A Very attentive house

September 27, 2007 by

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Not much to report on Oz, I’m afraid, so it can’t have been that exciting. It was great to have a free day today. What with rehearsals, and opening, and events, and family, and matinees, this was my first chance to get a sleep-in. Whew. I am so grateful for that. So it was a day to catch up on emails, and do laundry, and begin to focus on life after the Penelopiad. It’s always a bit of a drag when you get to this point. You can see the end coming. And that means a lot of conflicted feelings: on the one hand it will be great to be home, to see my cat, to live in my home, to show my face in Toronto again. On the other hand, this has been such a vital chapter in my life, so full of challenges and triumphs, that sitting in my sun-room, reading Harry Potter, and waiting for the phone to ring will take some adjustment. And so… as with all things, I will adjust.

We had a good show last night. A very attentive house. We are still having some issues with the singing, which is a real drag. It has to do with the fact that the band is not onstage. In both the Swan and the Northern Stage, we had the support of the acoustic music coming from a balcony onstage above us. But the proscenium arch at the NAC is lower than both of those theatres, and we couldn’t put in a “third floor”. So the band is backstage and the instruments are all on microphone, then mixed into the sound through speakers in the house. We’re having difficulty synching up with the band for many complicated reasons. But it is frustrating not to give Warren’s music its due. God bless Fred and Denis, the sound guys, and good old Mike Crynne. They keep working on making things better for us onstage. We’re not giving up yet.

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Peter Hinton, photo Laird Mackintosh

We were invited to Peter Hinton’s for drinks and nibblies after the show. Peter is such a generous soul. It was a real treat to be in his beautiful home in the Byward Market, and to see some of his beautiful art. He is such a great support. And Paula Danckert, an Associate Artist at the NAC, has offered her apartment in Montreal to the English and Irish women, who are going to make a little field trip on Sunday and Monday. That should be a real treat for them! I’m sure Montreal is spectacular at this time of year. There should be lots to report after the weekend.

So much going on

September 26, 2007 by

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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Kate Hennig as Eurycleia in The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz

Two shows today. We had a really good matinee with students and seniors. It was an excellent balance, and they brought out the best in each other. How completely different these students were than the group on Monday. It’s so unfortunate when a few loud mouthed schnooks spoil the rapport, and confiscate the relationship we are trying to establish. Ah well. That did not happen today. And the talk-back after the show really reflected it: there were at least a hundred students and about fifty or more seniors who stayed. And the questions were intelligent and entertaining. It is so rewarding to make that kind of contact with young people in the theatre. Excellent.

 

It’s great to be at the National Arts Centre. There is so much going on. My brother and sister-in-law took my niece to hear Vadim Repin play the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Southam Hall, Ted Dystra opened in An Evening With Glenn Gould in the Studio, and we continue playing to sold-out houses in the Theatre. Cool.

 

We had another talk-back after the evening show. It is so gratifying to hear the questions of the audience. There is always an interest in the cross-gender work, and an interest in the cross-cultural creation of this piece. And almost always someone who is an Atwood fan, who has strong feelings about the transition from book to stage. This time the woman who was particularly interested in those changes was extremely supportive, and very pleased with the integrity of the staging of the work. That’s satisfying. For Margaret, too, I hope.

 

I must confess that I have not been very social since we have come to Ottawa. I am so pooped. By the time the show comes down, the idea of going to the bar is simply not appealing. So I am basically sticking to the scheduled social events, and the rest of the time I am heading to my brother Paul’s home, and having a glass of wine and a visit with his wife, Deb, and him. The other’s, I know, went to a bar called Oz tonight. I will tell you tomorrow if they had any fun!

Sold out on a Tuesday night!

September 25, 2007 by

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sold out on a Tuesday night! Pretty great.

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Kate Hennig as Eurycleia in The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz

I am not one to read reviews, but apparently the Canadian Press has been very generous. If that means that people will come and buy tickets, then more power to the press! (Wow! That is a controversial statement in my business.)

