news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dear Diary: Infinity rehearsal, tech week

Every week, Infinity Assistant Director, Mariel Marshall writes us a diary entry of her experience in the rehearsal hall. If you haven't already, start at the beginning by scrolling down to Dear Diary: Preparing for Infinity Rehearsals. 

Here's what Mariel has to say about the final week of rehearsal, now in the theatre:

This week, we moved into the Tarragon Extraspace. It is also TECH week, which is an exciting time because all of the elements, the set, lights, costumes and props, finally come together. It’s really the first time we get to see how things speak to each other; how the costumes look against the backdrop of the set, how the lights reflect against the painted floor, how the actors sound in the space. These elements, which we have been working with individually, and imagining from drawings and models, finally take shape.

Director: Ross Manson

The set appears to shift your perception. The stage is painted all white with lines vanishing across the width of it like blurred stars in the cosmos. It’s quite beautiful, especially with Rebecca Picherack’s incredible lighting design, which makes it appear like an ever-shifting world of colour and shadows. The really exciting thing is that the set works like a scrim which allows us to light actors from behind the material – and they appear like ghosts through the semi-transparent material.    

It’s been a really fast and exciting rehearsal process, and our technical dress rehearsal on Sunday went very well. The work is definitely ready for an audience this week and I can’t wait to see how people respond to the work, and how the actors, in turn, grow and feed-off of an audience.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Dear Diary: Infinity Rehearsal, Week 3

Every week, Infinity Assistant Director, Mariel Marshall writes us a diary entry of her experience in the rehearsal hall. If you haven't already, start at the beginning by scrolling down to Dear Diary: Preparing for Infinity Rehearsals

It’s been very busy in the rehearsal hall this week, so this post is a little behind schedule! But Mariel has treated us to something a little different:

I sat down with composer, Njo Kong Kie, who is the mastermind behind the score of Infinity, and asked him to tell us about the inspiration of the music.

NKK: When we first started, Ross asked if I could build a solo violin piece based on a passage contained in a track from Picnic in the cemetery, my album for violin, cello and piano. The piece is called Formula 1. I know this title suggests car races, but it is also a reference to using a mathematical formula, a recipe if you will, to compose a piece of music. In the context of Infinity, it makes sense that there are some suggestions of math in the musical score, however simple and subtle they may be. I suppose music is inherently mathematical anyway, but I did think about math a little bit more while working on this score and there are subtle references; but unless one goes looking for them, one likely won’t notice them. For the music detective audience out there though, see if you can break the code to uncover our thinking in the musical design.

The score has evolved gradually from one workshop of the script to another until it reaches its present form. And it is still evolving. I am a gregarious person. I enjoy a collaborative environment. I get ideas from whatever is in the room: a movement, a word, or in this case, the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  I reckon the process is similar for all collaborative artists.

If we compare composing to cooking, then musical ideas are the ingredients. Some ingredients you can find already in your kitchen, some you have to get from the market, some you discover by happenstance. Once you have the ingredients, you have to decide how to prepare them, what shapes you are going to cut them into, what to cook them in, how to cook them, what spices to use, what sides to serve them with and how to present them. I don’t know where I can go with all these, so feel free to expand on this analogy and see how far we can stretch it. Please do join us at the show. Let us show you what we have cooked up for you.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Dear Diary: Infinity Rehearsal, Week 2

Every week, Infinity Assistant Director, Mariel Marshall writes us a diary entry of her experience in the rehearsal hall. If you haven't already, start at the beginning by scrolling down to Dear Diary: Preparing for Infinity Rehearsals. 

Here's what Mariel has to say about the second week in the rehearsal hall:

We’ve just finished week two of rehearsals for Infinity.  This week we completed staging the piece: creating a basic structure for where actors are placed in scenes, where set pieces live, and how actors transition from one scene to the next.

The playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, continues to make changes to the script. It’s exciting to see what comes in from her on a day to day basis. At first, there were additions of an entirely new scene. At this point, the changes have become more subtle.

Haley McGee looks through her script
In rehearsals this week, the actors have been working with gesture and physical explorations. We used a movement exercise developed by Michael Chekov as a way for the actors to explore the psychological and physical world of their characters. For each character in the play, we brainstormed a number of known and popular archetypes, for example: the femme fatale, the wizard, the prodigal son, or the manic pixie dream girl.  The actors picked three of the archetypes that resonated with them, and developed a gesture for each archetype. It was a fun and compelling way to get to the heart of a character’s psychology. The archetypal movements that the actors created were also refined into much smaller and subtler gestures, and incorporated throughout the play. We have also introduced the gestures in the play’s dance/movement sequence, choreographed by Kate Alton.

We have also been doing a lot of intricate work with transforming a very minimal set into different locations, including a public washroom, a hospital room and a family home. In order for these set changes to happen smoothly, there is lot of challenging prop choreography for the actors to learn. As we move from scene to scene – and of course considering costume changes and the needs of the set and lighting design, each movement and transition must be carefully considered and planned.

