Tag Archive: Refuge of Lies

Go Ahead, Push My Boundaries

After seeing Ghosts in the Cottonwoods in NY, Sabrina Evertt (Artistic Director of 20-Something Theatre) wrote a blog post asking where the line is in what we portray on stage – are some things simply too dark and disturbing to put on stage? Are we appalling our audience and then abandoning them?

Walter (Dirk Van Straelen) befriends Robin (Camille Beaudoin), shortly after being released from prison.

I’ve probably done more than my fair share of plays with dark and disturbing subject matter. There was The Woodsman which is mostly known for the film starring Kevin Bacon, but it is also a stage play (which the film was adapted from).  The premise: A pedophile, recently out of jail, moves into an apartment across the street from an elementary school and begins his rehabilitation by making friends with an 11 year old girl.

There was Mourning Dove, a play based on a true story about a father who euthanizes his daughter who is wracked by unremitting pain. Frozen‘s main character is man who sexually assaults and murdered young girls, Refuge of Lies gives a sympathetic portrayal of a Nazi, Kindertransport is about children being shipped away from their parents during WWII, Memory is simultaneously set in the Holocaust of WWII and in the 90′s Israel/Palestine conflict, and (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch is a cabaret about fear in post-9/11 America. I’ve worked on three productions of Hamlet, and one of MacBeth.

In every situation I heard from people who wanted to see the show but wouldn’t. With The Woodsman & Frozen a number of people said they couldn’t see a show that might show a pedophile as anything other than a monster. That was a line they wouldn’t cross. For Kindertransport & Memory I heard from people for whom it would hit too close to home. Refuge of Lies was too sympathetic to a Nazi for some; Mourning Dove was too difficult for many parents to watch.

Having worked on these plays, I’ve been privy to a lot of conversation anticipating audience response and trying to figure out how to ensure that the audience is able to process what they are seeing. In the cases of The Woodsman & Mourning Dove the company presenting them decided to add talkbacks. The Woodsman had talkbacks every night after the show, hosted by myself and a volunteer from COSA (an organization that works with sex offenders after their release to re-integrate into the community). This gave the audience an opportunity to dialogue about the issues raised with someone who knew real world situations and with someone who knew the play inside and out (that’d be me). There was no requirement to stay – we had a 10 minute break between the end of the show and the start of the talkback for folks who wanted to leave to do so, but many chose to stay. Sure, there were nights where the talk backs were intense – I remember one woman who was increasingly angry that anyone would support a pedophile and work with them towards rehabilitation – but for the most part the audience was full of questions and searching to understand.

Similarly, Mourning Dove had talkbacks once a week, hosted by myself with Dr. Paul Chamberlain (professor of philosophy and ethics at Trinity Western University and author of Final Wishes: A Cautionary Tale on Death, Dignity & Physician-Assisted Suicide). Again, this gave the audience the choice to attend the show on a night when there would be an opportunity to converse with their fellow audience members as well as experts on the difficult ethical issues raised.

With other shows, however, there has been a conscious decision to NOT do extra talkbacks. With Refuge of Lies it was really important that the audience come to their own conclusions – we as a company didn’t want to tell them what happened – the ambiguity was important.

Of course, I am not only a practitioner: I am also an audience member. I have attended a number of shows that have pushed my boundaries and that have, at times, made me uncomfortable or angry. But here’s the thing: I don’t want them to stop. So often when I leave the theatre feeling uncomfortable or angry I end up having these amazing conversations either with my fellow audience members or else with friends at a later date.

I think of If We Were Birds at Tarragon Theatre this past May which I attended with Nancy Kenny and Brittney Filek-Gibson. That show was extremely dark – based on Ovid’s myth – and ends with an incredibly dark image. At the end of the show we didn’t want to clap – we even took a long time leaving the theatre as the imagery sat with us. But for the entire rest of my time in Toronto (and even after I returned west) we spoke about the show, digesting what we had seen (no pun intended for those who saw the show).

And that’s what I LOVE about theatre – it forces me to explore issues I’ve never been confronted with in my day to day life. Despite being faced with uncomfortable situations or plays, I’m always glad to be pushed.

What the critics are saying: Refuge of Lies

“Playwright Reed also directs, and he gets some nice work out of his actors. Howard Siegel delivers a subtly passionate performance as Simon Katzman, the guy who tracks Rudi down, and Anthony F. Ingram offers detailed and distinct portraits of two different pastors. Anna Hagan is effectively understated as Rudi’s wife, Netty, and Terence Kelly is always emotionally credible as Rudi.”

