Articles tagged with: mainstage

  • Fluid identities onstage at DART: “The question generation” takes on Woolf and Ruhl’s Orlando

    (From: DARTCritics, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2019 | by )

    Contemporary theatre companies are making strides in representing individuals whose voices society has tried to silence, especially those who identify as transgender, or don’t identify with a gender at all. Transgender performance artist Travis Alabanza’s one-person show, Burgerz, has been getting rave reviews around Europe. Two-spirited actor Ty Defoe and non-binary actor Kate Bornstein made headlines when both made their Broadway debuts in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Canadian transgender artist Vivek Shraya is creating and performing in her first theatre piece, How to Fail as a Pop Star, at Canadian Stage next February. There’s clearly an increasing amount of work created by and/or featuring individuals who don’t identify as cisgender, but nevertheless mainstream theatre and the theatrical canon seems to me to still be dominated by heteronormative stories.

    I asked David Fancy, director of Orlando, Brock University’s first Mainstage production of the 2019-20 season, why he thinks much mainstream theatre hasn’t treated gender non-conformity or gender fluidity. “I think humans are continuously in survival mode and think in terms of binary logic because it’s a way of cutting to the chase, and it’s simple habituation,” says Fancy. “I think it actually takes work to think outside of that, and I think there’s a lot of energy and anger that goes into reinforcing those perimeters simply because historically, properties have been perpetuated along these patrilineal lines.” He explains that there’s “a history of privileging the cisgender hetero matrix that [Judith] Butler talks about, what she describes as the false stabilisation of certain sets of binaries, and so many cultural institutions are organized around that.”

    Taj Crozier and Paige Hunt-Harman in Orlando. Photos by Neil Silcox.

    Enter Orlando, a play that directly tackles questions of gender identity and how we perceive it. Orlando: A Biography was written by Virginia Woolf in 1928 and adapted into a play by Sarah Ruhl in 1998. The play follows the titular character through six centuries, starting with the reign of Elizabeth I and ending in the present day. When Orlando turns 30, they stop aging and go to sleep as a man and wake up as a woman. They stay in the biological body of a woman for the rest of the play, but nothing else about them has changed. Paige Hunt-Harman, the actor who plays Orlando, feels the character doesn’t necessarily identify as either gender: “he/she/they don’t necessarily know who they are when it comes to gender,” says Hunt-Harman. “They kind of see themselves as just this ever-flowing entity that is kind of always going to be there, always there to ask those questions, to say, ‘who am I?’ and ‘what’s to come?’ and ‘what will people think, or do I even care what people think?’”

    Orlando premiered Off-Broadway in 2010; in July of 2018, Soulpepper Theatre produced its Canadian premiere with Sarah Afful in the title role. With Brock University staging the play this year, are we moving towards a theatrical landscape (and perhaps consequently, a society) where gender fluidity is moving further into mainstream representation? Both Fancy and Hunt-Harman agree that we are. And good thing, too – especially in a university setting in which many students identify as gender non-binary or gender non-conforming, representation on the stage is important. We still live in a heteronormative society and works like Orlando are needed to disrupt and question that thinking, to advocate that people of all genders and sexualities have avoice.

    The play certainly challenges questions of gender and how we perceive it. Hunt-Harman shared the story of an early rehearsal in which Fancy asked the ensemble what masculinity meant to them, after which there was an awkward pause before someone suggested, “big muscles?” And maybe that is how many see masculinity today – the big, strong, protective man versus the frail, delicate, damsel-in-distress. But do these traits have to be separate and rigid between the sexes? This play works to blur these lines: “Orlando really starts at the beginning of the play as a very stereotypical, heroic male, the hegemonic hero of the story,” Hunt-Harman says, “and I believe by playing that up we really show the audience just how we as a society perceive masculinity — and the same goes for femininity. But throughout the play we see… that stylized gender kind of transform into something that we now are able to connect with, where it’s not necessarily one thing or the other. It’s very grey… I see masculine in the feminine and feminine in the masculine.”

