In the Media

  • Community collaboration leads to a new play by Brock prof

    (Source: The Brock News | Monday, February 12, 2018 by Alison Innes)

    It was a simple, yet powerful statement.

    “We need to pay attention to the lives of Niagara’s migrant agricultural workers,” René Lopez, a worker advocate, said to Brock University Associate Professor David Fancy in 2010.

    That conversation began a journey of community collaboration that lead to the production of Our Lady of Delicias by the Essential Collective Theatre, which runs from Friday, Feb. 23 until Sunday, March 4 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.

    Fancy, a professor with the Dramatic Arts program, collaborated with dozens of migrant workers and Dramatic Arts students for two years to develop the play. The story features the character of Rangel, a Mexican migrant worker who has been travelling to Canada for years to work in the vineyards and greenhouses of Niagara.

    “I’m excited by this new script,” says Essential Collective Theatres’ Monica Dufault, a long-term Brock instructor who is directing the production. “It explores migrant worker issues in considerable depth with a real artistry that I’m keen to share with audiences.”

    “Having lived in Niagara for more than a dozen years now, I still feel that this is a reality that is consciously ignored: the lives of people who are our neighbours,” says Fancy.

    The cast of four, including Carla Melo, Juan Carlos Velis, Camila Diaz-Varela and Josée Young, features an exceptional range of Canadian acting talent with extensive stage and screen credits. Brock Dramatic Arts graduates James McCoy and Jo Pacinda are creating the design and costume design for the production.

    What: Our Lady of Delicias, performed by the Essential Collective Theatre

    When: Friday, Feb. 23 to Sunday, March 4

    Where: Robertson Theatre, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre

    SPECIAL OFFER: Present your ECT show program or ticket stub to receive a 20% discount on tickets for Top Girls presented by the Department of Dramatic Arts!

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    Categories: Events, Faculty & Instructors, In the Media, News, Plays

  • Acting exercise helps prepare co-op students for workplace

    From small talk at the water cooler to encounters with testy photocopiers, students embarking on co-op work-terms never quite know the situations they may experience in their new workplace.

    To help lessen stress and increase comfort heading into a new environment, Brock Dramatic Arts students recently visited their co-op peers to share some scenarios they may be faced with.

    Comprised primarily of Dramatic Arts students under the direction of Joe Norris, Dramatic Arts Chair and Professor of Drama in Education and Applied Theatre, Mirror Theatre spent time in three Co-op Education classes over the past few weeks to provide guidance and reassurance by acting out scenes in Sean O’Sullivan Theatre.

    Dramatic Arts exercise in co-op class

    Co-op students Daniel O’Leary, left, and Marsel Avdic, right, play tug of war with fourth-year Dramatic Arts student and Mirror Theatre member Sumer Seth during an ‘Awkward Elevator’ scene.

    The group write and present interactive scenes on a variety of social issues, with the latest art-based research project exploring the interpersonal dynamics of work placements from entry to exit.

    Using applied theatre, experiential and problem-based learning theories and techniques, the students present scenes that address worker safety, on-site learning, asking for help, dealing with unreasonable demands and degree of personal sharing and assessment. Audience members redirect the scenes from their seat and, at times, come on stage to try to act out their thoughts through role-play.

    The initiative was intended to generate discussion amongst the co-op students on a variety of work-related topics in the 0N90 class.

    Students were asked to put themselves in the actors’ shoes in order to understand how they would handle each of the given situations in real life.

    “I would recommend this type of interactive learning in future classes,” said second-year Public Health co-op student Micaela Snow following the exercise. “I feel like the presentation gave us a deeper understanding of expectations and work etiquette rather than if we just listened to the professor talking about it.”

    Julia Zhu, Brock’s Associate Director of Co-op Education, hoped the experience helped to “facilitate ‘a rehearsal for life’ by offering an opportunity for students to safely test out their approach to impromptu social, ethical and culture situations.”

