Dylan Floyde (Willy), left, and Stephen Aberle (Evens) rehearse for Slamming Door Artist Collective’s production of The Sea, which opened May 2 at Jericho Arts Centre. (photo by Michelle Morris)
“Published in 1973, The Sea is fiercely, presciently relevant. [Edward] Bond seems to anticipate David Icke’s mad, xenophobic alien conspiracy fantasies, flat earthers’ denial of gravity, ‘fake news,’ societal upheaval and the potential for devastation – and, through it all, glimmers of hope through stoic resilience, change and growth,” said Jewish community member Stephen Aberle, describing Bond’s play, The Sea.
Slamming Door Artist Collective presents The Sea at Jericho Arts Centre until May 19. It opened last night, May 2.
Director Tamara McCarthy told the Independent that she had seen a production of The Sea at the Shaw Festival in 2014 “and was deeply struck by the complex poetry and stitch-ripping humour, all playing out within a beautiful tragedy.
“There are many current resonances, from Trump to Brexit,” she said. “Interestingly, The Sea debuted in 1973, the same year Britain joined the European Union.”
On a more solemn note, she added, “Eventually, the sea will sweep us all away. Until then, we choose to live in hope or despair. Or both. This play intricately explores these themes.”
The synopsis reads: “A wild storm shakes a small East Anglian seaside village, and Willy is unable to save his friend from drowning. The raving coast guard is too drunk to do anything, Hatch the draper is passing by but he believes that hovering alien spaceships are slowly replacing people’s brains and he refuses to help, while the grande dame, Mrs. Rafi, bastion of respectability, amateur theatricals and velvet curtains from Birmingham, sets her face against the chaos.” The play is set in 1907.
“There are big time echoes of [Shakespeare’s] The Tempest, for sure,” said Aberle. “Storm, shipwreck, collision of worlds and societies, innocence blossoming into love, monsters and a kind of shimmering magic. I would say there’s a strong parallel with the Book of Jonah as well: shipwreck again, and the struggle to find meaning in an often apparently unkind and unfair world. Ecclesiastes, too: ‘the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.’”
Aberle plays the character of Evens, who he described as “the grizzled, weathered, often drunken ‘wise fool.’ A bit of the Prospero type, if we want to look at The Tempest connections, with aspects of both Jonah and the big fish, as well. He has withdrawn from society and lives (and drinks, ‘to stay sane’) in a little hut on the beach. It’s said of him in the village that he ‘knows the water round here,’ though, as he points out, ‘… luck and chance come into it. It doesn’t matter how clear the main currents are, you have to live through the details. It’s always the details that make the tragedy….’ The young hero, Willy, comes to him, looking for answers. Whether he finds what he seeks is a question whose outcome you’ll have to watch for.”
“Slamming Door Artist Collective presents classic contemporary works that aren’t otherwise being produced in Vancouver,” said McCarthy. “We provide not only opportunities for our audience to see these plays, but for established and emerging actors and designers to play with us on material they likely wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise.”
Joining Aberle on stage will be Raes Calvert, Genevieve Fleming, Dylan Floyde, Jessica Hood, Elizabeth Kirkland, Cheyenne Mabberley, Michelle Morris, Melissa Oei and Mason Temple. The collective’s members “work professionally in film, television and theatre throughout the Lower Mainland.”
Aberle said he is “overjoyed to be introduced to this play and this playwright.”
“In my experience,” he said,
“Edward Bond is sadly unsung and underproduced – I’d never seen or read any of his work before and it’s delicious. My sense is that, when he came on the scene, he alienated the powers-that-be in British theatre. He’s from the working class and he writes about class alienation, struggle and societal transformation, with sometimes brutal clarity of vision. Apparently, there was nearly a riot when one of his early plays, Saved, was first performed – shouting from the audience and fisticuffs in the lobby.”
