Tag Archive: Audiences

The Pillowman Audience & Critical Responses

Aaron Hursh & Mike Wasko in The Pillowman. Photo by Michael Sider.

The Pillowman opened two weeks ago at the Jericho Arts Center, and the feedback has been great.  This post is being updated daily with new feedback. Here’s just some of what people are saying:


#JerichoArtsCentre to the cast of Pillowman thank you for a deeply disturbing evening.” – @Urbanpienews on Twitter

“I must admit I loved @ryanbeil in The Pillowman last night at the Jericho Arts Centre in #Vancouver. Go see it! Note, disturbing content…” – @CynnamonS on Twitter

“Amazing production of The Pillowman at Jericho Arts Center starring @ryanbeil, it’s running until the 6th, go check it out” – @SheilaMEdmonds on Twitter

“Saskatchewan’s loss is Vancouver’s gain as Aaron Hursh gives a superb performance in the Wild Geese Equity Coop production of The Pillowman.” – @GayVancouver on Twitter

“Fantastic show! Can’t stop thinking about it, actually…” – Lisa Oppenheim on Facebook

“Just saw THE PILLOWMAN by Martin McDonagh – Presented by Wild Geese Equity Co-Op – If you want good theatre that gives you ‘bang’ for your buck (tee hee), go see it. Wonderful performances and realization of a disturbingly engaging play. Have a fantastic opening!” – Daniel Deorksen on Facebook

“Both Hursh and Biel provide powerful performances with a palpable connection as siblings that have endured so much.  Hursh was mesmerizing and I found myself on the edge of my seat a number of times especially in his scenes reading Katurian’s stories.  Biel’s characterization of the challenged brother is done without affectation that could so easily have drifted in for someone playing a mentally challenged character; it is played simply, straightforward and with an intense innocence that I found it as frightening as any axe wielding murderer.  Ashley O’Connell was particularly successful in taking his role of good cop Tupolski beyond a simple stereotype and while Mike Wasko as his sidekick seemed to struggle a little, they both worked well as a team….Set designer Naomi Sider works in perfect tandem with lighting designer Darren Boquist bringing a childlike nightmarish quality to Katurian’s horrid tales and to the stark realities of the regime’s interrogation room, complete with dried blood on the floors.” – Mark Robins, GayVancouver.net (Read the whole review!)

“Just saw “Pillowman” at Jericho Arts Centre. Very funny, very dark comedy. Really very dark comedy.” – @VanRealDeal on Twitter

“The scenes of Katurian interacting with his brother  were beautifully performed. Beil captured the innocence of a tortured soul who did not understand the reality of what he was doing.  Hursh succeeded in portraying the anguished conflict between  his love for his brother  and his horror of what transpired, all the while questioning his own culpability in the horrific events…. This is a dark and complex play but  the team at Wild Geese Equity Co-op did credit to McDonagh’s text. It is well worth seeing.” – Gillian Lockitch, Review from the House (read the whole review!)

“There is real chemistry between Ryan Beil and Aaron Hursh. Their comic timing and dramatic intensity are alone enough to make this a compelling play to see. The audience on opening night shared uncomfortable laughter and uneasy tension as these two strong actors brought an almost effortless virtuosity to their roles. The acting of both pairs of male leads is superb, and the others are capable in their rather limited roles. What lies beneath this is the strong script, with its underlying theme of purposeless narrative. ” – Roger Wayne Eberle, Review Vancouver (read the whole review!)

“Really enjoyed the Pillowman at JAC last nite. Good good good theatre.” – @courtneyvl on twitter

“Has a new script to add to her favourites. Please go see THE PILLOWMAN by Martin McDonagh – Presented by Wild Geese Equity Co-Op! Such a good show.” – Alison Chisholm on Facebook

“The Pillowman is a jagged, funny, scary play, and Stephen Drover, directing for Wild Geese Equity Co-op, mines it for all its black comedy creepiness, mingling murder and torture with mirth….O’Connell and Wasko—the good cop, bad cop combo—evoke many similar TV scenes featuring a twisted, unpredictable duo. Wasko is big, tall and intimidating; O’Connell, despite the delightful Irish accent, is an even nastier piece of work with tightly controlled menace lurking under a jocular façade.” – Jo Leddingham, Vancouver Courier (Read the whole review, but beware spoilers!)