    Course facilitator Ashley Haroutunian said she was impressed by the level of engagement students displayed as they watched the vignettes and participated in the discussions and re-enactments.

    “They demonstrated a keen ability to reflect and contribute thoughtful observations and suggestions to help the players navigate the challenging workplace scenarios and conflicts,” she said. “Professor Norris and his students did an excellent job of supporting their learning by inviting, encouraging and involving students in the process.”

    Mirror Theatre has previously worked with Brock’s English as a Second Language Services in addressing academic integrity issues; Student Health, examining mental health and drinking issues; Health and Safety, discussing violence in the workplace; a Health Sciences class, articulating challenges of patient care; and the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation’s TA training sessions. The group’s members are heading to New York in April to present their arts-based research at the American Educational Research Association.

    Mirror Theatre members who participated in the recent co-op exercises include fourth-year Con-Ed Dramatic Arts students Mike Metz and Lindsey Abrams, third-year Psychology and Dramatic Arts student Nadia Ganesh, fourth-year Dramatic Arts and Education student Aaron Drake, fourth-year Con-Ed student Abby Rollo, second-year Con-Ed Dramatic Arts student Dani Shae Barkley, fourth-year Dramatic Arts student Sumer Seth and first-year Dramatic Arts student Dawson Strangway.

    Speaking with Mirror Theatre members on how this group has impacted their lives, Mike Metz, fourth year Con-Ed Dramatic Arts student says, “When I started Mirror Theatre in my first year, I was a Con-Ed math student. Mirror Theatre was one of the major reasons I decided to switch my major to Drama.”

    Lindsey Abrams, fourth year Con-Ed Dramatic Arts student adds, “Mirror Theatre has given me the opportunity to explore my love for theatre through different lenses as an actor, prospective educator, and learner.  I get the opportunity to explore all different areas of theatre that can be presented, and feel as though I am always a part of a team.”

    When Nadia Ganesh, third year Psychology and Dramatic Arts student was asked what she enjoys about participating in Mirror Theatre, she said, “I love the fact that Mirror Theatre gives me the ability to impact the lives of others even if it is only in a minor way. If it’s just making one person laugh, I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to affect that individual in a positive way.”

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    Categories: Announcements, Current Students, Faculty & Instructors, In the Media, News

  • Brock co-led research to study police training in mental illness

    Dr. Natalie Alvarez, an associate professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts

    (Source: The Brock NewsWednesday, September 13, 2017 | by Cathy Majtenyi)

    It’s the heat of the moment. A person in mental health distress is waving a knife in the air, yelling or screaming or perhaps even silent. A police officer is on the scene.

    What happens next?

    It’s a question that undoubtedly will come up in Toronto police Constable James Forcillo’s appeal trial, which started Monday. Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder for the 2013 shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar.

    It’s also a question that Brock University researchers Natalie Alvarez and Yasmine Kandil are exploring in their research on how to use theatre to train police officers.

    Dr. Yasmine Kandil

    Dr. Yasmine Kandil

    Alvarez, an associate professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, along with Yasmine Kandil, an assistant professor in Dramatic Arts, are co-leading a study that will create and evaluate the effectiveness of a type of scenario-based police training grounded in problem-based training methods the team refers to as ‘forum scenarios.’

    In forum scenarios, a scene is played out for an audience. The scene is then performed again, but an audience member can step in to intervene by making different choices, creating a different outcome and changing the way a particular issue is viewed or dealt with. It’s a form of teaching and learning that promotes the principles of procedural justice.

    Theatre educators Alvarez and Kandil of Brock’s Department of Dramatic Arts, and Wilfred Laurier forensic psychologist Jennifer Lavoie, alongside their cross-Canada team with specializations in mental illness and de-escalation training, are partnering with the Durham Regional Police and collaborators from the Ontario Police College.

    The federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council has awarded the team a $310,960 grant to carry out the four-year study.