Colleen Winton as Mrs. Lovett and Warren Kimmel as Sweeney Todd in Snapshots Collective’s production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which runs Oct. 10-31. (photo by Nicol Spinola)
“To seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it, if seldom as well as Sweeney,” said Stephen Aberle, quoting from the finale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Aberle plays Judge Turpin in the Snapshots Collective production of the musical, which will take place at Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, or at least a facsimile of it, at 348 Water St., in Gastown, Oct. 10-31. Most shows are already sold out.
“Part of the power of the piece,” explained Aberle, whose character sets Sweeney on his murderous path, “is that we can identify with all of the characters, see their strengths and their flaws, and observe how much we share with them. That’s what makes it troubling, that irresistible doubt: would I do anything differently?”
Let’s hope most people would, as Sweeney Todd slits quite a few throats in his barber’s chair – providing the main ingredient for Mrs. Lovett’s pies – before getting to the object of his revenge, Judge Turpin, who abused Sweeney’s wife and exiled Sweeney for a crime Sweeney didn’t commit.
“When we decided on doing Sweeney Todd,” director Chris Adams and choreographer Nicol Spinola told the Independent in an email interview, “we knew we wanted Warren Kimmel as Sweeney, so we approached him first to see if he would be interested in playing the title character. He was on board almost immediately and we started moving forward to cast the rest of the show. We next approached Colleen Winton for the role of Mrs. Lovett and held auditions for the rest of the cast. We weren’t shy in letting auditioning actors know that our show was going to be different and that seemed to excite them. We were thrilled with the turnout and were able to cast the show exactly how we saw it.”
And the intimate audience – theatre capacity is about 56 – will be right in the midst of it all.
“The show is staged around the entire venue with some seats being directly in the action,” said Adams and Spinola, who are also co-producers of the show, with Ron Stuart, Wendy Bross Stuart and Kat Palmer. “There will be interactive moments between the actors and the audience, although there is no audience participation required. Sometimes the action will take place right in front of you and other times the action will be across the room.”
Kimmel looks absolutely terrifying in the production’s 44-second teaser.
“It’s always more fun, interesting, to play dark or evil characters than good ones and, for the most part, I am cast as good guys rather than bad guys so this is fun from that point of view,” said Kimmel of playing the title character in the musical, composed by Stephen Sondheim, with book by Hugh Wheeler. “Also, Sweeney Todd is probably one of the most challenging pieces in the musical canon to perform, so that makes it a stimulating and scary experience as well, which is, I suppose, fun in a twisted fashion.”
“I think this is a tremendously important story for our time,” said Aberle, “a time when the power structures that reinforce men’s privilege and women’s presumed subservience (as well as racialized, class-based and other power imbalances) are being challenged by some; desperately defended by others. We read about Judge Turpin analogues just about every day in the news. I think it’s particularly important for those of us who possess power to check in with a story like this and consider our own exercise of that power. To what extent am I being a self-serving brute in this situation? Are there ways I might reduce that extent? The play, it seems to me, asks questions like those pretty insistently.”
About how he has chosen to portray Judge Turpin, Aberle said, “I’m looking for him the way I generally look for a character: by trying to figure out what he wants in the context of the given circumstances. That context, for a judge in mid-19th-century England, was power, privilege and prestige.
“One of the things that makes Judge Turpin interesting, to me, is that he’s not merely a psychopath or even a simple, spoiled narcissist: he tries to do ‘the right thing’ according to social convention and struggles with his desires (though more because of deeply ingrained inner shame than because he really understands his own power to harm, or empathizes with his victims). There are some questions about the man that I’m interested in exploring. What was his blue-sky vision of the perfect outcome when he set this engine of vengeance rolling, 15 years before the play begins? Why, especially given the power of his urges, has he gone through life so far without marrying? Why did he adopt a year-old infant as his ward? There are several plausible answers – and plausible combinations of multiple answers – for each of these, and I’m enjoying playing with them.”
