences as a historical figure many were unaware of – background on her and Booker T. Washington is becoming more emphasized as the talk develops.
Hennig as Emma Goldman. Photo by Emily Cooper
From a rehearsal standpoint, I spent much of my spring at The Court House Theatre working as assistant director with director Alisa Palmer on A Man and Some Women by Githa Sowerby. The production is the third Sowerby play produced by The Shaw Festival under Jackie Maxwell’s Artistic Direction. The first, Rutherford and Son,was a hit when it opened exactly 100-years ago with an author simply known as G. Sowerby. When her gender was revealed, although it lent Sowerby some fame and notoriety, her subsequent works were not produced by the theatre establishment.
Recent productions of The Stepmother and A Man and Some Women at The Shaw Festival have served to re-ignite interest in Sowerby and her body of work beyond Rutherford and Son. Unearthing this practically un-produced gem from a century ago was exciting for all of the artists involved. The text is clearly influenced by Chekhov (subtext and a passion for capital W Work) and Ibsen (the plot is akin to a neo-feminist A Doll’s House), but there is also a high-stakes quality to the writing which is uniquely Sowerby’s. Along with my regular assistant responsibilities, I also worked closely with eight-year-old cast member Jordan Hilliker, who has three scenes in the play complete with Victorian-era costume and dialect. Man did he nail it on opening.
Jordan Hilliker has three big scenes at the same age I was moving from Lego to Robotix.
I have also begun rehearsals as assistant director of Helen’s Necklace by Carole Fréchette, directed by Micheline Chevrier. Poetic language permeates this two-hander about a Western woman searching for her possibly metaphoricallost necklace in Beirut. It is a piece that requires imagination and interpretation by director and designers. It is the only show playing in the Studio Theatre this season, which has given us a blank palate not normally available in the repertory model to create Helen’s experience of Beirut through a detailed but minimalist set by Judith Bowden defined by light (Michelle Ramsay) and sound (John Millard).
Guess I approved this shot? Photo David Cooper
Currently, I am half-way through a Mamet/Churchill/Stoppard scene study workshop I am leading with twelve performers here. On Wednesday mornings three actors work on a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross as well as a three-hander from Cloud 9. On Thursday there are three two-handers from Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Oleanna.
Our tablework has concentrated on given circumstances, awareness, and events – so hats off to Stanislavsky. As each of the scenes moves from table work to ‘on its feet’ I am staying focused on clearly defined actions and beat changes that necessarily change those actions. This part is more Practical Aesthetics influenced. It’s a blast to be doing this work with such talented pros.
Finally, I have submitted my top three plays for Directors Project and had my top pick approved. This fall I will be directing Senora Carrar’s Rifles by Bertolt Brecht in The Studio Theatre. I had also submitted Shaw’s The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet, and a collection of early drama by Chekhov as alternates, but I really was most excited by Rifles (as I may start calling it). It is Brecht’s very loose adaptation of Riders to the Sea by Synge – but set in The Spanish Civil War.
Senora Carrar’s Rifles is many things: A mini Mother Courage, Brecht’s most serious attempt at realism as a mature artist, a play he regretted writing, an incredibly popular play with East-German cultural authorities, a Call to Arms, and a serious conversation about the limitations of pacifism in the face of fascism.
I will be working with musician and composer Beau Dixon to create the sounds of the approaching battle (and everything else) through percussion. It is looking unlikely we will be calling any sound cues from the booth, but you never know. Hopefully by next blog post I will be able to announce the cast. Thanks for reading along. It really is an incredible opportunity to be here. Lots to learn and so many talented people to learn from.
* Material for this talk is actually a combination of research by Obsidian Theatre/Shaw Theatre Interns Beau Dixon, Ray Hogg and myself. Thanks guys.
Present Laughter by Noel Coward launched The Shaw Festival 2012 Season. Click to enlarge.
by Krista Jackson
May 28, 2012
I just did Tara Rosling‘s yoga class on the day off. Delicious. Opening week has ended! Six shows opened with dinners and parties while we continued to rehearse and set levels for His Girl Friday and assembled for the first day of Hedda Gabler on Thursday. I was only able to see Wednesday’s opening of Present Laughter– which was fabulous and I attended the pre show dinner and performance with old pal Neil Barclay.
I cannot write this post without mentioning how humbled and honoured I am to be in the room assisting Martha Henry on Hedda Gabler. She brings such compassion, insight and humour to the table. We begin blocking tomorrow.
Krista Jackson photo by David Cooper
Meanwhile, His Girl Friday: Jim Mezon and I will be spending 24/7 together in the coming weeks. He is playing Judge Brack in Hedda and we will run back and forth to rehearse, tech and preview his production of His Girl Friday – Heis a goldmine of Farce 101. I have loved my rehearsals with the reporters – who act as a Greek chorus in the play – hashing out the text and drilling the lines while Jim works on other scenes. It is a huge play that demands a lot of precision.