    “Experiential learning through forum methods is much more effective in integrating knowledge, being able to apply that knowledge and retain it long term,” says Alvarez. The study builds on Alvarez’s upcoming book that examines the use of immersive simulations in a variety of training and educational contexts.

    Experts involved in the scenarios aim to teach police officers how to recognize behavioural characteristics of various mental illnesses that may present barriers to communication in high-stakes encounters, the impacts and consequences that certain actions will have on the person in crisis, and how to de-escalate volatile situations.

    “We want to recreate situations where the officer perceives a situation where there’s an imminent threat, they’re under extreme stress, and they have to make refined, ethical judgments in that moment of stress,” says Alvarez.

    The team will also address mental health stigmas and misconceptions.

    For Alvarez, the research is not just academic.

    “My oldest sister suffers from schizophrenia and she’s become an advocate for the rights of people living with mental illness,” says Alvarez, adding that her sister frequently gives talks to RCMP officers on the subject.

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    Categories: Faculty & Instructors, In the Media, Media Releases, News

  • Escape room with a historical twist

    (Source: The St. Catharines Standard, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 | by Bob Tymczyszyn)

    Niagara Falls is about to gain another escape room site, but this one comes with a twist.

    In the basement of the Niagara Military Museum on Victoria Avenue, Brock University students are busy readying for live testing as they prepare for launch at the end of the summer.

    Dramatic Arts Associate Professor Natalie Alvarez said the idea was just by chance. “I phoned the Niagara Military Museum just to investigate to see the possibility of taking my students through a tour, and through a conversation, I found out they were interested in developing escape rooms.”

    “As a professor of dramatic arts it occurred to me that this was a very rare opportunity to have students in the department of dramatic arts collaborate with students in interactive arts and science bringing their two specializations together, skills in directing, scriptwriting, acting, props and set design with students that were refining their skills in interactive narrative, puzzle, and cipher building.”

    Alvarez says the half-term course of 13 weeks is completely devoted to creating escape rooms designed to the site’s history.

    The site was formed in 1911 as an armoury and used during the First World War then later used for social functions before becoming a museum.

    She explained that one of the room designs is tapping into factual events that unfolded on the site.“And the cold war room is tapping into its latent cold war history,” said Alvarez.

    “In a way, this is an escape room that isn’t just an escape room. It’s bridging other traditions of immersive performance and site-specific theatre, we’re straddling all those traditions and hence this collaboration of disciplines.”

    Museum vice-president Berndt Meyer said this form of escape room is bringing history to a generation, through the subterfuge of play.

    “There are a lot of static displays at every museum, but this one brings it into context,” he said.

    “Because we have real stories that took place here. This place is full of history.”

    Students in the control room monitored the progress of teams in the two rooms, and as the clocks ticked closer to the hour, they were hoping someone would find enough clues to set their way to freedom.

    After several run-throughs, no one had yet escaped in the allotted time.

    Tynan Manuel, one of the room designers, said it’s meant to be hard.

    “Most of the time in escape rooms you go in, and you will fail.“

    “Getting out is great, getting close is still a great feeling.”

    (See the original article at the St. Catharines Standard to watch the featured video on the escape room!)

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    Categories: Current Students, Faculty & Instructors, In the Media, News

  • Brock Dramatic Arts alumni nominated for St. Catharines Arts Awards

    The Department of Dramatic Arts is proud to announce that several DART graduates and one of our DART professors have been nominated for the Emerging Artist award at this year’s St. Catharines Arts Awards!

    More information can be found at this news entry on the main MIWSFPA website. Congratulations, and good luck!

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    Categories: Alumni, Announcements, Faculty & Instructors, In the Media, News

  • Brock escape rooms at Niagara Military Museum ready for testing

    (Source: The Brock NewsThursday, April 13, 2017 | by )

    Two new escape rooms carefully crafted by Brock University students are undergoing final testing while readying for their public debut.

    Brock’s Dramatic Arts and Interactive Arts and Science students have been working since January to create the physical adventure games through a partnership with the Niagara Military Museum in Niagara Falls.