Echoing Kimmel’s assessment of the music, Aberle added, “And, really, let’s face it. This is Sondheim at just about his Sondheimiest. If I can sing the material more or less in time and on pitch, I’ll be pretty happy.”
“The music plays a central role in telling this story,” Bross Stuart, the show’s musical director, told the Independent, “and there is no one more brilliant than Stephen Sondheim to do this for us. Central to the core of this music is the Gregorian chant, ‘Dies Irae’ (‘Day of Wrath,’ ‘Day of Judgment’) theme, heard throughout this work. We hear fragments of this musical motif hidden everywhere. Extended, shortened, pulled out of shape, but it’s there. We know it is the underpinning of Sweeney Todd’s motivation. It helps us understand Mr. Todd’s state of mind; and how revenge morphs into mental illness. When we are in the asylum, in Act 2, some of the ‘patients’ sing a demented version of ‘Dies Irae.’
“Another example is Sondheim’s use of a repeated note for more than 100 bars. Why does he do this? It is Mr. Todd’s obsession with murdering Judge Turpin. Even while the men are having a seemingly ‘friendly’ conversation, Todd is thinking along more sinister lines.”
“Sweeney Todd, as far as we can tell, is a normal man with a wife he adores and a new young daughter,” said Kimmel. “Without spoiling the plot altogether, life deals him a hand that most would find impossible to survive, let alone overcome, and so we have a perfect vehicle to allow us to ask what we would do in his position and, if we are honest with ourselves and had the courage to follow through, we could easily imagine doing the same things he does.”
But, he added, “In the end, I think it is a very moral story and the final destination is morally inevitable – although we feel for him and want to see him get his revenge, and although he and Mrs. Lovett almost get away with what they have done, it cannot be…. The world is set to rights at the end of the piece.
“You could say that this is just a Victorian melodrama, a deliciously dark tale underlining all the Christian moral virtue of the period,” he continued. “However, like all great drama, I think the rules of the game are timeless – first dramatized in Greek times or even biblical times. You cannot fool God; you cannot escape the price that must be paid for transgressing His rules. There is a fashion now to believe that we have moved past these religious moral strictures and that religion has less to offer a modern society but, in the end, this is a morality tale that resonates with very deep archetypal themes. No matter how justified it may seem, revenge will lead nowhere good.
“From a performance point of view, it is always a gift to be able to play someone truly morally compromised and, in a broader sense, I think that is what the theatre is really for: to allow us to watch this story and go through all that life is able to throw at us, to imagine, to understand and even to justify truly extraordinary behaviour, and yet to laugh and cry and cringe and know that, at the end, the moral compass of the world is back on true north.”
An emotional connection to the show is one of the reasons that the Stuarts wanted to be involved in this production. “We saw the original Broadway production in New York City in 1979, with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou,” said Ron Stuart. “It was brilliant and riveting and unique in the genre – like West Side Story was 20 years before or Showboat before that.
“Our co-producers had the concept of an immersive version of the show at a Gastown venue around Halloween, and we thought it was an interesting way to present the work.”
In addition to funding, he said, “with projects of this scale, we are also very hands-on. Our director, choreographer, music director and assistant director are also producers. We readily share our contacts in a variety of specialities, such as costumes, set design, lighting, instrument rental, legal issues, marketing, etc. Moreover, we are a collective under Equity rules, so we all have ‘skin in the game.’”
This is Palmer’s first experience as a producer. “It has been nice to learn from professionals who have been through this journey from beginning to end,” she told the Independent.
Knowing that they wanted this show to be immersive, the venue not only had to work from a mechanical perspective, “but add to the experience,” said Palmer, who is also in the ensemble.
“It’s been a fun challenge,” she said, “to be switching between my assistant stage managing hat and my performer hat – ‘this prop will need to be pre-set here, oh no, this is the lyric, this person has a quick change.’”
Palmer described the show as being very difficult technically, “there is not just Stage Left and Stage Right to worry about, there is a whole building.”