    It’s not just gender that this production of Orlando addresses – it also touches on issues of racialization. While Ruhl’s adaptation has eliminated Woolf’s uses of words like “moor,” there are still remnants of racializing language that the ensemble has worked to challenge by, for example, cutting out all mentions of the word “gypsy.” When Orlando transitions from man to woman, they do so in Constantinople (now Istanbul), which is highly exoticized and orientalised in Woolf’s novel, and consequently Ruhl’s script. “There’s a whole tradition in colonial literature of white people from Europe going to a foreign place that’s exotic and they have all kinds of discoveries. This is a repeated trope in colonial texts,” Fancy explains, “and it’s left unexamined by Woolf because she takes on the question of gender, but it’s almost like it’s first-wave feminism where you have a white woman, upper class, going through these discoveries.” Without giving too much away, the ensemble has taken this scene in Constantinople and over-emphasized the racialization by being hyper-theatrical about it, before then deconstructing it.“We establish it and then just… almost campily, certainly almost cheesy, with theatrical means, take it apart,” says Fancy. “You have to make sure that if you’re foregrounding something, you’re foregrounding that it’s a construction. And you’re showing how it’s made, and how you take it apart.”

    Sid Malcolm in Orlando.

    Orlando and the questions intertwined with it come at the right time, especially with an audience likely primarily composed of university students. Young people are recognizing their power now more than ever and are questioning what has always been presented as “natural and inevitable,” as Fancy would say. “We are now the question generation,” Hunt-Harman says. “We want to ask more questions; we want to challenge the norms that society has brought upon us and I really think that this play brings that to the forefront.”

    Orlando plays at the Marilyn I Walker Theatre, 15 Artists’ Common, from October 25 – November 2. Purchase your tickets online.


    DARTCritics is a project of the Department of Dramatic Arts, founded by Dr. Karen Fricker.  Launched in 2013, the site originated as a practical way for students to train in the art of reviewing, and also sought to bring the artistic community of Brock University and St. Catharines closer together. The website features writing about theatre produced and seen in Niagara, Hamilton, Stratford and Toronto. Please follow DARTCritics as they continue to search for awesome theatre, meeting fascinating artists along the way.

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    DARTcritics.com is partially funded by the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, in support of student learning; experiential education; student professionalization; public engagement with the teaching, learning and production activities of the Department of Dramatic Arts; new ways of thinking; and the nurturing of links with our communities.

    The opinions expressed by the writers of the DARTcritics.com website are their own.

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  • TOP GIRLS: opens March 2!

    by Caryl Churchill.

    Directed by DANIELLE WILSON
    Set Design by NIGEL SCOTT
    Costume Design by KELLY WOLF
    Lighting Design by JENNIFER JIMENEZ
    Original Music by MAX HOLTEN-ANDERSEN
    Assistant Direction by MICHELLE MOHAMMED
    Dialect Coaching by JANE GOODERHAM

    When: March 2-10, 2018

    FRIDAY, MARCH 2 and SATURDAY, MARCH 3 at 7:30 pm
    SUNDAY, MARCH 4 at 2:00 pm
    FRIDAY, MARCH 9 at 11:30 am and 7:30 pm
    SATURDAY, MARCH 10 at 7:30 pm

    What would you sacrifice to get to the top?
    Top Girls opens at the MIWSFPA on March 2.

    TOP GIRLS, by celebrated playwright Caryl Churchill and directed by Danielle Wilson, runs from Friday, March 2, 2018 to Saturday, March 10, 2018 in the Marilyn I. Walker Theatre, at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, 15 Artists’ Common, St. Catharines.

    Manchari Paranthahan as Nell, Meryl Ochoa as Win, in Top Girls at Brock University.

    The Department of Dramatic Arts, part of Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, is proud to present an original production of this venerable play about women and power. First produced in 1982, last seen in Niagara at the Shaw Festival in 2015, this contemporary play tells the story of Marlene, a career-driven woman who is only interested in women’s success in business.

    The play is an exploration and critical look at women and their relationship to power and success. For the director, Professor Danielle Wilson, the main question at the heart of the play is “what would you sacrifice to get to the top?”

    The play follows the story of Marlene, who in 1980’s London has just been promoted to managing director of the Top Girls Employment Agency. With a magic realist twist we see Marlene celebrate her success at a dinner party with five women from history, literature, and art, and as the drink begins to flow, so do their stories of family, adventure, and loss which overlap in witty and humorous dialogue.

    Manchari Paranthahan as Nell, Meryl Ochoa as Win, Helena Ciurciura as Marlene, in Top Girls at Brock University.