    The interactive experience sees players locked in a series of rooms and challenged to solve puzzles in exchange for their freedom as they race against the clock.

    Brock University Dramatic Arts and Interactive Arts and Science students have been working since January to create two escape rooms in the Niagara Military Museum in Niagara Falls.

    A group of about 30 students worked at the Victoria Avenue museum throughout the winter term to develop each aspect of the rooms, from the costumes to the puzzles to the props and sets.

    The building, which dates back to 1911 and was once used as an armoury, inspired the historical First World War and Cold War escape room themes.

    The rooms are unique in that they include live actors who guide players through the narrative.

    “That’s how students hope to differentiate their rooms within Niagara’s escape room market,” said Dramatic Arts Associate Professor Natalie Alvarez, who was the driving force behind the experiential education project.

    “I’m really hoping this will be a niche for students.”

    Students are now working to test the rooms and will be evaluated on their work during an upcoming live testing event on Tuesday, April 18.

    In attendance to evaluate the rooms will be representatives from Casa Loma’s escape room team, Canadian author and historian Christian Cameron, curator Kathleen Powell and archivist Alicia Floyd of the St. Catharines Museum, and Brock University faculty.

    The escape rooms are set to open to the public at the end of May at a cost of roughly $25 per person.

    Brock University Dramatic Arts and Interactive Arts and Science students have been working since January to create two escape rooms in the Niagara Military Museum in Niagara Falls.

    Proceeds will assist in the maintenance and continued operation of the museum.

    “It’s meant to leave a lasting mark on Niagara tourism, helping to make the museum more sustainable,” Alvarez said, while expressing gratitude to museum operators Jim and Kathy Doherty for their ongoing support.

    “It’s been really rewarding to see the students form what I hope will be a lasting relationship with the museum,” she said.

    Students will have the opportunity to remain at the helm of the escape rooms going forward, first on a voluntary basis and then potentially in paid positions if the rooms become financially viable.

    The museum’s partnership with Brock was made possible through a cultural development grant provided by the City of Niagara Falls, as well as a service-learning grant provided by the University.

    Students who created the escape rooms will be doing a takeover of Brock’s Snapchat account on the afternoon of April 18 when the escape room testing takes place. To follow along and view behind-the-scenes footage, add brockuni to Snapchat.

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    Categories: Announcements, Current Students, Faculty & Instructors, Future students, In the Media, News

  • Brock alumni showcase talents in The Bacchae

    (Source: The Brock News, Thursday, January 19, 2017 | by . Photo: “The Bacchae, a Twitches & Itches Theatre production, is hitting the stage at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from Jan. 19 to 21. (Photo by David Vivian)”)

    The worlds of ancient Athens and modern Niagara have come together in a theatrical production led in part by Brock alumni.

    The Bacchae, a modern adaptation of a play originally performed in 405 BCE, is hitting the stage at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre from Jan. 19 to 21.

    The Twitches & Itches Theatre production challenges ideas of identity and explores what happens when extreme left- and right-wing politics collide.

    When the ensemble began working on the play in February 2015, they had no idea how timely it would be when presented on the eve of the presidential inauguration of 2017.

    “We had no idea Brexit and Donald Trump’s rise to power were just around the corner,” said director Colin Bruce Anthes (BA ’14, MA ’16).

    “The play was miles ahead of us. Many of the play’s original themes are shockingly reflected in our present society.”

    The play engages with current social issues, as Dionysus, an androgynous foreigner, arrives in St. Cadmus and starts changing the entrenched norms. The conservative rule of King Pentheus is challenged by this new god of wine, theatre and ritual madness and the women who abandon the city core to follow him.

    “Some of the dialogue looks like headlines stolen from today’s newspapers,” Anthes said.

    “In our production, the priest of a new religion arrives as a David Bowie-esque glam-rock star, bursting through a city’s eternalized film-noir surface.”

    Issues of identity are central to this play, as xenophobia, transphobia and intolerance of different body types are all challenged.