This is part of the attraction for Bross Stuart.
“We, the musicians, are very close to the audience and to the actors,” she explained. “Communication, page-turning, singing as you play – could be problematic. And the action is very immediate and very gripping. Very exciting!”
“My favourite number in the show,” said Palmer, “has to be our opening number, ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.’ Our amazing choreographer, Nicol Spinola, has created something so eerie, unique and unsettling. It immediately brings the audience right into this dark and thrilling world of 1840s London. Not only does it sound fantastic to have our entire cast of 17 singing Sondheim’s challenging music, but it also sets the mood for the entire show. I get chills performing it and I am very confident the audience will have never experienced anything like it before.”
For more information and tickets to Sweeney Todd, visit sweeneytoddthemusical.ca. And plan to have dinner at the venue before the show – pies, of course.
“Our pies come fresh each day from the Pie Hole located on Fraser Street in Vancouver,” said Adams and Spinola. “We are offering a traditional steak-and-stout meat pie, an aromatic Moroccan chickpea vegetarian pie and a delicious Thai coconut curry vegan pie. Pies can be added on when you are purchasing your tickets.”
Stephen Aberle as Dan and Annabel Kershaw as Sue reflect on their life together in Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook, at Presentation House Theatre Oct. 28-Nov. 8. (photo by Megan Verhey, Megan Verhey Photography)
Theatre often allows us, the audience, a safe place in which to experience feelings that we are more guarded about showing in daily life. It can offer a way in which to reflect on our own lives and actions without the vulnerability that such introspection usually entails in “real life.” We can learn from what we witness on stage, whether a comedy, a drama or something in between. At the least, we can escape from our own cares for a time, immersing ourselves in someone else’s joys and pains. A perfect example? Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook.
So popular was last year’s Canadian première of the show in Vancouver at Studio 1398, that WRS Productions – Ron and Wendy Stuart – is bringing it back for 12-day run at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre, Oct. 28-Nov. 8.
“The response was amazing,” Wendy Bross Stuart told the Independent about last year’s production. “People laughed. People wept. Tissues were in short supply. The actors were very moved by the content and the music of Snapshots. The last five shows were completely sold out; people were turned away at the door. It was at that point that Ron and I decided we would seek the opportunity to remount the show.”
In Snapshots, Sue is set to leave her husband Dan after 30 years of marriage. While she is going through the attic, Dan comes home. A box of photographs (snapshots) falls open, leading the couple to reflect on their life together.
Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern, composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz adapted music from his stage shows, feature films and original CDs to mesh with the book by Stern, which takes the audience back to Dan and Sue’s earlier days.
In the WRS Productions’ show, Dan and Sue are portrayed by Stephen Aberle and Annabel Kershaw; Daniel and Susan, by Steve Maddock and Jocelyn Gauthier; Danny and Susie, by Daniel Johnston and Georgia Swinton.
About the ways in which he personally related – or not – to Dan throughout the character’s life, Aberle said, “Hmm, well, younger Danny/Daniel has a winning way with women. Many, many women. I was definitely not like that growing up; I was shy and repressed and a bit of a goob, I guess.
“On the other hand, when Dan truly falls in love, he falls hard and he stays fallen. I identify with that. While he has this playboy past, he’s careful about where he really gives his heart, and he finds it hard to put the truth of his love into words. I think that’s the central struggle in the play for him. Casual physical intimacy comes easily to him (unlike me!), but he’s scared by commitment and emotional intimacy. He’s experienced deep hurt in the past, and he fears opening up too far because he doesn’t want to get hurt like that again. I get that.
“Details from the past – talismans, little triggers for powerful memories – really get to him. I guess they get to all of us one way or another, so it’s not necessarily a specific character thing, but it resonates for me.”
Like Aberle, most of the actors are reprising their roles, but there have been changes, and not only in casting.
