Essential Collective Theatre hits the mark in almost every aspect of their production of Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin, but in trying to broach some...
Trelawney Erwin, Jennifer Dewan and Oriana Marrone write: It’s been hatched, nurtured, and it’s ready to leave the nest. Let’s watch ECT’s Wings of Wax get ready to fly… or better yet, soar.
On Thursday, February 19, we sat in on the production’s final rehearsal. Upon entering the performance space, we were blown away by the transformation that the set had undergone from the last time we’d seen it a mere week and a half before. Of course, the performance space being a great deal larger than the tiny rehearsal room helped to distinguish the separate areas of the set that had previously been squished rather close together. The props were all in place and a backdrop had been added to one section of the set to make it more easily identifiable and to flesh out its world. Blinds, which had been mimed during our last preview, had been added to allow the spaces to be separated from one another, as well as to work with the video portion of the production in a rather unique way that we’re sure viewers will enjoy.
Throughout the rehearsal, everyone was well organized. We were duly impressed with the cast and crew’s ability to be working on separate tasks, but switch their attention to a singular task as soon as it was called for, before returning to whatever they had been working on within their own department. For example: Beau Dixon, the sound designer, might be working on ordering sound cues while actors Josh Stodart and Emma Mackenzie Hillier shared ideas amongst themselves and director Monica Dufault studied the script. But at a moments notice, Dufault could shout out a request and all departments snapped to attention to work together.
In this last sneak peak we also got a chance to see the progression the crew had made on the tech side of the production including the sound, lighting, and projections. In our first interview with Dufault she mentioned that she had heard preliminary recordings from Dixon and was already excited. Hearing the finished product was the first step to helping emphasise the world of Tee and Dan’s imaginations within the story. Lighting designed by Brock graduate Jacqueline Costa focused on the difference between imagination and real life, which helped to clarify the play, creating a dream-like state within the story. The set was also reinforced by way of lighting effects such as one that creates the illusion of light from a window cast on the floor. Projections by Kasia Smuga were the final piece of the puzzle, helping connect the audience with the imaginations of Tee and Dan as Dufault had hoped they would.
We were also lucky enough to observe media coverage for the play, as TV Cogeco came in to interview the team while we were there. They shot some short scenes including a very detailed movement sequence that highlighted just how connected the actors are with each other. Cogeco’s team then went on to interview Hillier, Stodart, and playwright Lindsay Price who made a guest appearance in the rehearsal room to see how the show was progressing. Price spoke about her inspiration for the story, Ken Leishman, and the origins of the title. She said, “it’s a Greek reference to Icarus who put on wings of wax and …felt so good in them, flew right towards the sun and fell right into the ocean.” Hillier talked about her love for Tee’s sarcasm and how fun the character was for her given her own sarcastic personality. As well, Hillier loved the acting opportunities provided to both she and her co-star were given — they play 17 characters each throughout the course of the story. Stodart spoke about his inspiration for Daniel and the ease he felt connecting to his character because “we all have a sense of what it means to be obsessed with a hero.” Well, we couldn’t agree more. For theatre students like us, watching this determined team work hard, whether it be writing, directing, or helping the show take life on stage in numerous ways, has been observing an heroic adventure in and of itself. The result is a hilarious piece of theatre about finding truths from those around you while also searching for yourself. So get down to the Courthouse Theatre or visit ECTheatre.ca for your tickets to this incredible piece of work!
What better place to rehearse a play about a criminal than in a courthouse?
On Saturday, February 7th, we attended a rehearsal of Essential Theatre Collective’s upcoming play Wings of Wax. The rehearsal took place in the Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines and consisted of a walk-through of the first act and the beginning of the second act. Director Monica Dufault told us that that the first two days of rehearsals had been dedicated to table reads and the next two to blocking. We were watching part of their fifth rehearsal.