    Throughout the play we also meet the real-life women in Marlene’s life at the office. They struggle to rise to the top of the corporate ladder but are held back by lack of opportunity and the harsh competitiveness of the business world.

    The themes and story of the play are extremely topical.  The play examines the challenges of working women who choose self-promotion and career over motherhood, family, domesticity. We learn of the cost of Marlene’s ‘successful’ life. Set during the reign of the British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher, known as the “Iron Lady”, the play asks whether it was an advance to have a woman prime minister if we elected someone with policies like hers.

    TOP GIRLS highlights the contradictions between feminism and capitalism. A running theme throughout the play is the secrets that underpin Marlene’s success which in some ways serve to perpetuate the patriarchal structure common in many workplaces. We only learn of these secrets in the final confrontational scene with her closest family, Joyce and her daughter, Angie.

    The play is directed by Dramatic Arts faculty Danielle Wilson. Professional collaborating artists include set designer Nigel Scott, costume designer by Kelly Wolf, lighting designer Jennifer Jimenez and music composer Max Holten-Andersen. Jane Gooderham is the Dialect Coach.

    Helena Ciurciura as Marlene, Emma McCormick as Angie, in Top Girls at Brock University.

    TOP GIRLS showcases the talents of students in the Department of Dramatic Arts undergraduate program. Michelle Mohammed is the Assistant Director, Alicia Marie Bender is the Stage Manager, Whiney Braybrook-Byl is Assistant Stage Manager. Performers include: Helena Ciuciura, Emma McCormick, Samantha Mastrella, Meryl Ochoa, Manchari Paranthahan, Catherine Tait and Kristina Ojaperv.

    READ ALL ABOUT IT!

    Director Danielle Wilson discusses feminism, ambition, #MeToo and the unique challenge of mounting this play in a brief interview found at the bottom of this page.

    Fourth-year student and Assistant Director for the production, Michelle Mohammed, is writing about the development of the show in a dedicated blog: darttopgirls.wordpress.com and dartcritics.com

    The public presentation program of the Department of Dramatic Arts is an integral part of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts’ mandate to contribute to regional cultural development and build community connections by engaging our audiences with the breadth of talent and creativity of the students, staff, guest artists and faculty of Brock University.

    The Department invites teachers and educators to bring their students to see this exciting production of TOP GIRLS.
    Read the Special Invitation to learn more.

    Marilyn I. Walker Theatre at the
    Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts
    Limited parking onsite.

    Purchase tickets at the FirstOntario PAC Box Office
    905.688.0722 or online firstontariopac.ca
    Tickets: $18 Adults|$15 Seniors/Students| $5 eyeGo | $12 Groups
    *Applicable fees and taxes are extra

    See the article in the Brock News.


    We asked the director of Top Girls, Professor Danielle Wilson, about feminism, ambition, and the unique challenges of mounting this play.

    What type of feminist beliefs does Top Girls draw upon?

    The play is an exploration and critical look at women and their relationship to power and success. For me the main question at the heart of the play is “what would you sacrifice to get to the top?” Something is always sacrificed, whether it be relationships, personal integrity, mental health, leisure time etc., in the pursuit of success. Top Girls looks specifically at women’s responsibilities and relationships with each other in a capitalistic and individualistic society. It tackles these issues in a broader political spectrum vs. it being about women overcoming their oppression. You can’t get away from being a woman in this play, no matter how hard these women try. What I understand is that the play was inspired by two streams of feminism: one which is about changing the economic situation for everyone which is more collectively oriented and one that accepts and supports an individual’s success over the collective gain. Top Girls examines an individualistic society in which the few thrive at the expense of many and one in which isolated female success overshadows the plight of the majority.

    How do you connect the feminism of the 1980’s portrayed in Top Girls to feminist movements and/or beliefs today? How do you think our students will understand the representation of feminist thought in your production?

