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The ladies of Herstory

The ladies of Herstory

Originally commissioned by Rising Tide in 2005, Sara Tilly wrote the first draft of The (In)complete Herstory of Women in Newfoundland (and Labrador!).  She then developed it with Berni Stapleton through the RCA’s Write On! Program before a series of staged readings in 2006 and 2007.  Now on its sixth draft, the show will have its premier as a co-production between RCA and She Said Yes!  Tilly is co-directing with Lois Brown and the show promises saucy humour that will make you think.  It’s presented as a blend of traditional theatre with clown improvisation.  “This silly and strange show is grounded in familiar and universal human emotions,” says Tilly.  Both Sara and Lois spent some time to tell Current a little more:

Clown development can be difficult, can you speak to that?
ST – There’s a lot of different types of clown training and approaches to what ‘is’ a clown. I’m trained in Pochinko Clown Through Mask and the process begins with mask work using your own mask, then transference to a clown nose and potentially into a non-nose, Joey clown. We’re not in red noses for this show. These are sophisticated, adult clowns, not as innocent or as bumbling as the red nose variety, with a much larger vocabulary than your standard circus clown. You wear the mask and let it move you, then take that energy and keep it going when the mask comes off. This way, you allow your character to take the lead organically. We follow impulse in rehearsal and let it dictate how to create the show.

How do you turn your clown on?
ST – It comes from the mask. We spent a two weeks in January working with masks and taking that physical exploration; now we’re comfortable experimenting within these clowns and can find their full range of emotions and tics. There’s no need to have the nose if you are intent – we’re using headgear like swim caps as a character anchor.

Who is in the cast and how did they come together?
ST – The cast is my dream team and I’m glad they were all able to do it! Susan Kent is playing the director (Herr) and Ruth Lawrence is the star actress (Prima). Lois Brown is the old-school feminist theatremaker and visual artist and writer Craig Francis Power, in his first onstage role, as the lighting operator (Noseworthy). I play Squirrel, the stage manager, who is thrust into the show after Janice has an accident with her curling iron.

How have they all done getting into the world of clowning?
ST – This has been an amazing group to work with and I thank my lucky stars that I have such open, talented artists. They’re all naturals and it’s been a belly laugh and a half leading them through the clown work and watching these characters come into their own.

Who else is involved behind the scenes?
ST – I’m designing the set, costumes and props; Sean Panting is designing sound, Jamie Skidmore is designing lights and Craig Francis Power is doing the projection design.

How much of a history lesson will the show be?
LB – I think there is a fair bit of history there – but because Sara is showing us how we bend history for political reasons.

ST – Well, most of the ‘facts’ are true. The truth was, in most cases, funnier or more bizarre than anything I could think of. It’s how we mess with the facts that make it a questionable lesson. More like a weird and hilarious dream involving a lot of historical detail. I think more than anything you might be tempted to look a few things up later to see if we made them up.

What’s the overall concept and storyline of the show?
LB – Legendary feminist theatre artist Janice pokes herself in the eye with a red-hot curling iron minutes before showtime on opening night and dies. Marco is debilitated after being trapped under the Death on the Ice set. Noseworthy is stoned. And Squirrel the stage manager turned actress is so scared that she pisses herself several times during the opening number. That leaves the director, Herr who is in love with her star, Prima. They say show must go on.  How will the Estro-collective do it? It’s a show that not only satirizes Newfoundland history and feminism – it satirizes itself. It takes the notions of patriarchy, feminism, Newfoundland history and the way we tell it and mocks it all. It’s irreverent. Takes the piss out of everything, really.

The show runs March 24 – 26th at the Majestic Theatre in St. John’s, check out www.shesaidyestheatre.ca for more information.

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originally published November 2008

“A boat that floats on air has no heart,” Jack (John Dartt) says aboard the Miss Tilley, the rumrunners boat on which the entire play takes place, in the round, for Berni Stapleton’s latest comedic but historically relevant and poignant masterpiece, A Rum for the Money. The show had a long ‘rum’ itself, featured from June to September at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival before a final run in the capitol city.

Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

L-R: Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

The show is about Jack and two other men, Jim (Evan White) and his Uncle Frank (Colin Furlong). Jack and Frank were the seasoned experts of rum running but took Jim, a boat builder who’s afraid of the water, along for his young strength. Their conversations made references to life and culture of Newfoundland – the ‘divide’ of people smoking rollies versus tailor-mades, Hard Buns, “that’s a raisin bun without the raisins,” Tibbo’s store and Foote’s Taxi – not only helping to familiarize an audience with the setting but also the men themselves. The references weren’t overkill; interestingly, women so often wonder what men would say in the place of chick-chat and this seemed to be it.

They shared their stories as a way of allowing one another to get to know them. Though Dartt is from Halifax he can certainly talk like a Newfoundlander. Though the stories it was evident that while they are all quite different and rum running for their own reasons, they were all struggling against something. Uncle Frank is plagued with forcing doubt in his own polished abilities with no cause immediately given. He references his hateful wife but is on the run to afford her “one of them new fangled rotary phones.”

Jim’s reason is a baby on the way with his wife Lizzie whom he’s madly fallen for. Although his excitable and sometimes overactive personality is charming, Lizzie’s patience with him is clear by how he speaks of her. Teaching him to read and write, he shared, she said that “a man can’t be expected to learn all at once ‘cos his head’d get stogged!” Jack’s mission for the money is to move to the big city (St. John’s, not New York) and go out on Saturday, church on Sunday and Bingo on Monday, but the real prize will be his new dentures – “the good kind – the kind that fits your mouth.”

On the voyage back with the rum the three face perils of nature, being ill-prepared and themselves. The set was designed with half a dory cut to be creatively used for the entire show. The old boat’s wood creaked when the actors moved around on it which kicked up the ‘real’ factor. There was an engine aboard for which there was sound when it was being started but once it was ‘running’ the sound cue ended there was a calm silence again. Having a low hum might’ve been monotonous on an audience for as long as it would be needed but a faint sound of water rippling along the boat now and then might have held on to the realism. Vocal tracks leading in and out of the acts were good and a story told in act two by Frank with Jim singing underneath was surprising and beautiful.

Overall the show was very entertaining. The only beat missed was when a cobbled together wooden cross made in the darkest hour tumbled off the boat but it was handled with grace. The full package of ambient blue lighting, punchy and thoughtful script, the set and performances did an excellent job of dramatically telling the stories of three rumrunnin’ men and taking it’s audience back in time for an evening.

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