“Last year’s Snapshots was in a ‘black box’ theatre,” explained Stuart. “This gave us the opportunity to configure the show ‘in the round.’ The set design was done by Jessica Oostergo.
“This year, we are working in partnership with Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver. We are in a traditional theatre space. This meant the show needed to be completely reconfigured. With the experienced hand of Pam Johnson, we have a brilliant set – full of secret entrances and exits. This design is in conjunction with our new director and choreographer, one of Canada’s most sought-after and experienced, Max Reimer, former artistic director at the Vancouver Playhouse. The show will look very different.
“In addition, we have two new cast members: Daniel is played by Steve Maddock and Susie is played by Georgia Swinton. The rehearsals are very exciting; we have a chance, now, to add new interpretation and shape to the music. The sound of the ensemble is thrilling!”
Aberle spoke about the ensemble and what it feels like to have different actors “all playing aspects of the same role.”
“The other performers playing Danny and Daniel – my character’s younger selves – give me ideas about Dan that I wouldn’t necessarily have come up with on my own,” he explained. “There’s a lot of give and take. We have an opportunity to develop a shared physical vocabulary, for example: postural or gestural or vocal details that stay with the character as he grows older. That’s a lot of fun to explore.
“We’re all, all six of us – along with the band and the creative team – sharing the task of bringing this decades-long, deep relationship to life. One intriguing consequence is that I get to fall in love on stage with not just one woman but three. I have a lot of interplay with all three of Sue, Susan and Susie. When I’m watching them, the younger selves of the love of my life, remembering how we met as kids and how much we meant and gave to each other, it’s profoundly moving.
“It’s interesting,” he continued, “to relate on stage to my character’s younger selves. We don’t get a lot of direct connection but there are important moments, of both frustration and understanding. In real life, we don’t get to say to our younger self, ‘You idiot! Not that way, this way!’ It’s refreshing. It’s also illuminating to see how patterns set in youth change, or don’t change, in later life.”
And what is it about Schwartz’s music that touches people so much?
“I will speak more specifically about the music in Snapshots,” said Stuart, who also wears the music director and pianist hats in this production. “Here, we have examples of Stephen Schwartz’s music from as early as 1971 (Godspell) and as recently as Wicked (2003)…. Schwartz chose the songs to move the new story (book by David Stern) forward in the most compelling way. About 85% of the story is told in music.
“This plot line allows two characters to each communicate with themselves at different stages of their lives. Stated differently, we have a story that takes place 1) in the present, 2) in the past and 3) in one’s interior life. The music is not simply one song after another, it is multi-layered, with (formerly unrelated) songs performed simultaneously in gorgeous counterpoint with one another.
“I truly feel that the music and lyrics (often changed by Schwartz himself to fit the arc of the new story) can simply be enjoyed for their depth of meaning, their melodic interest and their beautiful harmonies. However, for those who know Stephen Schwartz’s music, the complexity and brilliance of the multi-layered nature of this work are simply breathtaking.”
Stuart added, “Yesterday at rehearsal, we had many moments when we simply had to stop. The actors were so ferklempt (choked up with emotion), they were unable to continue. I feel the same way.”
For tickets to Snapshots, visit phtheatre.org, call 604-990-3474 or drop by Presentation House Theatre, at 333 Chesterfield Ave.
Left to right: Nathan Piasecki (Artful Dodger), E. Marie West (Nancy) and Stephen Aberle (Fagin) in Theatre Under the Stars’ production of Oliver! Aberle also plays Mr. Brownlow. (photo by Tim Matheson)
Actor Steven Aberle describes Theatre Under the Stars as “a thrilling combination of enthusiastic, amazingly talented youth and, as they say, ‘seasoned’ pros.” In this instance, Aberle – who plays both Fagin and Mr. Brownlow in TUTS’s Oliver! – counts among the seasoned pros, while fellow Jewish community member Kathryn Palmer, who plays Strawberry Seller and is in the ensemble, is one of the talented youth, though Aberle and the other seasoned pros also have plenty of that, of course. The Independent caught up with both actors by email earlier this month.