    Brock student Iain Lidstone found playing the role of Dionysus both rewarding and exhausting.

    “I am a trans man playing a gender-fluid character,” he said.

    “On the one hand, I find utter relief and excitement that as a queer artist I get the opportunity to give a voice to queer identities on the stage.”

    Lidstone’s own experiences informed the development of his character.

    “My character’s gender-fluidity and effeminate nature means I am constantly challenging my own internalized transphobia and trans-masculine identity in order to authentically portray our ‘queerified’ image of Dionysus.”

    Hayley Malouin (BA ’15) plays the role of Agave, mother to King Pentheus.

    “As a fat actor I’ve seen my inordinately unfair share of motherly characters,” she said, while adding that her most recent role has been different.

    “(Agave) is a person before she is a mother and this production pays particular attention to her journey as an intelligent, politically savvy, but ultimately oppressed agent.”

    General manager Marcus Tuttle (BA ’15) describes the production as a play that “makes sense for St. Catharines.”

    Niagara issues are woven throughout the play: the disappearing manufacturing economy and the experiences of migrant workers, as well as challenges faced by the LGBTQIA community.

    Twitches & Itches Theatre is committed to developing local acting talent.

    The group was founded by Anthes and Tom DiMartino in 2009 and moved to St. Catharines in 2013.

    They have gradually built up a core ensemble of nine performers, eight of whom trained at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

    This is the group’s sixth full production and their first independent production at the Performing Arts Centre.

    Tickets are available on the FirstOntario Performing Art Centre’s website.

    Brock students/alumni included in the production: Iain Lidstone, Hayley Malouin, Sean Rintoul, Kaitlin Race, Sean Aileen McClelland, Chelsea Wilson, Marcus Tuttle, Colin Bruce Anthes.


    Media:

    TVCogeco’s feature on The Bacchae:

     

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    Categories: Alumni, In the Media, News

  • Humanities students partner with Falls museum on escape rooms

    (Source: The Brock NewsTuesday, January 17, 2017 | by . Photo: Brock University Dramatic Arts and Interactive Arts and Science students are developing two escape rooms in partnership with the Niagara Military Museum. Students are in the initial stages of the project and have been brainstorming the path the two rooms will take.)

     

    They’re planning a great escape from a 100-year-old building.

    Brock University Dramatic Arts and Interactive Arts and Science students have come together for an innovative project that in a few months will open for the public to experience.

    Throughout the winter term a group of nearly 30 students will work to create two escape rooms at the Niagara Military Museum in Niagara Falls.

    The physical adventure games, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, lock players in a room — or in this case a series of rooms — and challenge them to solve puzzles in exchange for their freedom.

    The museum’s partnership with Brock was made possible through a cultural development grant provided by the City of Niagara Falls, as well as a service-learning grant provided by the University.

    Work on the project began Jan. 10 with students touring the Victoria Avenue museum, learning its background and brainstorming the direction the escape rooms will take.

    The building, which dates back to 1917 and was used as an armoury in the First World War, has an “incredible history,” said Dramatic Arts Associate Professor Natalie Alvarez, who was the driving force behind Brock’s involvement.

    That history, which includes an “infamous escape” by Austrian spy George Heinovitch, will act as inspiration for the stories students are planning to tell through the project, she said.

    “They’re going to build an escape room that tries to uncover that history.”

    Students will be responsible for each aspect of the project, including the narrative, puzzles, costumes, props and sets.

    “We’re building it from the ground up, tapping into my students’ expertise in costume design, directing, acting and scriptwriting,” Alvarez said.

    It was also a natural fit to include Interactive Arts and Science students and their skills with interactive narrative, game structure and puzzle building.

    “Escape rooms are this interesting hybrid of different theatre traditions,” Alvarez said.

    “It’s immersive performance. It’s kind of like a living museum. It’s also tapping into site-specific theatre, where you build a theatre piece that’s intimately attached to the site itself and its own history.”

