From Page to Stage: Creating The Canadian [Entry #4]

This blog series takes you behind-the-scenes of the world premiere of The Canadian at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. 

Entry #4 is from Sophia Fabiilli, who plays Nessa in the show. 

Double-take! Spit-take! Gasp! Farce is Harder than it Looks
Have you ever seen a phenomenal stand-up comic? It looks effortless. Spontaneous. The truth is, every punchline has been carefully crafted and rehearsed a thousand times. Stand-up comedy requires huge technical skill, but a great comic makes it look easy.
The same rehearsed yet effortless magic also needs to happen in farce. Except that you add multiple actors, multiple storylines, and physical comedy that requires split-second timing.
 
As an actor and a playwright who adores farce, I’ve put together my top ten reasons why farce is harder than it looks – from an acting and writing perspective. Read on for behind-the-scenes insights into how we turn tedious technical work into hilarious magical mayhem.
 
1. Pace! Pace! Pace!
Why do farces go so fast? Think of this: sad songs are slow and heartfelt. Happy songs are fast and zippy. Farces aren’t funeral durges, my friends. They’re pretty much the exact opposite.
 
2. Gotta want it bad…
I’m not talking about sex (YET – KEEP READING). Someone once told me that in farce characters have such strong objectives that getting hit in the face doesn’t slow them down. Bottom line: every character must want something. And they gotta want it bad (WAIT – maybe I am talking about sex…).
 
3. Red Leather, Yellow Leather
Actors use tongue-twisters as warm-ups in order to execute the quickfire dialogue and hilarious banter. Playwrights must write two hours’ worth of LOL-worthy punchlines… Easy peasy lemon squeezy? It may look that way, but it’s not.
 
4. Mistaken Identity
A character being mistaken as someone else is a classic gag. This is tricky for the writer (to incorporate into their script plausibly) and for the actors (to portray convincingly and hopefully hilariously). Mistaken identity appears in Jason Hall’s The Canadian in two very unexpected ways… but I’m not giving them away. Mystery! Intrigue! Do you have your tickets yet?
 
5. Safe Violence
Farce also traditionally features lots of physical comedy (slaps, jumping over furniture, etc.) and a set with many doors (for sharp entrances and exits). All stage violence must look realistic and be 100% safe. Remember we do eight shows a week and don’t have understudies. Our fight director Zachary Counsil spent hours with us rehearsing hijinks that take mere seconds onstage.
 
6. Eros
I used a Greek word. Are you impressed? ‘Eros’ means love and desire and that’s what comedies are about: love and sex! (SEE? Good things come to those who wait!) The writer’s challenge is to craft eros-fueled storylines that are original. The actor’s challenge is to fully realize that budding flirtation, that steamy seduction scene, that big smooch – while always respecting their scene partners and getting consent for any and all onstage intimacies.
 
7. Find the funny
This is the task of the entire team. Dialogue. Stage business. Props. Costumes. Lighting. Music. Even our stage manager (the outstanding Natasha Bean-Smith) perfectly timing her cues. Every element counts! Which begs the question: how do you know what’s funniest? Well, you try it. And your director (the luminous Rob Kempson) weighs in. And you try it again. And again. And again. And again until you…
 
8. Lose the funny
By the time the play is fully rehearsed, it doesn’t feel funny anymore. Rehearsing a comedy in front of an empty auditorium is like singing and no sound coming out. It’s impossible to know what’s working until…
 
9. The audience arrives (dum dum duuuum)
If a joke works and the audience erupts into laughter, actors have to pause and wait. If there’s coughing or restlessness during a particular scene every night, that’s a sign to the writer and the team that the audience is continually losing focus and something may need to be adjusted. Audience energy, laughter, and feedback are fundamental to our understanding of what’s working and what’s not. Audiences inform everything.
 