“Director Stephen Drover knows exactly how to pace his show. An absolute blur of words demands absolute attention from the cast, and the blistering pace of this production is as exciting as the wonderful weirdness of its text…Hursh has to carry the whole show and does so beautifully, by never faltering from a clear understanding of his character’s Kafkaesque confusion and hilariously overblown sense of self. Add in Ryan Beil as the brother and we’re given scenes so beautifully timed that the laughs keep coming even as we wince at the gory stories on offer.  The cops are played by Ashley O’Connell (good) and Mike Wasko (bad) — with Wasko good and O’Connell great at finding the same vicious comedic magic as Hursh and Beil. Born in Dublin, O’Connell keeps his Irish accent in check but gives full flower to an understanding of McDonagh’s absurdist intent, making his detective a dangerous stew of dysfunction.” – Peter Birnie, Vancouver Sun (Read the whole thing!)

“Hursh, an attractive and sometimes powerful young actor new to Vancouver, carries much of the play as Katurian. He’s very good, especially in one terrific scene with Michael, where the brilliant Ryan Beil walks a fine line between totally creepy and hilarious….This is a provocative, entertaining and well executed show but it doesn’t convince me that The Pillowman is McDonagh’s best or most profound work.” – Jerry Wasserman, Vancouverplays.com (read it all!)

“The Pillowman was awesome!! Oh wow. And the cast was really funny! Love #VancouverTheatre :)” – @Keslergirl on Twitter

“You must see The Pillowman at The Jericho Arts Centre, this is their last week. Riveting performances from all players. Difficult subject matter tastefully explored to provoke necessary continuous dialogue on the question of responsibility, legality and compassion.” – Tom Picket on Facebook


“Under Stephen Drover’s direction, the opening exchanges between Katurian (Aaron Hursh), good cop Tupolski (Ashley O’Connell), and bad cop Ariel (Mike Wasko) are delivered at such an artificially furious pace that they devolve into a stylistic exercise and lose all meaning. Hursh’s Katurian is bland, and Wasko’s Ariel is one-note loud in the early going. By far the best performance of the evening belongs to Ryan Beil, who plays Michal with his trademark sincerity and eccentric comic rhythms.  Darren Boquist’s lighting is sculptural. It’s gorgeous.  In some ways, the surfaces of this evening are glossy, but its interior is dull. I wasn’t outraged by The Pillowman; I was put off—and bored.” – Colin Thomas, The Georgia Straight (Go ahead, read the whole thing!)


Talkbacks; or, “How do you learn all those lines?”

Often when I remind the cast that we have a talkback coming up, I am greeting with a groan.  People begin questioning how many folks will stay and telling horror stories about that one talkback they did where there were more cast members than audience members. Soon they start placing bets on how quickly the audience will ask the most infamous question, “How do you learn ALL THOSE LINES?”

Kris Joseph wrote about his experience doing talkbacks after every performance of Doubt last year and one of his points was this:

2. I believe talkbacks are about the audience.  So is theatre in general, really. But in the world of the talkback I like to imagine that the play was 90 minutes of my character’s chance to speak; the post-show chat is the audience’s chance to speak…. It’s natural for some (if not all) audience members to be left with questions, but I don’t think the people on stage really have many more answers to offer than other audience members do.

In the last week I have moderated two talkbacks for Pacific Theatre’s production of Refuge of Lies. Refuge of Lies is about a man who has a dark history of wartime secrets which are hidden now by his religious conversation and subsequent immigration to Canada. He is confronted by a dutch journalist and his life begins to unravel. The play was inspired by the true story of Jacob Luitjens, a UBC professor whose history caught up to him in the early 1990’s.

The first talkback was on Wednesday night and was a special event for a school group that had attended the show, but we invited the rest of the audience to stay as well. That night 75% of the audience stayed to interact with the show. The question of how lines were learned never came up. But the students were very engaged with the story. There are places where the play leaves things open to interpretation and a couple of times they asked about those moments, and the cast always flipped it back to them: What did they think happened? And good discussion came out of it.

Last night was a very different story. Pacific Theatre does a talkback on the second Friday night of every run. Patrons choose to attend that evening so they can be a part of things. When I did a headcount during the talkback last night, I would say it is the largest that there has been in my 5 years working there – over 60 people stayed (out of our 90 person audience). We had members of the church Jacob Luitjen’s had attended, including one of the pastors. And the conversation became heated (more heated than the play where a father euthanized his daughter; more headed than the play where a convicted pedophile is released back into the community and begins hanging out with a young girl). What did it become so heated about? Ambiguity (which we all know, I love).