    The escape rooms will be ready for testing by an invited audience April 4.

    “The assessment is going to be entirely in the hands of those experiencing it,” Alvarez said. It will include museum personnel as well as members of Brock’s Service-Learning Resource Centre.

    Museum operators have created a rubric based on what they hoped to see accomplished through the project and students will be evaluated accordingly.

    The escape rooms will go live to the public in May at a cost of $20 per person.

    Proceeds will assist in the maintenance and continued operation of the museum.

    Students will have the opportunity to remain at the helm of the escape rooms going forward, first on a voluntary basis and then potentially in paid positions if the rooms become financially viable.

    “That’s the incentive for them to build the social media machine to advertise it and get people out to experience it,” Alvarez said, adding she’s seen “100 per cent investment” from the students involved.

    She credited Brock for investing in such an innovative approach and nurturing the University’s connection with the community.

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  • Brock students stage fantasy epic

    (Source: Thorold Edition, Monday, November 14, 2016 | by John Law. Photo caption: Gormenghast director Mike Griffin. CREDIT: Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/Postmedia Network)

    Gormenghast, based on the cult classic fantasy series by Melvyn Peake, opened at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts Nov. 11. Long regarded as one of the great fantasy trilogies – drawing comparisons to The Lord of the Rings – it brings a sense of the epic to the theatre’s modest 150-seat theatre.

    Director Mike Griffin says students will utilize the entire space while using different theatrical styles to tell the tale of two youths who defy ancient traditions and the government motto of ‘No Change’ to wrest control of the dysfunctional House of Groan which rules the land.

    Griffin says it will push Dramatic Arts students in ways they’re not accustomed.

    “When you look at the kind of plays students often do, they’re realistic or they’re playing sort of normal characters. I really like the opportunity for a physical play.”

    As a bonus, it’s a bonafide fantasy classic rarely ever performed in Niagara. While Griffin likes to challenge students, he also wants something with box office appeal.

    “As a professor here I definitely want to be engaging the students in something that’s going to stretch them,” he says. “But you want to have people come and see it.

    “This production in particular is exciting because of the fantasy element. You don’t often get to see a fantasy production on stage.”

    With 16 cast members, the show will run until Nov. 19. Griffin, in his second year at Brock, calls them the best group he’s ever worked with.

    “We want the students to really be engaging in the work.”

    While it has never been made into a movie, Gormenghast was adapted into a four-episode BBC series in 2000 starring Christopher Lee and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The stage version debuted in 2006.

    Written between 1949 and 1959, the books still strike some universal chords of rebellion, says Griffin. Their influence can be spotted in modern fare like The Hunger Games and A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones).

    “It looks at these youth rising to power, and going against the traditional and ancient ways of how things normally happen,” he says. “The play begins with the birth of this new earl, and then everything starts to crumble.”

    jlaw@postmedia.com

    • WHAT: Gormenghast
    • WHERE: Marilyn I. Walker Theatre; 15 Artists’ Common; St. Catharines
    • WHEN: Nov. 11 to 19
    • TICKETS: $18 adults; $15 students/seniors. www.firstontariopac.ca or 905-688-0722

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  • Gormenghast: An interview with Director Mike Griffin, and actors Jonah McGrath, Candice Burn and Caroline Coon

    (Source: The Brock Press, Tuesday, November 8, 2016 | by Shannon Parr

    davidvivianBrock University’s Department of Dramatic Arts is putting on Gormenghast this week, a play deemed “haunting and hilarious” by its director, Professor M. Griffin. I was able to sit down with him and some other members of the cast to ask a few questions about the “grotesque” production.

    Q: You’ve commented that this play is haunting and hilarious — why?

    Mike Griffin; Director

    Griffin: One of the things that this play really brings together is a number of different styles. On one hand you’ve got comedy and some really over the top characters, but within the gothic nature of the play there are a lot of dark things that are happening. There’s a lot of murder and a lot of horrific events. So, we’ve really tried to embrace that, through the blending of these different styles. One of the things we have been researching on is the style of Grand Guignol, which is the theatre of horror. We’ve been looking at the moments of violence in the play and looking at how we can do that stylistically versus realistically, because the show is an elevated style.