10. Working against sexist tropes
Buckle up, folks. A lot of recurring jokes in classic farces don’t respect women. Ladies running around in their underwear? Male characters written as smarter than their female counterparts? Innuendo where a woman, her body, or her sexuality are the punchline? The truth is we’ve all been brought up laughing at jokes like that. As we turn a corner into our post-#MeToo world a lot of people aren’t finding those jokes so funny anymore (HUZZAH!). So, I wholeheartedly commend Jason Hall who has subverted tropes and steered clear of those tired old jokes. I think he’s done a truly admirable job at writing a feminist-approved farce for 2018 audiences. I hope you’ll take in The Canadian and see for yourself!
 
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From Page to Stage: Creating The Canadian [Entry #3]

This blog series takes you behind-the-scenes of the world premiere of The Canadian at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. 

Entry #3 is from set & costume designer Anna Treusch. 

Explaining my design process can be a daunting task, but no more daunting than designing a set and costumes for a new farce! With The Canadian, written by the clever Jason Hall, I had some pretty common challenges when it comes to designing a farce, like fitting a million doors onstage. But Jason also wrote in many fun new tasks for me. He writes with so much detail that the aesthetic of the world was so clear to me from the first time I read the script. The challenge was figuring out just the right layout that would accommodate all of the humorous movement his script demanded.  

Designing is never a one person task – it’s always a collaboration. It starts with the playwright and the director. I have worked with director Rob Kempson on seven shows now, and during that time we have created our own design vernacular. Rob and I touch base early in the process, months and months before we set foot in the production facility. Generally he will give me a few key things that are important to keep in mind when designing. For this show, he said that he wanted the space to feel like the cabin he lived in during his summers in Gananoque. Another important thing is movement, which is exactly what a farce demands! This means that the layout of the space must have a natural flow so that the actors have a clear path around all the furniture. Rob uses every element in the space, which means that the set had to be solid and safe for climbing, running, and falling, and most importantly he wanted some elements of surprise! I won’t reveal what those elements are, for that you will have to pop in and see for yourself…

For most of my designs, I start by doing research on themes and concepts in the script. I collect images and share them with the director, and I use the visuals that appeal to both of us to inform me of what direction to take the palette in. For The Canadian, the palette came from natural tones found in our Canadian landscape as well as the iconic red colour from the flag. Shopping and collecting things to dress this set with was so much fun because the local area has so many wonderful Canadiana items – our beloved mounted moose head was generously given to us by a local family.  

One of my favourite things about working at the Thousand Islands Playhouse is the incredible team made up of some of the best talent in Canada. From the amazing Jayne Christopher (head of wardrobe), who has been bringing costumes to this stage for years always with skill and style, to Mark Hunt (head carpenter), who has designed and built more sets than I’m sure he will admit, to Megumi Hari (scenic artist), who stays up late into the night making sure each brush stroke is just right. They are just a few of the hardworking people who brought the show to life. This company and the way it functions is so perfectly Canadian!

The Canadian is on stage at the Thousand Islands Playhouse from July 27 – August 18. 

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The Great Canadian Writing Contest

CALLING ALL WRITERS
To celebrate our upcoming production of The Canadian, we are hosting a new writing contest!

We are looking for short poetry and prose inspired by your connection to Canada. The top three finalists will win a pair of tickets to The Canadian, and will have their work presented at our pre-show Cinq à Sept on August 9. The winning writer will receive a grand prize that also includes dinner and a boat cruise for two.

Send us a PDF of your Canadian-themed writing (1 page max) with your name and contact information to jesse@1000islandsplayhouse.com with the subject line: Canadian Writing Contest. DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION IS AUGUST 5.

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From Page to Stage: Creating The Canadian [Entry #2]

This blog series takes you behind-the-scenes of the world premiere of The Canadian at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. 

Entry #2 is from director Rob Kempson. 

Creating a new play truly involves a community. While the playwright is the ideas person, giving everyone else the scaffolding on which to work, the director is a bit like the driver. Now I’m just mixing metaphors…

Ultimately, the role of a director in a play development process is to offer the playwright everything that they need to tell their story most effectively. For this piece, that started with some dramaturgy (or play-doctoring); I read drafts of the play while Jason was writing, and offered him feedback and questions as he went. Jason and I have a great relationship because I have been lucky enough to develop and direct three of his plays before. For the 2015 (Rose’s Clothes), 2016 (Violet’s the Pilot), and 2017 (Daisy Amazed Me) seasons, the Young Company show was written by Jason and directed by me. We share a sense of humour and have a real fondness for potato chips and The Golden Girls. Well, maybe that’s just me. All that is to say that he and I work well together, which is an important part of play development and dramaturgy. Putting your words out into the world is hard enough on its own, let alone when someone is offering critical feedback on that writing.