Very early into the talkback a man stood up. “”This play talks about mercy, but is it talking about mercy at the expense of justice? What did [Rudi] do?” the man asked, “I’m just so angry!” The cast began to pose questions back to the audience: “Does it matter what he’s done if we know he’s committed some sort of crime?” “What do you think he’s done?” “I’m glad you’re angry – that means we’ve done our job. I hope you came with someone so you can argue it out on the way home.”

But for this man it wasn’t enough. He was agitated and wanted black and white answers. The other audience members began to engage with him: “I think the point of art, of theatre, is to ask questions, not to answer them” and the man stood up and began to yell. All of the sudden the audience was not comfortable with this turn of events. The apprentices were starting to fidget in their seats.

I intervened.

“We need to move from this topic of discussion now, but you can continue your conversation in the lobby once this is over.”

“Or in the streets!” chimed in a patron.

Terrence Kelly, the man playing Rudi Vanderwaal looks at the audience and says, “Doesn’t anyone want to know how we learned all our lines!?!”

[For anyone wishing to follow along with the discussion, it is currently continuing in the comments section of Plank Magazine between the reviewer, the patron mentioned in this post & one of the cast members.]

How Many are Too Few?

I was incredibly disappointed this afternoon to receive a phone call from the Vancouver Playhouse informing me that the performance of Studies in Motion to which I had booked tickets was being canceled due to lack of attendance.
The performance was scheduled for next Thursday afternoon and for me, a week day matinee is the ideal time to see a show. If I am in performances, I have my day times free and this coming week when I am off work I have booked in evening performances most nights of the week and squeeze in a matinee as well (of course they also tend to be more affordable – in this case a difference of about $15). At this point the Playhouse has refunded my ticket without any problem, but I am uncertain if I will be able to see the show now despite really wanting to. Am I willing to shell out the additional money to go to an evening show? Do I have an evening free to go? What about the closing Saturday matinee?
So I’m curious: how many people are too few to do a show for?
I can understand the need to have enough people to cover costs, but for any union house, you wouldn’t be paying performers & stage management extra per show – 8 shows per week are written into the Equity contract. The only additional fees that would exist would be technicians who are paid hourly & any additional front of house and bar staff. There really must not have been many of us booked in for that matinee.
In a smaller theatre where there is no hourly staff, I’ve done shows for as few as four people. In a Fringe situation I can remember doing shows for two. Friends tell stories of doing a production of “Jack, or the Submission” for one elderly woman who at the end, when asked how the production was, said, “That was exhausting!” Reality is, in smaller theatres we can make those decisions and go on with the show.
Backstage during co-ops there are always the whispers of “if the house is smaller than the size of the cast we can cancel” but each time I’ve been in that situation, the cast has chosen to go on with the show: they’ve come this far, they don’t want to turn back now. And I’ve had positive experiences in doing those smaller audience shows. There are people who have come up to the performers afterward talking about how touched they were by the show. And we’ve been glad that we haven’t canceled.
What would it take for you to cancel a performance?

Be The Audience

Lately my inbox has been inundated with e-mails telling me about shows that acquaintances of mine are doing. I’ve sent my share of those e-mails too – hoping that one or two people will come to see the hard work you have put into a show. Even more so when it’s a co-op and the only income you’ll be getting is a cut of the box office. But I’ve noticed an interesting trend. For all these people sending invites to see shows, I don’t very often see them at shows.

Last week a friend was complaining about what she saw as the cliquiness of Vancouver theatre. Her complaint was that there are all of these little groups doing theatre and they were ridiculously hard to break into. When I said that I hadn’t had that problem, she suggested that it was because I am not an actor & therefore not the competition. But I’m not certain she has ever gone up to anyone in one of these companies and said, “Hey, I like what you’re doing – how can I be a part of it?”

What strikes me about all of this is how entitled we as artists tend to seem. We want people to come to our work without us going to see theirs, we want companies to seek us out rather than taking the first step on our own.

In my experience, the theatre community in this city is very open. I’ve been invited to opening night parties for shows that I haven’t been involved in simply because I struck up a conversation with someone who was involved about how much I enjoyed the show. But it requires me to take a step. I have to be at the play to be invited out after it. I have to be willing to step out in order to see things happen.

