Monthly Archives: September 2009

Let’s Play A Game

Pretend for a moment you are the artistic director of an independent theatre company. Your company has  just  taken on a very difficult show. It is is brand new company and this show is the first of the season. It is very important for the success of the company that it is well received.  You are a diligent and conscientious director so you have spent a huge amount of working very hard with a talented cast. Not surprisingly, because of this effort you are very emotionally invested in the play/cast.

 In spite of all this effort, however, opening night is only days away and you realize the show will not be ready. The actors are great but the technical side has not come together well. The set is incomplete and the actors have never run the show with lighting and sound. At best, even with rehearsing around the clock, opening night will be a glorified dress rehearsal.

 To complicate matters further your press relations team has done a fabulous job and reviewers from TV, radio, and print have already agreed to show up opening night to review the piece. It took a lot of effort to set this up and if they all pan the show it may impact severely on future audiences.  What do you do? Please also briefly explain your reasoning.

 1. You delay the opening. You apologize and explain the situation to the reviewers. They might reschedule. They also might not come at all. You may lose money and a little respect, but you turn opening night into a second dress rehearsal and make it a “pay what you can” show.

 2. You fake it! Maybe no one will notice these shortcomings and if they do you will say that you meant the show to appear raw and rough. It was a conscious aesthetic choice. Defy anyone who says otherwise and fire up the actors to give the best performance they can. You charge full price.

 3. You send a letter to the reviewers explaining the situation and begging them to come on a later night to review. You have lots of contacts in the community. By calling in a few favours you might be able to pull this off and the reviewers will agree to come later. You charge full price.

  Question 2: Who is more important the reviewers or the audience? Why?


Going Solo?

 Tonight I’m off to a media performance of The Syringa Tree at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. This is an award winning and internationally acclaimed play and it therefore seems a good way to begin the GCTC’s season. I will also be writing a review of this play for Cult(ure), and this time I decided to do a quick Google search to find out at little about the show in advance.  This is actually the first time I’ve taken this approach. I believe strongly that a play should be taken on its own terms. For this reason, I prefer to go into a show as “fresh” as possible. It’s worth noting that I still carefully avoided all the reviews of other companies’ performances of the play in an attempt to remain unbiased.

 Naturally in my Googling one of my first stops was Wiki. While Wiki has its issues, I find it pretty reliable for a very general synopsis.  Wiki had this to say about the play:

“The Syringa Tree[1] is a deeply personal memory play of a childhood under apartheid. Written and often performed by Pamela Gien it has received excellent reviews in New York and across the USA as well as in London.[2][3] Also very positively reviewed[4] in Dublin, the play has received several awards.

Originally, the play was intended for one actress only, with no props besides a swing and one costume. However, it can also be performed with two or multiple actors.” (

I find that last line particularly intriguing and I’m really curious to know if Pamela Gien has made that allowance in her script. I would suspect not, as she performed it solo in the original off-Broadway version. I think it’s fair to assume that she would have performed it the way she felt it should be performed. (I could be wrong.)

I fully understand, however, why a company might decide to add other actors to a Solo actor show.  There is something very compelling about “the chemistry” that happens between two or more actors when they perform on stage that is always missing from solo work.I usually prefer the performances of multiple actors over solo actors because I enjoy this chemistry so much.  

That is not to say that solo performances aren’t worth seeing. Many of them are quite excellent. Pierre Brault’s Portrait of An Unidentified Man, for instance, is a great example of one that did everything right. It was unquestionably one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

I’m not sure how I feel about converting solo actor scripts into multi-actor scripts, which brings us to Wayne’s question of the day:

Is it OK to take a script intended to be performed by one actor and turn it into a multi-actor piece? Judging by the Wiki entry, this is precisely what someone did at some point with The Syringa Tree.

 (Bonus points will be given to anyone who has read the play and can therefore illuminate us on whether Gien has actually made allowances for this in her script.)

Ditzes, Doormats, and Noises Off

Last Thursday I attended the Gladstone’s production of Noises Off on behalf of (Cult)ure Magazine (my review can be read here).  While I realize that all the characters in Michael Frayn’s play are two dimensional archetypes, used as vehicles to drive the comedy, I was particularly disappointed with Frayn’s depiction of women in this well known comedy.

 Frayn has written a collection of ditzes and doormats falling on comedic stereotypes that were dated long before Frayn wrote his script. I find this particularly frustrating as an audience member because comedies have been recycling these stereotypical female characters for so long that they have become worse than clichés. Quite simply, there is nothing new here and comedy works best when it is founded on the unexpected.

 On a personal note, I am friends with two of the actresses who performed in Noises Off both of whom are fine actresses. Michelle Leblanc and Colleen Sutton both impressed me at Ottawa’s Fringe and while they do an admirable job with what they are given in this play, Frayn has given them very little to work with. That’s a shame.

 Offstage, both these women are the furthest thing from either ditz or doormat. They are intelligent, vibrant women, who are extremely dedicated to their craft.  They are not alone. This town is blessed with a large collection of talented actresses and yet sometimes there seems to be a shortage of roles where these actresses can really shine.

I would encourage all the theatres, and theatre companies, in Ottawa to consider this when selecting the scripts they will perform. No more ditzes and doormats! Let’s see some vibrant female characters on the stage that will push the actresses playing them to new heights.