    Fourth wave feminism, which we are seeing now, tends to be more collectively oriented. Social media started an entire #MeToo movement, which questions abuse of power. Top Girls discusses power and success in relationship to women. The main character in the play, Marlene, tends to use what one might call more ‘masculine’ tactics in the workplace. The entire corporate structure has been built on more masculine characteristics of leadership. When a woman is in a top position, masculine qualities can run contrary to what is expected of her gender, so she may be perceived as cold or distant or a bitch. Margaret Thatcher, who serves as an unseen character in the play was described as the ‘Iron Lady”, but no man who ruled in the way she did was ever called the ‘Iron Man’, he was just a man. She even had voice lessons to help her sound more masculine so that her cabinet would take her seriously. One of the characters in the play, Nell says that “an employer is going to have doubts about a lady, whether she’s got the guts to push through to a closing situation. They think we’re too nice. They think we listen to the buyer’s doubts. They think we consider his needs and his feelings.” We’re becoming aware that there is more than one way to lead and it is not an imperative to oppress or step on others in order to succeed.

    I think students will recognize the issues being debated between Marlene and Joyce as they each argue opposite political viewpoints. Today, there is definitely a more collectively oriented mindset as evidenced by the Occupy movement, Idle No More, and the #MeToo movement. There is resistance to the social and economic status quo. Young people, both men and women, are building strength through bonds with each other and challenging systemic abuse, racial profiling, and poor economic prospects.

    What is “the top”?

    I think it depends on the person. Success and reaching ‘the top’ is complicated and is defined by each person differently. For some it may be reaching the top over someone else, for others it may be reaching the top of one’s own potential.

    Marlene’s character seems to be the one striving for the “top” and stepping on anyone in her way, should we be feeling empathy for her? Should we like or dislike her? What should we be learning from her actions?

    I think ultimately it will be up to the audience to decide how they feel about her.  We learn a lot about her personal life in the third act and what she has sacrificed to get to where she is. Caryl Churchill, the playwright, has written a complex character who is flawed, but what human being isn’t? Some may admire and empathize with her actions. She did what she had to do. Others may not. We see both sides of the story in the final act in which she has a showdown with her sister, Joyce, who has taken a very different path in life. Ultimately, Churchill has written a play that involves more questions than answers, but that’s the beauty of it, you get to chew over these questions after the play is over. To me, that’s the mark of a great play.

    Are there significant challenges with this production that our audience would be interested in knowing about?

    The play involves a big dinner party at the very beginning. Caryl Churchill has written overlapping dialogue where people are talking over each other, like at a real dinner party. It has been challenging to choose what the audience hears and doesn’t hear.  Sometimes the audience will hear both and have to choose which to listen to. It has been both a challenge as a director and as an actor. Not only must the actors learn their lines, but they must also learn when they begin speaking in the middle of someone else’s line.

     

    February 17, 2018
    /dv

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  • PANTALONE’S PALACE, DART’S First Mainstage for 2017-18, opens October 27!

    Pantalone’s Palace

    Love and power collide in this fun-filled, fast paced physical comedy.

    Written and Directed by Mike Griffin

    Set & Costume Design by: Kelly Wolf
    Lighting Design by Chris Malkowski
    Sound Design by: James McCoy
    Mask Maker: Gina Bastone
    Assistant Direction by: Helena Ciuciura

    Hardworking Columbina just wants to enjoy the majestic Wooers’ Woods in peace after a long day’s work, but the greedy business tycoon Pantalone is scheming. When Columbina discovers his plot to build the biggest casino in the world, she knows she must take action. Armed with her wits and her lovesick friends, she aims to set things right in this fun-filled, fast paced, physical comedy that explores the meeting of contemporary life and classical Commedia dell’Arte.

    When: October 27 – November 4, 2017
    FRIDAY, OCT. 27 & SATURDAY, OCT. 28 at 7:30 pm
    SUNDAY, OCT. 29 at 2:00 pm
    FRIDAY, NOV. 3 at 11:30 am & 7:30 pm
    SATURDAY, NOV. 4 at 7:30 pm

    The Department invites teachers and educators to bring their students to see this exciting new production of Commedia dell’arte.
    Read the Special Invitation to learn more.

    See the article in the Brock News.

    See the teaser video.

    Marilyn I. Walker Theatre at the
    Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts
    Limited paid parking onsite

    Purchase tickets at the FirstOntario PAC Box Office
    905.688.0722 or online firstontariopac.ca
    Tickets: $18 Adults|$15 Seniors/Students| $5 eyeGo | $12 Groups
    *Applicable fees and taxes are extra

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