    We’re looking at melodrama and physical theatre, and a collage of different styles of theatre. When I say something is elevated or heightened style, I mean that it is something larger than life and bigger than realism, different than how we interact normally today.

    Q: Physical theatre?

    Griffin: Most of my research as a professor is in styles of physical theatre and mask, and so a lot of the work that we’re doing is stemming from my research. There are elements of gesture and ritual, and looking at characters that have bigger physicalities. We’re not necessarily normal humans in this play. Everyone’s quirky and different, so when we started to explore the physical nature of this play we started looking through different inspirations so we can look at what motivates or where this character comes from in a physical basis. Everyone walks and stands in a different way.

    Q: How does this play explore physical theatre?

    Griffin: This play overall has a lot of challenges. It’s a very epic play and it all takes place in a castle, and there are towers and motes, and when we start to add things like cats and ravens then we’ve got to ask the question, ‘how do we do that?’

    Rather than making the choice of actors playing cats or ravens, we decided we wanted to do it with puppets. Our puppets are really fantastic, they’re created by a puppeteer in Calgary named Juanita Dawn and the Long Grass puppet studio.

    This is a distorted, grotesque and strange world. Things are distorted and there are a lot of connections to animals and humans. One of the explorations that we did to find the physical characterization is looking at what your character might be as an animal and evolving a physicalization out of that.

    Q: Why Gormenghast?

    Griffin: For me, it’s been a play that I’ve been interested in for a long time. I wanted to do something a bit darker, a bit stranger, and so when I was deciding on what show I wanted to do with these particular students, I wanted to do something that was going to push them out of their normal bodies, something that was big in characterization, big in physicalization, and so this sort of just came up as the play that I think would really challenge them. I felt it would also give them an opportunity to learn about techniques of physical theatre and different styles of theatre, too.

    It’s really rare to see this kind of a production on stage; professional theatre companies don’t often do this kind of thing. First of all, it’s a large cast. We’ve got a cast of 16 and a lot of theatre companies don’t necessarily have a mandate that would fit the fantasy of this kind of play. What better place to do it than in a university setting? Especially when we look at things like the popular TV — Game of Thrones and all these kind of fantasy worlds that are created. There’s such a huge interest in that. For me, I love Game of Thrones and I love Lord of the Rings, and I love the works of Tim Burton.

     Jonah McGrath as Steerpike

    Q: What is your role in Gormenghast?

    McGrath: I am playing the role of Steerpike. He begins his journey in Gormenghast as a lowly kitchen servant, but he has aspirations to become more. Through his Machiavellian way of approaching conversations and interactions with the various people of Gormenghast, he’s trying to claw his way up the social ladder.

    Q: What was your process like?

    McGrath: We began over the course of the summer. We wouldn’t take the more conventional way of memorizing something and just sitting and reading it; it was recommended that we do it while we’re doing everyday errands, activities like washing the dishes — just repeating lines and getting them into our body. We took a very physical approach in tackling this play. We began with a three day physical workshop; a rigorous experimentation where we played around with many different styles. We looked at our characters through the lenses of different animals and did some cast and ensemble-building exercises.

    Q: For one of your exercises I hear you all had to bring in pictures that you felt related to your character. What did you bring in?

    McGrath: I brought in a picture of fog setting on a dead forest. I did that because I think Steerpike is a new presence in Gormenghast and is very otherworldly. He comes upon this old place that is bound by ritual and is so firmly held within tradition, and he completely changes the atmosphere.

    Q: Do you like your character?