Once we had a pretty good draft in place, we did a workshop of the play with actors. That process involves a lot of reading and re-reading and mini-performance in order to hear how the words land in the voices of real people. In this case, we did a three-day workshop in November with about half of this summer’s cast (and a few other actors to fill in the rest of the roles). We talked about what jokes were funny, which ones might be funnier, and where the logic in the play was a bit off. We talked about what was clear and what needed to be clearer. And we talked about how the actors were able to get ideas about their characters from the text on the page.

Ultimately, casting is of the utmost importance, but especially with a new play. Normally, I’m thinking about who is the right voice for the part, taking into account age and look and experience. With The Canadian, I’ve mostly just tried to cast the funniest people I know so that they can help us craft each laugh and make sure the audience spends most of the evening rolling in the aisles.

Design is also an important part of the new play process. Working with my incredible designers, I’ve been insistent that we focus on supporting Jason’s hilarious script. You might not know it, but every single item of clothing, piece of furniture, picture on the wall, lighting you see, and sound you hear has been crafted to best tell this story. You would be surprised how many times a designer has an idea about a hilarious prop or costume that can help us sell a joke. We are constantly looking for any element that will make this new play shine.

All of this visioning and writing and dreaming comes together on the first day of rehearsal. Once we start staging the show with the actors, and discovering new things about the script, it will continue to grow and shift until Opening Night. Rehearsal is my favourite part of putting up a new play—it’s where we find out the most about this new piece of writing, but it’s also when we have the most fun.

I’m looking forward to sharing The Canadian with everyone very soon! See you on the dock!

The Canadian is on stage at the Thousand Islands Playhouse from July 27 – August 18. 

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From Page to Stage: Creating The Canadian [Entry #1]

This blog series takes you behind-the-scenes of the world premiere of The Canadian at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. 

Entry #1 is from playwright Jason Hall. 

“Getting the sardines on – getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.” – Noises Off, Michael Frayn

It’s rare you can pinpoint the exact moment when things change completely. But Gmail helps. And my Gmail tells me that at 11:53am on October 9th 2015 my entire perception of myself as a playwright flipped on its head. Because that’s when I received an email politely declining a play I had submitted to a particular theatre accompanied by the suggestion that, instead of all the oh-so-serious doom-and-gloom I’d been writing, maybe I could instead try writing something funny…like a farce?

I probably should have been insulted. Instead, I was excited. Here’s what I wrote back:

“A new farce—now there’s an interesting idea! Writing a successful farce is essentially the Mount Everest for any playwright. But…I do like a challenge…”

Okay. I know. It sounds desperate. It was desperate. We artists are vulnerable and needy creatures, hungry for approval. When someone in a position of power suggests we do something it’s hard to ignore it. After all, that email was an invitation, right? Sure, that theatre was rejecting the thing I sent to them but I wasn’t going to focus on that. I was going to focus on the throwaway comment they made at the end of the rejection. They were asking me to write a farce! Practically begging me. A door was being opened. The very least I could do was stick my head around to see if I liked what was inside.

So, I decided to read a farce to see exactly what I was getting so excited about writing since, really, I had no idea what a farce was. And the farce I decided to read was a little play called Noises Off by (multi-award winning British playwright) Michael Frayn.

‘Turns out, Noises Off is more than a farce. It’s a farce inside a farce. A play within a play. It’s meta. A bit like how Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy sees The Murder of Gonzago nestled inside Hamlet

Frayn’s play was both an excellent and a disastrous choice for self-education. Excellent because it was a hilarious dissection of farce’s conventions highlighting everything that was wonderful and absurd about the genre and, indeed, the theatre itself. And it was disastrous because it was a hilarious dissection of farce’s conventions, highlighting everything that was wonderful and absurd about the genre and, indeed, the theatre itself.