Of course sometimes it means exactly the opposite, and we unfortunately have to take the bad with the good. That’s why I don’t read reviews: for the most part, I believe them. They are the opinion of someone who frequents the theatre. Often, these people are educated and experienced in it. And sometimes, as an actor… (not this time, I’ll stress) you know you are in a bad show, and when that critic you respect or believe, trashes your work, it’s really hard to get up on that stage with integrity and continue to perform. For me, as an actor, I must dedicate myself to my job with my heart, my body, and my soul every single time I set foot on that stage. And I cannot have someone else’s opinion, good or bad, jeopardising that dedication.

(Okay. That was a bit of a diversion. I’m apparently given to writing a little sermon in each entry these days. Or a tale. I hope they’re entertaining. It only means that the show is going well, and that there is not much else to write about.)

I think we were all grateful for the day off today, before the show tonight. It meant catching up on some well deserved rest, and it allowed for a little alone time. There have been so many social events, and friends and family visiting, that it’s tough to get time to oneself.

I just want to laud the crew once again. This group of men and women at the NAC are fantastic. So supportive, and truly interested in helping us to create the best show possible for the folks filling the auditorium. And Ziggy, the stage carpenter, was good enough to invite everyone over for a barbeque at his home last night, for which he provided most of the meat available in the Ottawa valley! along with great Canadian hospitality. So, thanks Ziggy, and all the crew for your invaluable contributions to the success of the Penelopiad here in Ottawa.

Tea and Croquet for the Maids

September 24, 2007 by

Monday, September 24th, 2007

No rest for the wicked. Penny and I were up early, and heading off to the CBC studios in downtown Ottawa to have a radio interview with Jian Ghomeshi for his arts programme, Q. He broadcasts out of Toronto, so we were in a studio, and he was in another studio miles away, but we had a good time and ended up yacking about the play for half an hour. It was good fun, actually.

Then whisked back to the Theatre by Laura Denker, our publicist here, for a 12:30 school matinee. There were the prerequisite boys sitting in the front row on the stage left side that were more interested in looking up our skirts than listening to the play, but generally, I think this is a great show for teenagers. It is so empowering for the young women in the audience, and that is what we held on to. So regardless of the sniggering in the love scenes, and the nervous responses to the rape, I think they took a lot away with them. One can hope, anyway. I know if it had been me when I was fifteen, I would have been thrilled, and talking about it for days to come.

So, I have to tell you a bit of a story. Just before I left the High Commissioners yesterday, some of the girls (who had wanted to go swimming in a lake, and had brought their bathing suits to that end) had been invited by Anthony and Claire to use their swimming pool. So they were taking a dip and having a great time. Well, after I left, apparently, they continued. Margaret, and the Cary’s and all the rest headed off to the NAC for Margaret’s interview with Laurie Brown. But Pauline, Derbhle, Pam, Kelly, Jade, and Jenny stayed to splash about in the pool. (I must stress that they were invited to stay!) I guess they had a fabulous time, and kept thinking that they should be out and on the road by the time the Cary’s returned from the Speaker’s Series. So they were dressed and heading out on the lawn, when Derbhle picked up a croquet mallet and popped one of the balls through the… I don’t know what they’re called… the little arch-y things. It was just at that point that the Cary’s car came pulling through the gates.

Now Anthony Cary is a huge croquet player, which is why he had set up the course in the first place, and seeing Derbhle striking out on his croquet pitch (I’m making all this terminology up now), leapt from the car (writer’s embellishment) and picked up a mallet. “Do stay and play a game,” he solicited, and so they did. Tea and biscuits were brought forth by Claire (or perhaps by the staff) and the Maids enjoyed the rest of the afternoon playing croquet with the High Commissioner. I’m sure it was more fun for the Cary’s than hanging with… well the Trade Attaché from Bulgaria, for instance (no disrespect intended).

