This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
February has been an incredible month for Shakespeare so far, with more great shows coming up in March. Shakespeare Bash’d closed out their incredible sold out season with Macbeth starring co-founders James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus as Hamlet and Ophelia. February also saw some Stratford greats put on an incredibly intimate and stunning production of The Winter’s Tale at Coal Mine Theatre. March will bring what is sure to be an incredible production of Richard III by Wolf Manor Theatre Collective.
Bash’d closed out an epic season with a bang. James Wallis gave an intimate portrayal of Hamlet, the Monarch
Make sure to check out Bash’d Final Fringe production of A Comedy of Errors from June 30-July 10th this summer, as well as making the trip to Stratford to see Macbeth, James Wallis’s Stratford Assistant Directorial debut alongside The Stratford Festival’s Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.
Groundling Theatre Company put on a breathtakingly intimate production of The Winter’s Tale. It was truly transformative. Though the stage was small the entire ensemble was able to transport the audience to both the court and the coast. The intimate staging allowed the humanity and complicated relationships between characters, something often lost in large and spectacular productions of this play, to blossom. The audience felt involved and as though they were privy to everything these characters experienced in a visceral and immediate way. The production was so visceral and transformative that it brought many in the audience to tears. This intimacy allowed the actors the opportunity to meditate and engage with the audience and their scene partners on a human to human level, and were therefore able to embody their characters in a more naturalistic way. By the end of the production, the audience did not need to be prompted to awaken our faith, this breathtaking production had already transported us to an Ovidian plane where we truly believed men could turn into bears and women could turn from stone to flesh and blood. The entire ensemble was incredible and was beautifully directed by Graham Abbey. I cannot wait for what they come up with next.
March will see what is sure to be another fresh and visceral production when Wolf Manor Theatre Collective take on Richard III from March 2-13 at the Tarragon Workspace. I chatted with Director Mallory Fisher, Artistic Director Dylan Brenton, and Jeff Hanson who will be playing Richard III about what makes their upcoming production no ordinary Richard III.
Tori: Richard iii is such a politically charged play and has such a rich textual history that has greatly influenced the way Richard is remembered as a tyrant and a deformed monster. What has been your directorial approach for this production and how have you tried to deal with this?
Mallory Fisher – Wolf Manor Director in Residence: Richard lives in a world where he is con-stantly reminded of his deformity, he’s reminded that he isn’t like everyone around him. He’s despised by his mother, mistrusted and berated by almost everyone else. In his opening soliloquy Richard says since he cannot prove a lover, he is “determined” to prove a villain. Determined is an interesting word choice because it implies both being resolute, and also that it has been decided for him. I want to ask: who is responsible for creating this “monster”? Is Richard explicitly vil-lainous? Or has society created this villain in him? We only know we are different when someone tells us we are.
T: Having some gender bending/blind casting is a really interesting choice, how do you think this changes the roles and effects the production as a whole? I’m especially interested in seeing what Jade Douris will bring to Richmond and what Nikolas Nikita will bring to Lady Anne and Mar-garet of Anjou.
M: Gender is an aspect of your physical life that dictates how others treat you. In the same way Richard’s deformity dictates how people treat him. I always cast from a gender blind standpoint. I had no idea Lady Anne would be a man, or Richmond would be a woman. For me it was more important that Anne possessed a fragile vulnerability, and that Richmond was a powerful speaker. Nikolas and Jade embody those things.
T: This play has a lot of characters and can sometimes become inaccessible to audiences that have trouble following and keeping the various royals and their relatives straight. How have you tried to deal with this?
M: We have set the play in an “Animal Kingdom”, creating a new world with new social con-structs. The actors have done animal studies for each character they are playing, and are embody-ing very different physical lives for each of these characters. It’s a play about status and instincts that are undeniable for any species, even humans. I believe it’s accessible to everyone. The actors all have an impeccably clear command of the text and the capacity to welcome any audience into their journey.
T: How has it been with working with Wolf Manor? How do you feel the Toronto theatre scene differs from that in Boston?
M: Wolf Manor has been a dream. They have trusted and supported my vision from the first to the last. I’m eternally indebted to them. Boston and Toronto are very different, very beautiful cities. There is so much opportunity in Toronto for young people to create their art and develop their voice. I feel lucky to be in the thick of it.
Tori: Richard is both a physically and emotionally difficult role, what has been your approach to taking on this role? How do you prepare?
Jeff Hanson- Richard III: Well, everything has to start and grow from the text. That’s your number 1 ally when approaching a part. Richard, as a character, is actually written quite clear-ly though. Constantly in command of his emotions, and relationships. Characters like Mac-beth or Hamlet struggle with doubt, regret, fear as they journey through their stories. But Richard is incredibly focused throughout. The only moment where he experiences an aspect of guilt or remorse occurs in his monologue after his nightmare nearing the end of the play. Physicality for this character is filled with many gifts and curses. Curses in a sense that you have to maintain uncomfortable postures and movements as you progress through the play. This leads to rapid muscle fatigue, which is followed by aches and pains. Now, some people might feel this is a bit of a burden, but for me its more a blessing in disguise. To imagine what it would have been like, having to live your life that way. Trying to be normal when everyone else around you tells you that you are not. The pain and challenge of actual movement, what it might feel like to manipulate your infected body to hold something that somewhat resembles a normal posture.