Instead I often see people (and at times myself) so caught up in what I am creating that I forget to engage with those around me and the art that they are creating. That’s why my new years resolution this year was to see three shows a month. Last year I averaged two, and I figured I wanted and in fact needed to see more than that if I wanted to be a part of the community and I needed to be the audience if I wanted to talk about theatre in this city in any sort of responsible way.

I’d put this forward as a challenge to other artists: See a show this week that doesn’t have anyone you know in it. Approach an artist whose work you admire & let them know. Ask someone for a tour – the worst they can say is no. Ask questions. And take some time to create something new – a character, a poem, a script, a set design idea – just sit town and do something.

Friday Arts Quotes: Opening Night Edition

It’s opening night for Holy Mo at Pacific Theatre, so in honor of that, this week’s arts quotes are all about audience – the theatrical ingredient that gets added on opening.

“The writer does want to be published; the painter urgently hopes that someone will see the finished canvas (van Gogh was denied the satisfaction of having his work bought and appreciated during his life time; no wonder the pain was more than he could bear); the composer needs his music to be heard. Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still-born. The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life….The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words. So there is no evading the fact that the artist yearns for “success,” becuase that means that there has been a communication of the vision: that all the struggle has not been invalid.” – Madeline L’Engle

“When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, “We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world.” If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.” -David Mamet

“You need three things in the theatre – the play, the actors & the audience – and each must give something.” – Kenneth Haigh

The Gift of a Great Audience

Audiences can be fickle beasts. They laugh. They’re silent. They cry. They clap. They sleep. They talk on their phones. They throw things at the actors. They leap to their feet with applause. They use their camera phones to take pictures. They spontaneously clap in the middle of a show. They are entirely unpredictable.

At their worst, I wish the from my post in the tech booth I had a paintball gun or watergun and the opportunity to take out the worst offenders (especially those that not only let their phones ring, but then proceed to answer them).

But at their best they make ME want to burst out in spontaneous applause.

Following tonight’s performance of Jesus, My Boy we had a talk back. We do it once in the run of every show (and sometimes more often if the show has a more controversial subject matter), and we tend to get a really good turn out. Tonight about half of the audience stayed, and since we had a full house that means that one side of the theatre was full for the talk back.

Now I don’t know if any of you have experience with theatre talk backs, but they tend to be pretty much the same every time. People mention how much they loved the show and then they ask the actors “How did you learn all those lines!” Sometimes they go further, but often you really have to prompt the audience to ask questions.

But tonight was different.

I don’t know what it was about tonight, but the audience was extremely well educated about theatre and the questions just kept coming. I must have told them that I was only taking one more question four or five times. And the questions were smart:

Q: How did you guys integrate the music with the script? Did you just decided or did you figure it out as you went?

A: Artistic Director Ron Reed had the idea to add music to the script about three years ago and when director Sarah Rodgers signed on to do the show, Ron handed her the script and Sheree & Jeremy‘s CDs. She listened to them and read the script and sent them an e-mail with the songs she thought would work and where she thought they might go. On the first day of rehearsal at our first read Sheree & Jeremy played the songs in those places and most of them are in the same place (moved by a paragraph or so). But the process was organic – more songs were added (including a little Beatles!), tweaked, & one was even written especially for the show (though it moved around within the script three or four times).

Q: The title of the show is Jesus, My Boy, but you never refer to the child as Jesus or the mother as Mary: you just call them “the boy” and “the boy’s mother.” Do you know why that is?

A: I directed the audience member to take a look at a letter we received from the playwright, John Dowie, that was included at the back of the program which talks about the fact that the play has gone through a variety of names including “The Joseph Story” & most of the time goes by “The Gospel According to Joseph”. And one of the reasons for that is by not naming “Mary” or “Jesus” it allows Joseph’s story to be the story of one of a number of men at that time, who work as carpenters, & wonder whether or not those prophecies might have pointed to them. At the same time, as David pointed out, it brings even more wonder to the reality of the story of Jesus & this Joseph regardless of one’s religious views.

Q:How do you find acting with the audience so close to you?

A (from David Adams): A play cannot happen without an audience, especially in a space like Pacific Theatre where the audience is so close. That’s what makes theatre so special – every show is different based on how the audience responds. We are all breathing the same air together and it is a pleasure to do the show with a new audience each night.

But when an audience is that attuned to what is happening, it is a pleasure for me to bring the show to them each night!