Much time was spent working on transitions between both scenes and characters. Joshua Stodart and Emma Mackenzie-Hillier each play a myriad of roles, so there was a great deal of focus on making their shifts between characters smooth, and on the stylized gestures that differentiate the characters from one another. They also worked on why many of the actions were taking place — on finding the intentions behind the characters’ behaviours. There was discussion of technical aspects as well, such as entrances, and lighting and video cues. Decisions that had been made in earlier rehearsals were reworked or changed entirely based on new ideas from both Dufault and the actors. There was a strong sense of freedom in communication. Questions were encouraged and ideas and comments were shared openly, sometimes leading to roars of laughter from the cast and crew, if only for their absurdity.
“Somebody was playing with my paper crane!” yelled Hillier, who then burst out laughing at her own silly outburst. Origami-folding, tea-drinking, ever-smiling Hillier brought a wonderful high energy to rehearsal. She maintained a focussed but fun attitude as the she performed each scene. Stodart was no different with his quick wit, dedication, and laughter. He made the cozy rehearsal space feel inviting to us relative outsiders. Amidst the fun, both of these actors displayed professionalism at its finest. They took turns asking Dufault questions to develop the understanding of their characters and adding their own suggestions in what is a great give-and-take relationship. They fed off of each other constantly, asking for lines and working in sync on complicated choreography.
The last time we spoke to Dufault she had been uncertain about some aspects of the scenography, but at this rehearsal it became clear that these uncertainties had been figured out. Wings of Wax calls for a set that is both realistic and multifunctional. The two main spaces are Dan and Tee’s apartments: Dan’s contains a comfy lounge chair and a crate while Tee’s has a table, two chairs, and those crushed origami cranes. The spaces share a single coat hanger at the back holding all of the coats and hats that will eventually help them embody each character in Ken Leishman’s story. Through the storytelling game these characters play, the audience will see the set transformed into several different locales including our favourite, an airplane loading dock! Finally, to help separate the spaces there are three sets of blinds hanging that are used for exciting projections and to separate each space. With the intricate set, passionate director, and hilarious actors, this piece is sure to draw you into the adventure and pull you back and forth through a lesser known part of Canada’s history. Check back in soon for our next update, as we sit in on a tech rehearsal and get to see the story of this criminal fully come to life!
Jennifer Dewan, Trelawney Erwin, and Oriana Marrone write:
Who knew a story could literally hit you over the head with brilliance? Lindsay Price almost found that one out the hard way on her exciting journey to write Wings of Wax. We had the privilege of meeting the playwright as part of our behind-the-scenes reporting of Essential Collective Theatre (ECT)’s new production.
Price’s career didn’t start with such a BANG. When we asked her how she got into writing, said that she originally wanted to be an actress, but eventually found herself bored with unsuccessful auditions. When she got cast in a show for the Fringe festival circuit, she saw a number of productions on tour and thought that she could write shows like that – shows that could be packed up and taken on tour. So that’s what she did! Price ended up writing plays for Fringe festivals for five years before making an attempt at children’s theatre, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that it was not her niche, so she moved on. Shortly after, Price found herself in a town that happened to have a lot of high school productions going on. The productions were “horrible” and Price decided that she wanted to give a try at writing for high schools, so that they had material that was better suited to their budgets and spaces. This clicked and has been writing for high schools ever since. She settled down in her native Niagara region as this is an excellent place to get one’s writing into the States. During her 19 years as a writer, Price has published over 50 plays which average an extraordinary 400-500 performances a year. This year that number will include ECT’s production of Wings of Wax – a play with a very long and interesting history.