– Colin Thomas, The Georgia Straight

“There is no question that playwright Reed makes his audience work, providing us with little in the way of answers to some pretty heady questions about good and evil, forgiveness and justice versus revenge.  And it is in forcing us to find the answers for ourselves that ultimately makes Refuge of Lies so successful.”

- Mark Robins, gayvancouver.net

“Refuge of Lies is the kind of play that makes theatre exciting for me.   It tells a great story, has strong characters struggling with profound life questions and has the power to engender intense discussions as well as individual explorations of  one’s personal sense of morality. Throw in a number of excellent performances and powerful staging under the direction of the playwright himself, and you have a riveting drama.”

- Gillian Lockitch, Review from the House

“Despite its flaws Refuge of Lies offers a topical and relevant story. Pacific Theatre should be commended for doing new work that tackles current issues. Something that is far too often missing from the Vancouver theatrical landscape. I would challenge the larger Vancouver theatre companies to do the same. We’re a smart group. We can take it.”

- Sebastian Archibald, Plank Magazine

“Both Kelly and Siegal gave incredibly strong performances, and I found myself switching from empathizing with the old man seeking forgiveness to the old man seeking justice for his families and all victims of the Holocaust. Mahoney, in particular, gave a heartfelt performance of a young Jewish woman, fresh out of university, trying to reconcile the traumatic past of her ancestors and her political beliefs on what constitutes true justice. I also really enjoyed Anthony F. Ingram’s performance as the Mennonite pastor, torn between shepherding his member, Vanderhaal, to the light and really helping him understand that the past is sometimes not past and that forgiveness doesn’t simply happen with just a prayer.”

- Michelle Kim, miss604.com

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.]

Three to See :: April 2010

We’re already almost a week  into April & I am in the midst of tech for Pacific Theatre‘s Refuge of Lies (which opens this Friday and you should definitely check out). All of the Ccultural Olympiad events are over now and April is a little bit slower as the city gears up for the spring/summer.

Here are the three April shows I’m most excited to see:

1. Bat Boy: The Musical (Patrick Street Productions)

At the Norman Rothstein Theatre

April 8 – 18
Tickets available at 604-684-2787 or online through Tickets Tonight.

According to the Patrick Street Productions website, the script is both farce & tragedy and deals with everything from hypocrisy & acceptance to forgiveness, racism, & revenge. But in the midst of all that, it promises slapstick, surrealism & lots of irony.  PSP has a three year history of producing fantastic musicals (Two years ago it was Into the Woods and last year’s The Full Monty).  I am excited to see what they do with Bat Boy!

2. Ali & Ali 7: Hey Brother (or Sister) Can You Spare Some Hope or Change?  (Presented by Neworld)

The Historic Theatre at The Cultch.
Apr 14–24 @ 8 PM
PREVIEW: April 13, 8 PM
Matinees: Apr 17 & 24 @ 2 PM
Tickets available online.

From the neworld website:

Worried about H1N1? Lose your shirt in the economic meltdown? No-one sublet your apartment for the Olympics? Boyfriend tell you he’s polyamorous?

Relax: Ali and Ali are back – and they’re way worse off than you. Brand New Show!

Ali & Ali 7 is the follow up to 2005′s Ali and Ali and the aXes of Evil is also created by Camyar Chai, Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef where they once more take on foreign policy with a laugh. Besides, their website promises “Come early, get a FREE TASER™.”

3. A Year with Frog & Toad (Presented by Carousel Theatre)

APRIL 17 – MAY 8, 2010
The Waterfront Theatre
1412 Cartwright Street, on Granville Island

For Ages 2 +

TICKETS 604.685.6217 or click here to buy online

From the Carousel Theatre website:
A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD follows best friends Frog and Toad on their adventures through four fun?filled seasons. Cheerful Frog and Grumpy Toad leap to life, along with the rest of their animal friends, for kite?flying, sled?racing and cookie?munching.
Waking from hibernation in the spring, these two great friends proceed to plant gardens, swim in the summer, rake leaves in
the fall, and learn life lessons along the way, including a most important one about friendship and rejoicing in the attributes that make each of us different and special.

Did I miss any shows that top your list for April? Let me know in the comments.