Canada, in a nutshell

September 23, 2007 by

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our day off, but we’re up and at ‘em, and off to the British High Commission at Earnscliffe, to a brunch hosted by Anthony and Claire Cary, the High Commissioner and his wife. It’s fantastic. What an amazing location, right on the Ottawa River, with gorgeous views from their reception rooms and the dining room. And since we’re still having summer in Ontario! we pile our plates high and go out into the garden to eat.

Earnscliffe

It was a much larger group than went to the Canadian High Commission in London. This time almost the whole cast was there along with creative team members, and folks from the English Theatre, and some of the Penelope Circle, and Margaret Atwood, who sat down on the blankets with a group and had great chats over brunch. 

For those of you who have never been to a High Commission… la, la, la… I highly recommend them. Great furnishings, good food, generous hospitality, clean bathrooms. All good. 

After the do, I took Penny out to the MacKenzie-King estate in the Gatineau hills just outside Hull. It was such a glorious day, and the trees are now creating a stunning display of colour. We had a grand walk in the woods with my family (and quite a number of very happy Outaouai-ans). While we were sitting and having an ice-cream after our walk, we were approached by a young woman who said, “Were you in the Penelopiad yesterday?” Sure enough. There was a group of young women who were all PhD students in Canadian History from universities around Ontario, and they had scheduled their Ottawa research to coincide with the run of the Penelopiad! How fantastic! It was a bit of a giggle, but wonderful to run into fans in the Gatineau woods! That’s Canada, in a nutshell.

Mackenzie-King Estate

Home to my family in the evening, but frankly I was too bagged to enjoy them. We had a great take-away Chinese meal, and they allowed me to sneak off and have a long soak in the tub with a glass of wine. An early night, and prayers for a good night’s sleep. 

Thank you, Ottawa!

September 22, 2007 by

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I rose early for the morning after an opening because I was to have an on camera interview with CBC NewsWorld. I arrived at the theatre at 11:20 to put some make-up on my beleaguered face. I’m afraid a trowel and Polyfilla wouldn’t help the bags under my eyes. And then… the interviewer no-showed! Grrrrrrrrr. That is the worst. The morning after opening! I was not a happy camper. 

Of course, I got over it, and we had two good shows Saturday. We were all pretty pooped for the matinee, but got some rest in between shows and gave a really good evening show. 

The response of the audiences here in Ottawa is considerably different to the reaction in England. The English, and Irish women in our cast have remarked on it, too. I’m not sure what to chalk it up to, but we have had standing ovations for every show here. It’s such a pleasure. Maybe it’s a Canadian story? Or maybe it’s told in a way that we are somehow akin to? Maybe we’re really hitting our stride now? Or maybe we’re just proud that this is a Canadian play, a Canadian production, a Canadian success story? Whatever it is, it feels so great to have such an amazing response from our home crowd! Yee haw. THANK YOU OTTAWA!

Fall foliage

Opening night in Ottawa

September 21, 2007 by

Friday, September 21, 2007

(My brain is fried. It’s actually early Sunday evening and I am completely exhausted. But I’m trying to get my brownie badge in journal writing, so… onward.) 

Our opening day in Ottawa began with a four hour rehearsal call, after a morning in the garden at my brother’s. It was a tough call. People are so tired of rehearsing. Not that we’ve had the time to do cleaning rehearsals, but doing the technical “put-in” rehearsals in Newcastle and Ottawa have both been long calls contributing to long weeks of work. But… even though there was resistance, it was invaluable to make these little niggly adjustments to a few technical elements, and to clean up music and dance numbers. God is in the details.  I may sound annoyingly gung-ho, but I was really happy to have the work done, and felt very confident going into the opening night performance here at the NAC.

We were a bit tight. It’s so funny, but as soon as the performance begins you can feel the relationship with the audience, and how easy or difficult the story-telling is going to be. And we all know that it is very rare that an opening night audience will be the easy kind. But the great thing is that we have already had a full range of audiences come to see this play, and the story-telling is so solid now that our little tightnesses and nerves are not really evident to those watching. Ultimately… they got to their feet at the end. And that tells the tale.