Noises Off is quite simply the perfect comedy. Just reading it made me actually, literally laugh out loud. Later, when I eventually saw it on stage, I experienced near-fatal face-ache from the sheer joy of its intelligent silliness, its orchestrated chaos. It is the farce to end all farces, simultaneously belittling all those that came before it and rendering as impossible any that would seek to follow it.

Choosing this play as my primer was like studying Picasso’s Guernica to learn how to paint or listening to Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child to learn how to sing. I was never, ever, going to create something that good. So there was only one thing to do: steal from it.

And steal I have! The physical comedy, the characters from the world of theatre, the duplicate props…you name it, I stole it and put it in my play. But not just from Noises Off. From everywhere. The plot of The Canadian was conceived during the summer of 2016 when I was a Visiting Artist at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. That summer I was an Assistant Director on Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods and Stuart Lemoine’s A Grand Time in the Rapids, all of which I have mercilessly pillaged for my own purposes to create The Canadian. If you’ve seen these productions, you can play a kind of bingo with my play: “Now, where have I seen that swing door before?” or “Haven’t Tarot cards featured in something else I saw here?”

The thievery doesn’t stop there. In fact, my biggest artistic heist comes from the home of the Playhouse itself: Gananoque. Yes, I confess, this lovely and loving little town which has shown me nothing but the warmest of welcomes has been subject to this playwright’s smash-and-grab antics. I’ve pinched so much from Gananoque, I can barely remember it all. Whether it’s the tension over lakeside property developments, the complex relationship with its American neighbours, its ageing population, its thriving kayaking economy, its cool cafes, its casinos, and even the theatre itself—they’ve all been lifted and dropped, shamelessly, into my play.

Perhaps worst of all is the fact that I make no apologies for this theft. Like Robin Hood, I’m stealing for a good cause. And that cause is the creation of farce. The creation of comedy. The fulfillment of a destiny forged in a few lines of hastily written, absent-minded rejection email in 2015. This is how I ascend the playwright’s Mount Everest. I can only hope Michael Frayn would be proud.

Failing that, I’ll settle for a few laughs on the night.  

(On a serious note, if Michael Frayn’s people come asking The Canadian is 100% an original idea and let’s all just forget the thievery stuff, okay? Okay.)

The Canadian is on stage at the Thousand Islands Playhouse from July 27 – August 18. 

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Gord Brown’s Silver Dollar

In honour of a great Canadian, the Thousand Islands Playhouse is committing $1 from each ticket sold to our upcoming production of The Canadian towards a bursary in Gord Brown’s name at The Gananoque Canoe Club so that every young person who wants to spend time on the river will have the opportunity.

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TIP Spotlight on Katie Honek of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE

 KHonek_2014 headshotName: Katie Honek
Hometown: Grew up in St. Agatha, now reside in Toronto
Role/Position: Apprentice Stage Manager of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE

Thousand Islands Playhouse: You’re stranded on one of the 1000 islands.  Other than food and water, what three items would you take with you? 
Katie Honek: Lip blam; leatherman; my stuffed animal, Lemur. 

TIP:  What is your favourite thing about Gananoque?
KH: The view from the Playhouse deck. 

TIP: How has a mentor/coach changed your life for the better? Have you been a mentor/coach to someone?
KH: One has taught me the value of a work/life balance. Another has taught me the necessity of being kind, always. I suppose I probably have been a mentor to someone at some point, there have been a few people I took under my wing in life. 

TIP: What is the greatest lesson you’d like to share?
KH: “I will not be indifferent.”

TIP: What was your favourite subject in school?
KHChemistry and music. 

TIP: What led you to working in the theatre?
KHI started in music and loved performing with others in a group. In exploring that, I discovered the amazing place of theatre; performing with others with music, text, arts and movement. 

TIP: What’s at the top of your bucket list, theatre or otherwise?
KH: To explore Iceland!