More than just luck
JI: You’re a relative newcomer to the Vancouver stage. Could you share some of your performing background?
Kathryn Palmer: I have always had a deep-seated passion for music and performing. When my home life started getting rocky, my Auntie Kathryn, who was a professional opera singer, seized the opportunity to get me out of the house for a few hours a week and into her studio for voice lessons. I was hooked and completely inspired! It wasn’t long before I was accepted into the voice program at Canterbury Arts High School, taking Royal Conservatory Exams, singing in choirs, competing in music festivals across Canada and performing in as many musicals as I could.
JI: You’re a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria. Are you from Victoria? Can you share some of your personal background, including what role, if any, Judaism or Jewish culture or community has played (plays) in your life?
KP: Born and raised in Ottawa, I moved to Victoria to study at the Canadian College of Performing Arts. I was very fortunate to graduate with about two years of paid theatre work … beginner’s luck, I call it.
At school, we were always told to use what makes us different and unique. One of the things my auntie had taught me was all about Jewish folk music. Being able to sing folk songs in Yiddish and Ladino was definitely something that made me unique but also grounded me. Being Jewish doesn’t exclusively impact the work I choose to do but it definitely infuses it. When I’m doing these musicals that are set in the past, I always wonder that would my life be like a young Jewish woman during this time. I also get excited to perform in shows with a more Jewish theme, like Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof at the Gateway Theatre or Louise Philo in Girl Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in Victoria.
JI: What are some of your aspirations regarding a career in performance?
KP: I adore theatre. I love musical theatre. I also love working with kids. I want to go back to school within the next few years and do my ECE [early childhood education]. I’m hoping to one day move back to Ottawa and start a theatre school there. Hopefully, I can inspire children the same way my auntie inspired me.
Not just the beard
JI: You seem to have been very busy on stage in the last couple of years. Can you share with readers some of your performance highlights since the JI last spoke with you in December 2013 about Uncle Vanya?
Stephen Aberle: I have been blessed with busy-ness these past several years, yes, kein ayin hara [no evil eye]. I guess I’m at that stage in my career where, if one remains alive, willing and (unfortunate but still true in today’s theatre) male, opportunities arise. Since
Uncle Vanya, I’ve had the good fortune to perform in Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook, with music by Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell and Wicked fame) at Studio 1398 on Granville Island last fall. That was an opportunity to work on some amazing material with a wonderful company, including director Chris McGregor and Wendy Bross Stuart as music director.
I’ve been fortunate to perform with Wendy many times, including a couple of shows together at TUTS. We’ll be doing Snapshots again this coming fall [late October, early November], at Presentation House in North Vancouver, this time to be directed by Max Reimer.
I got to be part of a workshop of Hamelin: A New Fable by Leslie Mildiner (another member of the Jewish community) for Axis Theatre, although, unfortunately, scheduling didn’t make it possible for me to be in the touring production. And, earlier this year, I was in What You’re Missing, a lovely new play by Vancouver-born playwright Tamara Micner (she’s now based in London), at the Chutzpah! Festival.
JI: What most attracts you to, and repels you about, the character of Fagin? How are you approaching the role?
SA: Well, Fagin is one of the great characters of 19th-century literature – and, in Dickens’ novel at least, one of the great antisemitic caricatures of all time. That kinda sums up both the attraction and the repulsion: the character and his motives and passions are grand, fascinating, delicious for both performers and audiences; he’s also, let’s not mince words, a brutal travesty – again, as Dickens originally conceived and presented him in the novel Oliver Twist.
I want to rise to the level of the challenges the character offers. He’s big, and I need to honor and own that and, at the same time, find the truths in the character and his situation. Lionel Bart, who was Jewish and who created the musical Oliver!, trod a careful line in dealing with Fagin. There are no explicit references in the play to Fagin’s being a Jew, but Bart wove klezmerish themes into a lot of his music. The late great Ron Moody, also Jewish, who originated the role in London and who played it in the movie, followed that line, playing into Jewish nuances in the music and in the character’s accent.
