The Company Theatre’s process with “The Test”

The Company Theatre in Toronto are documenting their rehearsal process…  this is for a play called The Test featuring Eric Peterson, Sonja Smits among others.

The director is this guy from Ireland, Jason Byrne.

The main reason this is interesting (beyond the fact that Peterson and Smits are stellar actors) lies with the fact that this director’s process involves letting the actors do whatever feels natural and instinctive to them instead of giving them set blocking instructions on day one.  It means that everything is more complicated, because the approach to character is an evolving thing, but it builds a performance that is supposedly more cohesive and powerful.

Interesting to watch… I’ve embedded the segment that features Peterson (remember him from this? Yea.  Awesome.), and the rest can be found here.

Very interesting… and familiar to how the process has been with Bea Quarrie for Vimy.

It’s risky stuff, letting people be creative, but the potential for a better outcome makes it worth it, in my opinion. 

more later – jv

About the trailer for Vimy

VOS Theatre has started making video trailers for their productions.  It’s a good way to promote a show online, and it provides a better way for us to display the kinds of things that the show will represent onstage.

For Vimy, I wanted to show some of the faces in the show, along with some of the spare but evocative set pieces that have been built, as well as the excellent costumes and replica weapons and webbing that have been constructed for the production.

And, more than anything, I wanted to show off Bea to everyone.  She’s the lifeblood of the show, its force and its direction.  When I first met her, it struck me how strong a vision she had for the play, and how much she wanted to see it come to life.  I took only a few or her comments for this clip, just enough for us to tease out a bit of what we might see in the play.

Keep in mind, too, that this was filmed in the VOS Barn, which has “wonderful” fluorescent lights, so I put in only two shots of actual rehearsal footage.  One shows the four soldiers as they are coming into the front-line trenches, the other shows Clare and Laurie on a picnic by the ocean.  I hope that this shows some of the breadth of scope that an audience can expect here.  I put the rehearsal scenes in black and white and added a spotlight effect to dispel some of the glare of the barn lights, and to give a bit more depth to the limited space.

The sounds underneath are from the actual soundscape, which was produced by Todd Charlton, of Stratford.  The way he mixes and blends the sounds of war with waves and thunder and Chopin are just… more than words can say. 

The coolest thing about this play is that it is so cinematic, playing with time and incorporating dreams and flashbacks into the timeline.  Bea has shown absolute commitment to her vision of the story, and her imagination has taken us to places that make for some truly remarkable and beautiful theatre. 

“It’s a crie de coeur.”

Hopefully some footage or at least some photos of the actual stage will be available soon to give you another taste of what is to come on the 11th.

See you there.

more later – joel

Who is it for?

I’ve struggled with this topic. I love audiences. I love the idea of connecting with someone and reaching across that gap and drawing a picture in a mind I’ve never touched before.

But where is the line? How much can you move someone before you are just, as Bea says, “dumping it all in their laps?”

Also, it seems to me that, as audiences, we want a certain detachment. We want to escape. We want to be entertained. We don’t want things to change, we want to see something and walk away, leaving it behind.

But I what if you couldn’t leave it behind? What if it stayed with you and made you question things? What if it made you look at your own life and think, “what if…?”

When we start out working on shows, and I am talking about work well before rehearsals, just talking about scripts and possible crews and stuff, the thing that comes up most is “can this person or that person handle this in their life right now?” And this is just talking about a musical or a comedy, not something cerebral and moving such as Vimy is.

I find those thoughts troubling. We should be uplifted by theatre. If you imagine it as a burden, think of your life without it. For the crew, the actors and, to an even greater extent, an audience, theatre exists to connect us to each other. So many forces are pulling us apart from each other in this world.

I want to pull us together. Vimy is a play that does that. Derrick, Marlena, Steve, Nic, Remi: these folks will touch your soul with the stories of people just like you. It will stir audiences and disrupt their waking sleep of everyday, busy and unaffected lives. I will be there watching.

Who is it for?

Us. It’s for us.