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TIP Spotlight on Paul Dunn of BED AND BREAKFAST

 Name: Paul Dunn
Hometown: Toronto
Role/Position: Drew (& others) in BED AND BREAKFAST

Paul Dunn - Bed and Breakfast

TIP:  What is your favourite thing about Gananoque?
PD: The water: cycling up to the theatre every evening, I’m always struck by how beautiful the view is. A nice experience to have on your way to work!

TIP: You’re opening up a Bed and Breakfast. What do you name it?
PD: The Artful Lodger –  although I’d be stealing the name of a very nice B&B in Stratford, Ontario. 

TIP: BED AND BREAKFAST is about finding a place to call home. Is there any place or thing that makes you feel most at home?
PD: Home to me has never been tied to a physical location, but rather to the people I love: my partner and my family. Wherever they are, that’s where home is. 

TIP: BED AND BREAKFAST is full of exciting life surprises. Have there been any happy plot twists in your life so far?
PDBeing a theatre artist, you’re never quite sure where your career and life path will lead. I’ve been very happy with the various “plot twists” that have led me here, doing this show, with these wonderful folks. 

TIP: What led you to working in the theatre?
PDI grew up near Edmonton, a fantastic theatre town. As a teenager I saw so much theatre – the Fringe Festival there is North America’s largest and best. I would camp out and see 4 shows a day from local, national, and international artists. 

TIP: What’s at the top of your bucket list, theatre or otherwise?
PD: A trip back to the UK and Europe. I’d love to tour a show internationally as well. 

You can see Paul Dunn in BED AND BREAKFAST, now playing until September 13. To purchase tickets, click here or call our Box Office: (613) 382-7020.

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TIP Spotlight on David Jansen of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE

David Jansen

Name: David Jansen
Hometown: Niagara on The Lake, Ontario
Role/Position: Director of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE

Thousand Islands Playhouse: You’re stranded on one of the 1000 islands.  Other than food and water, what three items would you take with you? 
David Jansen: Photo album of my family; the complete works of Shakespeare; and OFF!. 

TIP:  What is your favourite thing about Gananoque?
DJ: Its beauty; its theatre; and Naughty Otter! …Okay that’s three things. 

TIP: How has a mentor/coach changed your life for the better? Have you been a mentor/coach to someone?
DJ: Yes, my high school theatre teacher, Philip Stanbury, challenged me and believed in me, in equal parts, in a way no one had previously of me. And yes, there are a couple of young theatre artists for whom I guess I am a mentor. 

TIP: What is the greatest lesson you’d like to share?
DJ: “Only Connect.” – Em Forster 

TIP: What was your favourite subject in school?
DJTheatre!

TIP: What led you to working in the theatre?
DJSee question 3. 

TIP: What’s at the top of your bucket list, theatre or otherwise?
DJ: To direct The Cherry Orchard.

Come see David’s directorial work on TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, now playing in the Springer Theatre until September 19.

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TIP Spotlight on Beau Dixon of DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER

Beau Dixon

Name: Beau Dixon 
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan (but raised in Canada)
Role/Position: George in DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER

Thousand Islands Playhouse: You’re stranded on one of the 1000 islands.  Other than food and water, what three items would you take with you? 
Beau Dixon: A knife, matches and a good book!

TIP:  What is your favourite thing about Gananoque?
BD: The water!

TIP: Do you cook? What is your favourite meal to cook?
BD: Chicken stir fry. 

TIP: DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER features madcap high jinx, mistaken identities, and secrets at every turn. Have you ever neen in a similar situation?
BD: Too many times!

TIP: Tell us one truth and one white lie about yourself. We will try to guess which one’s which.
BD: I’m the youngest of seven kids. Serena Ryder was my backup singer. 

TIP: What led you to working in the theatre?
BD: From the moment I first saw Star Wars, West Side Story, etc. I knew I wanted to somehow be involved in acting/theatre. 

TIP: What’s at the top of your bucket list, theatre or otherwise?
TD: Broadway, baby! Broadway!

Don’t miss Beau as George in DON’T DRESS FOR DINNER. Now playing until August 22!

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