Director, Ross Manson speaking with Amy Rutherford and Paul Braunstein.
In the design department, we've had our first costume fittings and the characters are taking shape very nicely. We are working with designer Teresa Przybylski on both set and costume design, and it's incredible to see how skilled she is with crafting a design that is minimal, functional and effective in conveying the world of the play. 

Next week, we’ll be going back through the piece and layering in more depth within the scenes, clarifying blocking and smoothing out any last changes.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dear Diary: Infinity Rehearsal, Week 1

Every week, Infinity Assistant Director, Mariel Marshall writes us a diary entry of her experience in the rehearsal hall. If you haven't already, start at the beginning by scrolling down to Dear Diary: Preparing for Infinity Rehearsals. 

Here's what Mariel has to say about the first week in the rehearsal hall:

We are into our first week of rehearsals for Infinity and it’s been a fascinating start to the process. On the first day, we did a read through of the script for the entire team, which includes Volcano and Tarragon Theatre staff, interns, production crew, and creative team. It really does take a village. After the read-through, we jumped right into character and movement work with the actors.

By day two, director Ross Manson was already staging the piece: deciding where the actors are placed in scenes, how we integrate movement and music in transitions and how to coordinate a complex set of props. In many ways, this week has felt like putting together a really complex jigsaw puzzle; you need to match pieces together, one by one, and trust that with time and focus the completed image will take shape.

This week we have also been working with movement director, Kate Alton. Kate has been working with the actors on a frenetic and complex movement piece that takes place near the end of the first act. The sequence was originally developed in an earlier workshop and now Kate is building upon the foundation with more intricacy and specificity.

It’s also incredible to have music composer Njo Kong Kie and violinist AndrĂ©a Tyniec in the room with us. Having them collaborate on the process from such an early stage has been incredible because it allows the music to be woven into the script seamlessly.

The playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, continues to make script changes on a daily basis, and it’s both exciting and challenging to see how these new developments affect the piece. We’ve also been in touch with Lee Smolin, who continues to guide us in all of our questions regarding theoretical physics (the main character Elliot plays a theoretical physicist). As you can imagine, the technicalities of the science are incredibly difficult, so Smolin’s input has been crucial in getting the facts right. He’s even helped us to make character choices such as “what kind of laptop would Elliot have used in the mid 1990’s?” It is this kind of specificity and articulation that can really deepen the work.

We finished staging the entire first act this week, which is a huge jump in the right direction. Next week, we’ll start on ACT II. The jigsaw puzzle is starting to take shape!

Mariel Marshall

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Koffler Q&A with Hannah Moscovitch

In December of 2015 Volcano held a reading of Infinity at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. They were tickled pink with the show, so they followed up with Infinity playwright, Hannah Moscovitch to find out a bit more about her and her work.

Koffler: What is your “work ritual”?
HM: I get up and go to a coffee shop and I sit there and write until I have some momentum. Then I go home and work in my home office. Later in the day, when I can’t write anymore, I try and answer emails (I am terrible at answering emails).

What do you hope to live to see in the world?
I’d like equal rights for the gay community to be the orthodoxy. Slavery is unthinkably wrong to us now and I’d like to see denying marriage to gay people become as morally unconscionable as slavery.

What would you tell your younger self? 
I’d tell myself to calm down about life.

What do you feel is worth fighting for?
It’s worth fighting for the lives of others.

What is your favourite simple pleasure?
Coffee. It’s how I get myself to put my clothes on and go and write my projects. I tell myself there’ll be coffee in it for me.

How do you change the world?
I think you do it incrementally. Gently if possible. Seductively. Democratically.

Where do good ideas come from?
I don’t know! It’s mysterious, isn’t it? From nothing and nowhere? From the subconscious? From the work of others?

At the end of the day, what really matters?
I got diagnosed with a chronic degenerative illness once (which I didn’t have) and it was more frightening than anything. Your health matters.  And I miscarried last year. I was sad in a pure way about it, a way that wasn’t familiar to me. So I get the sense your children (if you have them) really matter. My work matters to me a lot. My life has meaning because of it. My husband matters to me a lot, and knowing that if everything collapses, I love him and he loves me, and that’s a solid thing.

What is your favourite thing about words?
Their opacity.

What is your favourite thing about pictures?
I like that I don’t understand them, because I work with them less. (I work with images but that’s a little different I think?) When I see art that is pictures I admire in a more open-mouthed way. Art made of words and/or story I admire because I know what it took to make it, but it means I am deconstructing it rather than just letting it work on me.

What is your favourite city and why?
I live in two of them and they are both my favorites: Halifax and Toronto. Halifax is beautiful and quiet (and inhabited by very kind people). Toronto is full of art, glamour and culture.  And it’s multicultural so I feel less weird about being Jewish in TO. 

What does success mean to you?
Success is making work that’s meaningful to me. And collaborating with talented artists. And having a functional family life.