I will see you from the top.


birdsongI’ve been reading this amazing novel by Sebastian Faulks called Birdsong which is set in and around France in the First World War.  He also wrote  Charlotte Gray, which has an excellent adaptation. It starts in 1910, and jumps to 1978, but really, it centres on the War and it’s effects on the human psyche. 

It’s riveting.  The depiction of human relationships in here is so compelling, it almost hurts to read it, but I can’t put it down because it’s so real.  I wonder through it all about my own life, and I might have been affected had I seen and experienced all of those… things.

You probably won’t read this book.  If you do, that’s awesome, and I want to know what you think of it.  If you won’t, here’s a reason why.

In one of the trickiest sequences in the book, the main character, Stephen, takes a “home leave” to England.  He goes into an expensive London shop to get some new clothes.  The reaction of the shopkeeper says a lot:

Stephen saw the man’s eyes run down him and register his uniform and rank.  He also saw, beneath his formal politeness, an involuntary recoil.  he wondered what it was about him that repelled the man.  He did not know if he smelled of choride of lime or blood or rats.  He reflexively put his hand to his chin but felt only a minimal scratch of beard that had grown back since he had shaved in the Hotel Folkstone.

So here we have, in the midst of war-torn England in 1917, a soldier trying to buy new clothes to wear while on leave.  The shopkeeper ends up, more or less, asking Stephen, an officer in the army that is supposedly preserving his very liberty, to get out of the shop.  Why? Stephen thinks.  Is it my rank (Lieutenant)?  Do I stink?  Am I unshaven and scruffy?  No.  By sacrificing himself in the trenches, and even if he hasn’t died it is still a sacrifice, he has inexorably set himself apart from humanity.  Stephen’s eventual acceptance of this state of affairs is almost triumphant in its sadness.  It’s hard to explain, and it’s one concept of many others that Faulks explores in Birdsong.  

Shit, just read it.

What really gets my hot under the collar is how the notion of remembrance is so repellant to some, like the shopkeeper who doesn’t want the soldier in his store.  We have to open our eyes to see.  We have to open our hearts to feel

We have to remember.

much more later – joel

It is all just a love story…

But, the thing is, you never really know what to think about it. As an audience, you’re trying to piece together the whole chronology of the thing, and then you think it’s over, and then you get the thing at the end.

There I gave it all away without spoiling, see?

The thing is – there are 2 love stories happening in parallel. You have to pay close attention to what everyone is saying, and in some cases Bea has staged it so that the 2 couples are positioned in the same way in different scenes.

But what really gets me is that they are both love triangles with an “entity” as the third wheel. In one case, we might think of it as war, but in another case, we could look at “society” as thee third factor. But you could also insert any number of things in there that come between folks in love in troubled times.

Just a love story.

VIMY–What it’s really about

I’ve been pondering this one a lot lately, but it’s something that I’ve had top of mind since I’ve been speaking about this play to people. 

Which means I’ve been trying to figure it out for 6 months and I’m nowhere close.

Well… maybe I’m getting somewhere.  I think it has to do with the fact that we rehearse scenes and end up laughing, sometimes in complete hysterics, or that people come and watch these things play out and feel totally energized afterwards.  Why is it so much… well… fun?  This doesn’t feel like war.  It doesn’t feel gloomy, it feels bright and shiny and more alive than anything.

Why?  How?

Think about it.  We can’t remember what this time was about, but the relationships formed during this era were closer and tighter than we can imagine.  These bonds were forged of stiffer stuff than the fleeting things that we are familiar with.  The brightness with which these people experienced life is nearly blinding with it’s brilliance, and it’s refreshing to behold.  I can’t help smiling when I picture Sid and Will, sitting at the side of a lake; or JP and Claude, plotting; or Bert and Mike, seeing a vision on Chief Mountain.

Or Clare and Laurie.  Their love is filled with laughter and passion – it’s like a physical presence in itself.  It’s so real, that you can’t help smiling when you see Clare smile.  You can’t help laughing when you hear Laurie laugh.  I mean, he’s me, so that’s a little weird, but that’s kind of the point.

Vimy brings us to life.  These relationships, and that’s really what it’s about, by the way, are so shining bright with vivacity that we can’t help but be affected by.  It shows us friendship and brotherhood and love in their purest forms.