4 Projects. 1 Short Day.

Today was one of those days when every project I’m working up ganged up on me.

Photo by flickr user DBarefoot. Used under creative commons licence.

Last night was closing for Hive 3.  I did the math: in a week and a half we did 70 performances of House/Home.  Three weeks ago the show didn’t exist and now it no longer exists, except as a text document outlining the movements & as a few photos.  This morning we packed up the last of our stuff out from the venue and it was sad to say good bye to the whole thing. But that’s the reality of the impermanence of theatre.

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Today in Vancouver there was a series of panels called Backstage with Jackson where local theatre practicioners discuss what it’s like to make a life in the theatre. I sat in for the 1pm panel to do a live blog for the official World Theatre Day site.  One of my favourite comments was from Kenji Maeda who said,

“I think that using new media or projections or new techniques brings in new audiences which is very important. I think if we are not adapting to what the community – or younger audiences are seeing – if they think theatre is only Shakespeare or kids wearing flowers or being a clown, then they are going to be turned off of theatre. I think new media is one way of doing it. But I also think that marketing traditional theatre in a new way is another angle. Theatre is about reflecting what the community is at a specific time.”

It’s interesting at least in part because it ties into the whole conversation about theatre marketing that’s been happening over on Simon’s blog.

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Glass City Theatre. That was another two hour meeting and a whole lot of brain food for the next week.  What are my skills? What responsibilities do I want to take on? Am I really ready for this? Does it matter? What have I gotten myself into? THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.

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Rehearsals for Refuge of Lies start tomorrow at Pacific Theatre. I’m almost ready.  I want to do some baking for first read tomorrow, and I have a little bit more paperwork to do. But I am feeling more confident about being ready for these rehearsals than I have before.  Of course, that usually means I’m totally forgetting about something, but I’m going to choose happy ignorance for the moment.

And now it’s 8:49pm and I’m sitting here wondering where today went and whether I should be doing something more useful than blogging & watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. So far I can’t figure out anything more useful than Neil Patrick Harris & Joss Whedon singing a commentary to me while I bake, so I’m going to do that.

2009 in Review: Work

Whenever I meet new people, one of the inevitable questions that comes up is “So, what do you do?” and whatever that piece of information is, it becomes one of that person’s defining characteristics. He’s a chef. She’s a banker. They are artists. Our work often defines us as people.

I am currently stage managing The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe which continues at Pacific Theatre until Jan. 2, 2010.

I am currently stage managing The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe which continues at Pacific Theatre until Jan. 2, 2010.

In the past 12 months I worked on 12 shows for seven different companies. There was a one-woman show about the birth of modern dance at the time of WWII (A Time To Dance), a collaborative storytelling project to celebrate World Theatre Day 2009 (My First Time: The Tour),& a clown show (Holy Mo). There was Shakespeare in a park (Hamlet), Stoppard in a park (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead), and a magic show (Unshuffled). I stage managed a a dark tale of pedophilia, murder , & forgiveness (Frozen), a response to gay-bashing (Stop Kiss), and a magical Narnian adventure (The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe). I worked with 22 emerging artists on a showcase piece(You Still Can’t), 16 musicians & storytellers on a Christmas extravaganza (Christmas Presence) and the graduating class of the William Davis Center for Actors’ Study (Memory).

Of those twelve shows, some of them were only a single night (Unshuffled, My First Time: The Tour) while others ran for six weeks or more (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe; You Still Can’t) and the rest were somewhere in between. Each time, a new venue, a new group of people, a new set of challenges to look forward to.

The variety is part of the fun of being a freelancer. I get to take on all different

Cast & Crew from shameless hussy's production of Frozen.

Cast & Crew from shameless hussy's production of Frozen.

sorts of projects over the course of the year, working with all different sizes of companys and on all different sorts of projects. I have a couple of contracts in place for 2010: I”ll be returning to Pacific Theatre to Stage Manage Refuge of Lies by artistic director Ron Reed which opens mid-April and I’m booked for the month of February as well. Other than that the new year is a blank slate. I’m sending resumes across the country. I’ve told myself that I will apply for every stage management position I hear of that I could even possibly qualify for. Chances are I will have moments where I look just as crazy as I did last March when I did that mailout. I’m taking a leap of faith that there will be work for me and that I will continue to be able to live off my theatre income.

My work related goal for the next year: get my first equity apprentice stage management credit.