Our opening reception was in Le Cafe at the NAC. And the joint was jumpin’, and packed to the rafters. It was a struggle for me to find my family let alone see who else was in the place. And before what Penny calls “the bun fight” could really begin, there were speeches: Peter Herndorf, the CEO of the National Arts Centre, Anthony Cary, the British High Commissioner, Deborah Shaw, the Associate Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hinton, the Artistic Director of English Theatre at the NAC, and Margaret Atwood… well, we all know who she is: the Queen of Canadian Literature. There was a lot of clapping, and gratitude to funding bodies like the British and Canada Councils, and individual donors, and loads of praise for the collaborative creative process between these two companies and these two countries. It was a bit like that part of the wedding where you’re longing to get to the bar and refresh your drink before the dancing begins, but we all survived. 

And then there were lots of faces in the crowd: Jian Ghomeshi, R.H. Thompson, Martha Burns, Brian Quirt, Naomi Campbell, Leah Cherniak, Susan Coyne, John Van Burek, Meno Plucker, along with Kelly’s parents, Mama Cox, my family, Pippa’s mom, Jenny’s friends, Pam’s sister. Only Corrine had no family there. But we love her enough to be family for a night, I hope! There were tons more, but honestly, it was so crowded and very warm that it was tough to know who was there (so sorry if I missed your name!). 

Dancing ensued, and there were goodbyes to our wonderful RSC crew, who have to head home now that the show is safely in the hands of the NAC crew. So love, gratitude and goodbye to Marion, Fiona, Lisa, Anna, and Becky (you’ll note even the crew is all women!). And an enormous thank you to Charmion who leaves on Sunday. 

A huge leap ahead

September 20, 2007 by

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Peggy was in the building! Yup. More flowers were delivered to each of us from the diminutive woman with the soft curly head. (Many thanks!)  Ms. Atwood came backstage after the show. And she was pleased. She felt her words had deepened and strengthened in the time since she saw us in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gratifying news. The show has matured so much. Even last night we took a huge leap ahead into the beautiful space of the NAC Theatre. What a gorgeous venue to play. It allows the play to expand. And what a generous audience we had tonight. There was a real meeting between us and them, and ya gotta love that feeling.

It’s hard to describe how plays mature, but I have come to believe the maturing process has to be a part of new play development. So many new plays are given one kick at the can, and if they fail, or even if they succeed with reservation, they are relegated to the heap, never to be seen again. Even plays that are considerable hits can find it hugely difficult to achieve a second run. But I know now from experience here, and from working on The Danish Play by Sonja Mills over a five year period, that plays need to breathe. And if they are allowed to breathe with the original cast they can attain a profound resonance in those actors, in their relationships to the words and to each other, which is ultimately conveyed to the listener. Daniel Brooks said it some years ago in a keynote speech: good theatre needs TIME. 

Sermon over. 

It was one of those days that was hard to remember from start to finish: so much happened. We had a half-hour call to get into costumes for a media call. Pauline is still very ill, and had to go back to the hotel and rest.  After the shoot, we were out of costumes and into the theatre for Rae’s excellent notes. (The fabulous NAC crew picked up all the notes from yesterday, and the show went very smoothly in the technical department.) Then some quick rehearsal of bits on stage, a supper break, and our second preview. 

Along with Ms. Atwood, and an extremely attentive and effusive audience, were Antoni Cimolino and Marti Maraden from The Stratford Shakespearean Festival. It was great of them to make the journey up to Ottawa, and they seemed genuinely pleased to be there.  So the first trickle of exposure to the Canadian theatre community begins. A little nerve making. But also a great opportunity to bring home our fantastic adventure.

The magic of theatre

September 19, 2007 by

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A brutally long day today. We start at 9:30am. Pauline has been ill all night and is the colour of concrete. Pippa is also not well. Moj has bounced back and is in good form after a solid night’s sleep.