Think about that for a second.

Did you think Remembrance Day was a day of mourning?   Think again. 

“I’m gonna tell you the story of Vimy…”

Billy Bishop, and how I got into this in the first place…

I just finished watching this excellent docu-drama by the National Film Board’s Paul Cowan called “The Kid who Couldn’t Miss“. It’s all about Billy Bishop. It features the regular documentary style reporting, which is very well done, as well as tidbits from “Billy Bishop Goes to War”, by John Gray with Eric Peterson as Bishop and several other characters.

I remember seeing this play when I was a kid, and it got me to thinking about the World Wars and the kind of people they produced – and they did produce people – don’t think that they didn’t.  One could argue quite readily that these 2 events have shaped our current civilization for the past century.

But do we remember them, really?

Bishop is a hero, but his story is so tragic, it almost doesn’t bear thinking about.  Juxtapose that with the fall of his comrades, and you have a real headache on your hands.  Nothing but tragedy, and this from the super-stars of the Great War – the heroes in the sky!

Last winter I went back and forth with John Gray by email, trying to convince him to let VOS have the right to put on the Bishop play this November.  Trouble is, he and Peterson decided in the beginning that they didn’t want the show’s message diluted and they certainly didn’t think the show deserved to be served up dinner-theatre style with martinis and coffee.  I quite agree, and although I assured him of our intent, I am glad he stuck to his word, for in the end it led me to Thiessen’s Vimy, and in that we were able to convince him to let us perform it in Cobourg’s Victoria Hall.



Along with “Billy Bishop Goes to War”, which has been reprised many times by Gray and Peterson, most recently with Soulpepper in Toronto this past summer, red-baronyou also have the new-ish film “The Red Baron” which delves into von Richthofen’s life a little bit and shows the other side of the trenches with equal ethos to anything we’ve seen thus far.  I highly recommend either show if you’d like to see some interesting details of the lives of these flyers.

But, dig a little further and you’ll find  Passchendaele, directed by and starring Paul Gross, which, although highly romanticized, also shows the war as it’s seen from the trenches as well passchendaeleas back home in small town Canada.  It’s a tragic but also enlightening look at the battle on a large scale as seen through the microscopic lens of a single pair of eyes.

Most compelling for me was the fear that men showed in the trenches, and how the “down the line” verbal communication was so important.  Each soldier was a lifeline to the next man beside him.  It makes each death that much more of a profound loss, since it further separates the survivors from each other.


I’ve gone too far with this, but I’ve come back around to Vimy, which I won’t comment on too much, since I hope you’ll come and see it for yourself, but expect more from me on the process of preparing to stage this drama.

More later – joel.

Greatness is…

I’ve been reading about John McCrae this week in the book “The World of John McCrae”.  It’s not really a biography of his life, but rather an examination of the times he lived through and the kind of man he was.  Both as himself and as he was seen by others.  It’s remarkable.  He was so selfless.  I got the impression that he would have joined up even if he wasn’t a doctor, just to stand next to his fellow soldiers in the trenches and support them as they stood for their country.  But he was a remarkable physician as well.  And a tremendously tender and yet bold writer, as his poetry reveals.

I was led to McCrae not by following his famous poem, but by a reference in the Clare Gass diary about his letter to her about Laurie’s death.  I found it extraordinary how much comfort she took knowing that her lover’s final day was spent with such a man as John McCrae.  How could this be?  What sort of things would he have done to deserve such an honour?
Have you ever met anyone like this?  It’s a person who seems like, even if only for a moment, that they are the centre of the universe and others seem drawn to them.  Others seems to siphon from people like this through an invisible tube that stretches between them.  I think McCrae was like this.  I think his funeral, for some, was the darkest and brightest hour of the Great War.  I hate to call it that, but it is the truth.  
Greatness in men is measured in many ways.  Bravery?  Honesty?  Patriotism?  Love?  Intelligence?  
Greatness in war is measured only in death.  And the war of 1915 to 1918 consumed more greatness than any other war before it.  
This man John McCrae gave his life to the service of others, and for that he was loved greatly.  And for that his heroism in nigh without parallel.