To get started, let’s flash back to the ‘90s when Price was touring Fringe festivals. This was the time she had her first inkling of what would eventually becomeWings of Wax.On a shelf above her head, in a house where she was staying in Edmonton sat a book about Ken Leishman, bank robber extraordinaire. Price read his whole story that night and became hooked on this Canadian folk hero and his tale of money, heists, and corruption. Price told her actor husband (who was eventually to play the intriguing Leishman), that this would definitely be their next project (a bonus for Price was the resemblance between her husband and Leishman… bald with a fancy moustache – can we say “daily inspiration”?). The first draft was titledWe’re No Mad Dog Killers and consisted of, in Price’s words, “one man, a very nice suit, and a chair.” It took a straightforward narrative approach to Leishman’s legendary story. The show became a short one-act which toured on the Fringe, but even after that tour, Price was not ready to let the story go. After extensive research in the Toronto Reference Library and in Leishman’s home town of Winnipeg, she started to weave a more complex tale about the impact of his life. She introduced a narrator and the play grew into a full-length piece titledThe Flying Bandit. In 2006, it premiered at Port Colbourne’s Showboat Festival Theatre, and in 2010 there was a production at Sudbury’s Theatre Centre. This captivating piece of writing took another turn when Monica Dufault, artistic director ofETC, discovered the full-length script and felt like it provided an opportunity to tell a very unique story.
Fast forward to December 2013 when Dufault contacted Price asking her if she would be willing to workshop her Leishman play yet again. Price was only too eager to revisit this story, even with her busy schedule. In February of 2014 the two got together and began to create Wings of Wax. Price reworked the piece, keeping in mind Dufault’s request to reach a younger audience. She remade the story from a new angle: Leishman’s fame. Wings of Wax centres on 25-year-old Dan, a die-hard fan of Leishman and his many “accomplishments.” With the help of Tee, a quirky criminal in her own right, Dan discovers what can come from having an obsession with less than desirable individuals. Price consulted with Dufault throughout the writing process, and says that Dufault “[made] the writing process the best that it could be.” The collaboration lead to the final result: a comedic piece about two friends, a bank robber, and the power of your imagination.
Through Price’s many years as a playwright she has adopted a certain writing process. This began with the ongoing inspiration she gets from Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist, and his work in musical theatre for the last 50 years. This admiration leads to Price writing with a strong sense of rhythm. Her characters’ speeches flow and establishing a certain theatrical quality that is not quite like conversations you would hear in day-to-day life. When asked what inspires her as a writer, Price talked about what kind of writing she finds most fulfilling: vignette plays, a collection of short scenes on one theme, because these can work on a limited set, and are therefore available to a wide range of high schools.
Price also loves challenges and all of the different risks that you have to take in the theatre industry. In her work she takes on two to three projects at a time, in locations worldwide from Canada and the USA to England, Australia, Peru, Ecuador, and China! These projects range from adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s work to projects such as Tick Tock, in which all of the characters speak only one word for the whole play. She tends to take two years to work on a project, and after many edits and crumpled pieces of paper, loves the sense of accomplishment when something feels properly finished: “when I can succeed in a challenge that I presented myself with, that’s really great”. Though Price takes on other work in theatre including dramaturgy and adjudication, her favourite thing about her career has been creating new worlds. She loves making new characters from scratch and after putting detail after detail into them, seeing that character become real. Finally, she gets to experience them come to life in production. Price left us with some great advice: if you want to be a writer, write a lot. Write every day, to the point where you miss writing the moment you walk away; “it’s better to write consistently than to worry about the volume of writing.”
Oriana Marrone, Trelawney Erwin, and Jennifer Dewan write:
What do we want? LOCAL THEATRE! When do we want it? NOW!
When Monica Dufault began searching for her next project as Artistic Director of Essential Collective Theatre (ECT), she began with a criteria in mind. It had to follow ECT’s mandate of producing and supporting Canadian plays and playwrights. Moreover, having just finished a play that was set in Vancouver (The Valley), Dufault wanted to find something set more locally. She contacted Lindsay Price, a local playwright with whom she was familiar, and the two began sifting through Price’s works. The Flying Bandit, a one-man play Price had written based on the story of Canadian criminal Ken Leishman, a bank robber from the history books of Winnipeg, caught Dufault’s eye; it’s not often you see true stories of early ‘60s Canadian heists come to life in the theatre! Dufault, who had never heard of Leishman, liked the story, but was looking for something that had a more contemporary framework, so she made the bold move of asking if Price would be interested in reworking the original script. Price agreed, and the two began the process of rewriting and workshopping an adaptation of The Flying Bandit, which came to be titled Wings of Wax. Thus, ECT had committed to producing a show that was not complete. To our outside eye, this seemed a risky move, but Dufault had the utmost confidence that the play would be ready for production in time.