    McGrath: I love my character. He’s so much fun to play. He’s a real challenge because I find there are so many different faces to Steerpike depending on who he’s talking to. He’s got a lot of layers to him. As much as we’re pushing the melodrama of it all, there’s also a very three-dimensional layer which we’re experimenting with in regards to everybody’s character. I’ve discovered a lot about him and I’ve really grown to love him. I’m sure for some people it would be more of a love-to-hate kind of thing, but I love Steerpike. I think he is so sharp and so quick, and ambitious, that it really is unparalleled. In this world I think he has such a way of working people. A master manipulator.

    Q: Why is this play seen as grotesque and haunting?

    McGrath: In a very goosebumps kind of way, there are a lot of unsettling moments. We’re trying to gross you out a little bit. It’s not completely different than horror film or imagery; we really draw on that in the show. We want people to, at times, feel uncomfortable.

    In regards to the physicality, everybody’s character is over the top and unrecognizable if we’re looking at them in regards to our world. In Gormenghast, everything is huge, everything is over the top and anything goes.

    Candice Burn and Caroline Coon as twins Cora and Clarice

    Q: What are your roles in the play?

    Burn: I play Cora and she’s one of the twins of Sepulchrave. She and her sister have been isolated from everyone. Our back story is that they were actually sick with a disease and they were separated so they would’t cause each other to become more sick. Then, when it seemed all hope was lost, they brought them together again and our characters eventually got better. That’s why we always stick together. We feel like we are one body. Our movement reflects that; our thought process allows us to move to one side and then the other, in synchronicity.

    Coon: I play Clarice. We are the younger twin sisters of Sepulchrave, who is the Earl of Gormenghast. They’ve been isolated and so they’ve always felt like they were on the outskirts of everything. In the play, you’re going to see them using Steerpike to try and climb to power, and regain the place they feel they should be. While they’re trying to use Steerpike, Steerpike is also trying to use them.

    Q: You move in unison – what was that process like?

    Coon: Every head move, every look and every step is choreographed. That was really difficult — it took a lot of going over to make sure we were on the same page for each movement we made. We can’t even turn our head without the other one doing it.

    Burn: It’s a very collaborative process. We went through our lines with what our intentions were, and how we found each other moving naturally when we said our lines. We fed off of each other and choreographed those movements. In perspective of who else is in the scene, it’s very heavily influenced by the blocking of other people. We follow Steerpike in many scenes, which really shows how he manipulates us and has that control over us.

    Coon: We practiced a lot in front of the mirror to get it right, and to make sure that we were walking symmetrically.

    Burn: It took us a while to figure out our walk. We used those intensive and research days on what kind of animal physicality we see in our characters, and we found a combination of bird and cat movements. We definitely use that in our head movements — the characters are even described as bird brains. People perceive them to be mad or not all there.

    Q: So, who is really using who? Do you feel that your characters are aware of what’s going on?

    Burn: I don’t think they feel like they’re using Steerpike. I think they actually trust him because he made such a large gesture towards them and no one else has. The characters are almost in shock — they’re surprised that someone wants to help them at all. He gains their trust and gives them all these promises, and they don’t have anyone else other than each other. The twins don’t manipulate Steerpike the way he does to them.

    Coon: I looked at the analogy of the frog in boiling water. Steerpike as a character is very good at manipulating people and I think they brought their walls down for him because no one has reached out to them in so long or shown them any type of respect. They really latch onto that. He uses their trust and molds them into what he needs them to be.

    Q: Why do you feel the play is seen as grotesque?

    Coon: There are physicalities and events that happen on stage that are unsettling. There is definitely some gore in this show. There are some props and moments that make even us uncomfortable.

    Burn: Even the soundtrack of the show. There are things that, every time in rehearsal, we just can’t listen to. It wakes up your senses and makes you go to an uncomfortable place. That’s what makes it grotesque, in a way.

    Coon: The world is so out of anything in this realm. We use the term “Gormenghasty”. The end result is stuff that you’ve never seen before, which is why we’re really excited about performing this.

    Gormenghast is being performed at the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, 15 Artists’ Common, St. Catharines. The performances take place on November 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 13 at 2:00 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 11:30 p.m.

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