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!