While working on the adaptation, Dufault pitched the idea of setting the story in St. Catharines, and Price loved the idea of highlighting her home town. Continuing this local theme, both performers in the show, Joshua Stodart and Emma Mackenzie Hillier, are from the Niagara region, and set designer Jacqueline Costa is St. Catharines native (and a recent graduate of our own Brock University Department of Dramatic Arts!) As if that weren’t enough, the show will take place at in the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre – a unique space with character and history that may be housing its last piece of theatre with this show. In an interview, Dufault mentioned that because the new St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre is soon opening only a few blocks away, the Courthouse may no longer continue to be operational as a theatre. However disappointing this may be for those of us who know and are fond of this venue, it seems only fitting that a show with such strong local roots take it out in style.
Wings of Wax is the second play Dufault has directed in her new role as artistic director of ECT, and it is part of the company’s New Play Development Program. This program allows for new Canadian plays to go through a workshop, usually have a public reading (in events such as the company’s Wine & Reading Festival) and, finally, be put into production. Dufault, passionate in her support of Canadian theatre, intends to continue this program and work to make ECT the centre for new play development in the Niagara region. Locally produced and created, and featuring local talent, Wings of Wax feels like Dufault’s statement of intent for ECT’s future. “The responsibility of a local theatre company is to make work where we are,” she told us. With Wings of Wax it can be safely said that she is on the right track!
Rehearsals for Wings of Wax begin in early February. When asked about her directing approach, Dufault says that she begins with the physicality of the storytelling, so that the actors will be able to build upon those skills as they continue in the rehearsal process. It is also very important for Dufault to work closely and collaboratively with designers: there will be a fair amount of multimedia content in the production and it is essential that she, the design team, and the performers work together to tell the story in a precise and effective manner. Dufault also wants to work on creating a production that flows, rather than one that seems like separate scenes put together. She is intent on building a relationship with the audience rather than separating the actors and viewers with a fourth wall.
It is exciting to learn about the young actors featured in this production. Stodart works primarily in the Toronto area. He started acting at five years old in amateur productions and graduated from Ryerson University’s theatre program. Stodart has performed in many productions since graduating, and even started his own company, the Ale House Theatre Company, which started in a loud, crowded bar and has now grown to perform in theatres. The company performs Shakespearean pieces, and has started touring to schools. Dufault saw Stodart in Carousel Players’ 2013 production of Dib and Dob and the Journey Home, and contacted him while Wings of Wax was in its early stages of development. He has been with the production through its workshop and rewriting phases, and will stay with it for the remainder of its run at ECT.
Emma Mackenzie Hillier, a graduate of the University of Windsor’s BFA – Acting Program, will play Tee, a 30 year old, mature Brock University student with a troubled past. Hillier began her career in Toronto’s independent theatre community as an actor, stage manager, assistant director, and producer, and in the past two years has focused her work in the areas of producing and dramaturgy. The amount of experience Hillier is bringing into this company is incredible, she has worked with many companies including Actors Repertory Company, Factory Theatre, and Shakespeare in the Ruff, of which she is founding general member and producer. Dufault and Hillier worked together in the past, and after Hillier came in for a reading, it was decided that the part of Tee was hers.
ECT is a small company and to some the prospect of being limited by budget and space might seem like a daunting challenge. But to Dufault it only makes things more interesting. Doing smaller productions – such as this one, with a two-person cast – is at this point a necessity. The company has not let the scale be limiting, and they have worked tirelessly to find a way to communicate the stories that they believe are important to tell. In the years to come ECT wouldn’t mind building towards working with a larger cast, but for now, we can look forward to the comedic adventure that is Wings of Wax. What’s that old adage? Ah, yes: good things come in small packages.
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