In preparation for writing my His Girl Friday pre-show chat – some thing both Intern Directors do before evening shows at the Festival Theatre – I dug up Neil Munro‘s directors notes from The Front Page’s production program. This show is the 1928 Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play His Girl Friday is based on.
I was SO inspiredby those notes, that I took a list of all the shows Neil has directed here to Jean – who creates all the Shaw programs. She gave me copies and I spent an afternoon with Neil Munro – reading his brilliant notes on Ibsen, Miller, Chekhov, Williams, Barker, Shaw etc. Here is his definition of farce from The Front Page notes:
“Farce feeds on insurrection, and its characters stand outside the boundaries of civilized behaviour. Farce also contains elements of rage – rage at the inability to better one’s circumstances, rage at the deceit of false friendships, rage at why Right seems Wrong and the other way around. All of this is usually coupled with a healthy dose of domestic violence and almost always capped with the power of True Love to rise above all and serenely conquer.”
I also started my Academy classes last week. We have chosen Act 1: Scene 1 from Shaw’s Candida and John Bull’s Other Island to work on. I love Shaw! As for my one act choices for the project, I have more than three and am trying to narrow it down. Ionesco, Inge, Williams, Gerstenberg, Kaufman and Galsworthy… Thanks for reading!
Krista Jackson and Michael Wheeler are the 2012 Neil Munro Intern Directors at The Shaw Festival. You can read all their blog posts about this by clicking here.
Michael Wheeler & Krista Jackson. Photo by David Cooper
Since mid-February I have been working along with Krista Jackson as one of two Neil Munro Intern Directors at The Shaw Festival. The Theatre Ontario and Sun Life Financial sponsored program inserts us into three shows at the festival as assistant directors, as well as running sessions with the Shaw Academy. It concludes with The Directors Project: we choose a one-act from the Shaw Festival mandate and create with festival actors and designers.
Krista and I will present our top three picks for this text to a committee led by Program Director Eda Holmes in mid-June. In early-July once the selection has been approved and confirmed, we discuss with the committee appropriate actors for specific roles who are then asked if they would like to volunteer to be part of our project. Rehearsals begin in August for invite-only presentations in September.
We both hope our thoughts as we go through this process will be interesting to theatre blog readers and thus we have elected to write the occasional co-blog on The Directors Project and what is going on with us at The Shaw Festival.
Click image to enlarge
April 27, 2012
Writing on a rainy afternoon in my little cottage in Niagara-on-the-Lake – Misalliance directed by Eda Holmes is in previews and we are in the thick of blocking His Girl Friday directed by Jim Mezon– the second of three shows I am assisting on. I am staring at my pile of one act plays on my coffee table which includes the large red binder Neil Munro assembled of “good ones”, wondering which one to crack this afternoon. I have read nineteen so far bypassing the shows done in the director project’s recent past.
So what is swirling around in my head? Translations are always an issue with pieces that aren’t American or British, but at this point I’m not ruling out anyone. When chatting with ensemble members and stage managers about the project many have talked about comedies being preferable to work on – and see – by the end of a long season. Still, I want to narrow it to three shows that excite me and make me ask the most questions.
Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre just celebrated Shaw in this year’s Master Playwrights Festival and I directed a production of Village Wooing for my company, zone41 theatre. So, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to do a Shaw again, but after working on the brilliant Misalliance I was seduced into reading some of his other one acts and have found one I really like. Michael and I have made a pact to use both music interns Beau Dixon and Scott Christian to compose some original music for our shows, so I am also keeping that in mind as I read. A one act with multiple scenes perhaps? More reading to do…
Today I’ll dive into Feydeau, First to Last – a compilation of 8 one act farces. Bring on any suggestions – and thanks for reading!
Click image to enlarge
May 4th 2012
So far the majority of my experience here has been working as an assistant director with Shaw Festival Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell on Ragtime at The Festival Theatre and with director Alisa Palmer on A Man and Some Women at The Courthouse Theatre.
I am learning a ton – it is a very different creative process when you are rehearsing a show for half-days over a two-month period with some of the best actors in the country. Not that Praxis actors aren’t some of the best in the country also, in fact Tim Buck 2 co-creator Ben Sanders stars in The Shaw Festival’s production of Misalliance, but I digress.
In terms of picking a one-act, so far my reading has begun with classics one would expect to read if picking a play written during Shaw’s lifetime (1856-1950). Shaw, Chekhov, Brecht, a little Synge and Coward. I have already come up with a few texts that fascinate me. The size of cast is a question I am considering currently: Do I want to work with an ensemble or with a smaller cast on some really detailed work? Either way we get the same amount of rehearsal time. I think the answer to that question will inform my eventual choices for texts and the process that we work with.
In any case, look forward to more specific posts as the deadline approaches and I have to make some choices. I don’t intend to be too coy about the whole thing and will throw out some titles that I am considering next time around. Please feel free to leave us your thoughts and ideas about what to read next in the comments.
“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.”