The story of Oliver Twist and of the musical Oliver! deals with some dark themes – themes that are very much still with us, here and now. Grinding poverty rubbing shoulders with enormous wealth and privilege; love, hatred, loyalty and betrayal; violence against women; criminality, justice and injustice; prejudice; legitimacy and illegitimacy and the arbitrariness of those categories. Our director, Shel Piercy, is not shying away from that darkness, and I’m interested in his approach, his color palette. There can be a tendency, sometimes, for musical comedy to be cutesy, all fun and games and sweetness and light; that’s not the intention with this production. So, I’m looking for ways to explore Fagin’s breadth and depth. He’s devious, avaricious, by turns fearful and bold, can be selfish and brutal; he’s also probably the closest thing to a parent most of his gang of little thieves have ever known. He uses them, but he also feeds them and shelters them and plays with them and teaches them the only way he knows how to make a living, which happens to be thieving.
Shel has made some intriguing casting choices. One actor – Damon Calderwood – plays both Mr. Bumble and Bill Sykes, and Shel has me playing both Fagin and Mr. Brownlow, the kind gentleman who strives to rescue Oliver from Fagin’s clutches. I get to play both the wicked and good father (or grandfather) figures, if you like. A practical consequence of that choice is that I spend a lot of time on stage, so one important goal for me as an actor will be to remain upright. It’s going to be a workout.
JI: You were Buffalo Bill in a prior TUTS season. How did you come to start auditioning with TUTS, and have there been other roles? Does performing on an outdoor stage present unique challenges?
SA: I first worked at TUTS (in those days it was called Theatre in the Park, or TITPark) in the mid-’70s as a carpenter and stagehand, and I’ve had the pleasure of performing there each decade since – in Anything Goes in ’87, as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in ’97 and as Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun in 2008.
I started auditioning for TUTS soon after I graduated from Studio 58, and I keep auditioning there when I’m free and I think there might be a role for me. I love it there. The people are great, a thrilling combination of enthusiastic, amazingly talented youth and, as they say, “seasoned” pros. There’s a lot of love around the place. A special smell pervades the atmosphere, although it no longer carries as much of the whiff of pigeon droppings as it had in the old days. I’ve probably been just about everywhere it’s possible for a human being to get to in that building, including all over way up in the gridwork, where I spent a great deal of my time during those summers in the ’70s.
Playing outdoors presents some curious and inspiring challenges, yes indeed. There are obvious ones, like wildlife, for example. You never know when you might be joined on the stage by a raccoon or a squirrel or a crazed moth, and every actor knows that small children and animals – even insects – are far more interesting to watch on stage than we are because they’re unselfconscious and unpredictable.
We’re playing in Vancouver in the summer and the days are long, so the first half or so of the show is hard to light – you can’t use light to draw the audience’s attention very effectively because it’s hard to compete with the sun. Shel pointed this out to us in rehearsal: “Your movement is my spotlight.” We as performers need to provide focus through our actions, positions, motions and stillnesses. We’re also quite far away from the audience, so we have to use our bodies fully. Someone in the 20th or 30th row may barely be able to make out my features, so I need to release my thoughts and emotions into my body: to smile and frown and laugh and wonder, not just from the neck up but with all of me….
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to share with readers, please do.
SA: Well, there is one other thing. It’s interesting to me that, especially in the last few years, so many of the characters I’ve played have been Jewish. Tevye in Fiddler, Jacob in Joseph … plays at the Chutzpah! Festival, now Fagin. I think I get called to audition for most of the film and TV rabbi parts that come into town.
I guess it’s the beard.
Oliver! alternates evenings with Hairspray from July 10-Aug. 22 at Malkin Bowl (tuts.ca).