These are things I think about. So, in moving forward all I can really do is be prepared and confident in what I am saying, and why I am saying it. Take care of my body and prepare it for the strains of the movements of Richard. And lastly be ready, willing, courteous, and open to my director, scene partners, and audience. Because everything that I need to achieve comes from them through me. I also ensure that I have as much fun as possible. ‘Cause that why we’re all here.
T: Has the recent scholarship and renewed interest in Richard III influenced your portrayal in any way?
J: In a sense, yes and no. All the new information received about Richard has Solidified some choices for me but also altered others. Shakespeare did take some liberties with the “Muta-tion” of Richard. What we really know was that he had Scoliosis. He wasn’t a hunchback, but he wasn’t perfect. They discovered that custom armor could have been constructed for him and would have made him quite the formable foe as well. With our interpretation I think Mal-lory and I kind of wanted to find a marriage between the two characters, “Historical Dick” and “Shakespearean Dick.” Many characters refer to Richard in certain ways that you can’t avoid, so you have to show a slice of that or else their comments are unwarranted. Yes, he has an issue that people take note of and scoff at. But is that the whole story? What happens when no ones around and its just Dick and the audience? That’s where we live.
T: Both you and Dylan come from a stage fighting background, can we look forward to an in-tense final battle scene?
J: Well, we’re putting that all in the hands of some amazing fight directors and I got to say I’ve been giddy so far. I’ve done quite a bit of fight direction myself, so its nice to have someone else come in and give me the story of the battle and not have me thinking “that doesn’t make sense, you want me to throw what punch? No one fights like this.” The fact that my reaction to the way I was going to die was “OOOooooo ya ya, dirty, that’s nasty, I love it” is pretty awesome. Not mine or Dylan’s fights, but definitely got my stamp of approval for excellence.
T: You have worked with a number of theatre companies in Toronto and elsewhere, how has the experience been working with Wolf Manor?
J: I have been very fortunate to work steadily with number of companies over the years and I can’t say enough how grateful I am for the sense of unity and passion throughout the Indie community. Wolf Manor is a young, hungry, passionate company loaded with talent and vi-sion. Surrounding themselves with like minded people with heavy emphasis on “our” story, and that’s important. They view this as a collaboration. We all have a say and a voice, and we all deserve to be heard, and put our stamp on this production. Which is what we’ve been do-ing 4 times a week. Its been a lot of fun.
Tori: You billed your company as “Theatre Built to Roam” and have expressed an interest in get-ting youth interested in theatre, how do you think you will be able to achieve this with this show?
Dylan Brenton – Wolf Manor Artistic Director: With RICHARD III, we are tackling the concept of ‘the conscience’ very directly, so much so that we are delving into a lot of animal study in or-der to analyze what it means for us to be ‘human’ and to understand the restraint of society can be. This motif is something which is definitely prevalent with young people. The idea of ap-proaching adulthood is full of the question of ‘place’ and a conceit into a role, RIII showcases the pitfalls of repression and the indulgence of the hunger for power. In order to facilitate interest from youth, I always offer complimentary tickets to Covenant House on every show we do!
As for the Theatre Built to Roam billing, we are actively working bring some shows into schools in the near future. Additionally, it comes from the idea of really utilizing the spaces we are in to their fullest. At Alumnae Theatre we embraced the unique architecture of the space, particular the amazing window and the steep wooden ceiling for MACBETH. With CAESAR we had to con-tend with the pole(s) of Abbrams Studio Theatre, which reflected the architecture of the ‘Rome’ we built. With the Tarragon Workspace we’ll be learning a lot about how to make the space func-tion and transform as we are the first full scale performance in that space! I always believe that the show experience should start from the second you see the theatre (or performance space).
T: Your production of Macbeth last year was so dynamic and fresh, what do you think is unique about Wolf Manor and what do you feel you and your company bring that is unique and new to Toronto Shakespeare?
D: My personal background is very influenced by modern dance and contact improv. The use of physically dynamic or heightened movement is something that as an actor I feel strongest per-forming and as a director feel is the most immediate way to connect with actors. I adore the way bodies exist and explore on a stage. MACBETH had so many great ways to experiment with cre-ative movement and we haven’t let up at all for RICHARD III. We are setting the play in the ‘Animal Kingdom’ which is a way of really stripping away convention and playing with raw and aggressive choices and getting to explore radically different movement for the characters of the piece. I think this allows us to capitalize on a unique strength in our actors. As we always work with a small ensemble (between 3 – 9 actors), this allows them to create very bold, engaging and iconic characters. The big picture is that any of our shows can be packed up and moved quickly. Hypothetically we can throw our 9 wooden crates, a handful of ambitious actors, and an SM in a van and bring any of our developed shows anywhere.
T: What are some goals or future Shakespeare plays you like to tackle?
D: We’ve definitely made a habit of hitting the tragedies and histories, and are definitely plan-ning to keep playing with those for a while. I have plans to adapt and direct a project titled HAL, which would borrow scenes from the Henry IV’s, Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor in order to do a character study of Hal’s full arch through the lens of Bardolph, Pistol and Nim. Think Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, but with all borrowed Shakespeare text to create one uni-fied story. This one will take awhile to put together and will involve a lot of collaborators, but will be a great way to explore a lot of great text in one condensed and accessible piece. Beyond this, a major goal right now is finding a permanent space to build WMTC shows and then send them on tours into the many unconventional locations we’re interested in!
Make sure to get your tickets soon for what sounds like another fresh and unique production by Wolf Manor!