On we go. It is a relentless and tedious process, re-cueing a show.  The frustrating part is, we need music rehearsals, and if it was just lighting that needed adjustment, we could be working with Mike on music. But Mike is busy at every second because it is his work that is most effected. (Oh poor Mike! On top of everything, his keyboard re-configured itself on the flight, and his entire programming of the show was lost. This has meant painstakingly reprogramming for hours outside of rehearsals. So a big hats off to Mike!)  We get to the end of the play a few minutes before our scheduled meal break. Whew! Pippa has had to leave the rehearsal about halfway through the afternoon, and we worked around her. Hopefully she will rest up, and be alright for tonight.

Peter Hinton, the resident god of the theatre, has been with us through these two days of rehearsal. Rae has certainly been running the ship, but Peter has been there for guidance and support in the absence of Josette. (I forgot to tell you. Josette is rehearsing another play in Sweden, and although she had hoped the play would be in good enough shape to leave for a few days, it simply isn’t, and she has had to leave us in Rae’s capable hands.) Peter gives a little speech to the audience before we begin our preview. The production tables are still in the house, which gives the audience a good idea that things are not completely set and ready. But Peter tells them about the massive adjustments and that we haven’t had a run through yet in this space.

The house lights snap black. We set forth. And we stay afloat. Oh, there are a few glitches as one can only expect. The brains fart when faced with walls and doors in new places! It’s as simple as that. But we tell our story. And the crew is fantastic. Some difficulties with costumes as we knew there would be. It’s not easy in our regular circumstances, let alone with one less dresser. But we make it. And everyone gets on stage wearing some form of the right outfit.

We tell our story! Isn’t that great. And the audience gets it! There are some different responses that with our English audiences, which is a wonderful little cultural reminder. But they follow both Penelope and the Maids, and at the end… god bless them… they get to their feet. If you’ll recall our first preview at the Swan (July 27th!) they did the same thing, even through the melee that was our tech. God bless those first night troopers. The magic of the theatre.

Impressed with the Nation’s Capital

September 18, 2007 by

 

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I told you so. Our European counterparts are all very impressed with the Nation’s Capital! How can you not be impressed when we’re having weather like this: this is the summer we missed! Yippee! Twenty-seven degrees, no humidity, and gloriously clear and sunny skies. And the leaves are definitely turning. Although it is still early in the autumn, one spies the occasional crimson maple, a golden bough exploding out of a sea of green, and a dry sense of change.

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Peace Tower in Fall

And in the theatre things are not much different. The Theatre at the NAC is a substantially different container than both the Swan and the Northern Stage. Where the Swan is like an atrium, and the Northern Stage is like an auditorium, the Theatre is a big bowl. Our actual playing space has been rounded by adding panels on the sides and the front. It is quite grand, and allows for much more sweeping movement and delivery. It is a different external dimension for the actor. And it’s as if our chorus of Dreamboats was choreographed to go into this space all along! Funny how things like that work out.

There are plenty of adjustments to make: steep steps to vomitories that exit under the audience on either downstage side, a vast, black, cavern backstage, one less dresser, and one less wigger on duty, an entirely new crew (who are fantastic, and really helpful). But the biggest adjustment is the music. Our band has been placed deep in the backstage behind the crossover. This means having the instruments on mics, and pumping the sound into the house. This is always a huge adjustment after having acoustic music onstage. Very difficult. And for our rehearsal day it means re-cueing the entire show. So apart from a detailed clean of the Dreamboats choreography with Veronica, and some great notes and adjustments from Rae, the day and night were entirely devoted to sound and lighting.

This was all very time consuming, and by the end of two five hour sessions we were not even half-way through the show. So tomorrow we will not have a dress rehearsal before we see our first audience! It’s hardest on the new crew. As a cast, we all have this play firmly in hand (though it has been wonderful to be reminded of some details as we work through), but the crew has NO IDEA how this madness fits together into a 100 minute marathon. We will keep slogging it out tomorrow and see where we land.

We end the day abruptly, and on a bad note: three of our actors have come down with severe nausea and… accompanying symptoms. We finish a little early to get them home and to bed. Jet lag, I assume. Or maybe they picked something up on the plane. Nasty, any way you look at it.