Evolution 2-Bill: the Rehearsal Interviews, part 1 of 2

It took me awhile, but I finally found the rehearsal room.  Once everyone inside had put their clothes back on (just go with it) I went inside and began the interview.  I remember, at one point, we were all just staring at my cellphone/tape recorder as it sat on the table, as if waiting for it to take charge of the situation and start asking some damn questions, which I seemed oddly reluctant, despite being the interviewer du jour, to do.

In all fairness, this was my first interview…and I didn’t realize I’d even be DOING it until about an hour earlier.

It all started the day before when, while wandering carefree thru downtown Ottawa on a day off, I bumped into the man Andy Massingham at Rideau Centre.  He was on a break from rehearsals for Evolution Theatre’s upcoming double bill show, featuring both MARY MAGDALENE AND ADVENTURES IN SOBRIETY by Berni Stapleton, and [boxhead] by Darren O’Donnell.  Andy’s directing Mary M, and invited me back to say hi to Famous Actress Nancy Kenny, hard at work prepping for her solo role as the tile character.  It was a fun little visit that turned into an impromptu photoshoot (oh, the things you can do with a cellphone!), and even a semi-joking invite to come back and do a full-on interview.  I kind of dismissed it at first, having never done such a thing before (sorry, NEW DREAMHOMES AND CONDOS magazine, you don’t count), but gave it another thought later on.  ‘I could do this’, I imagined in an unusually optimistic vein, and made the official request to Nancy for a timeslot.  She invited me back the next day.

Which was FINE.  I prepped a few questions, had lunch with my folks, missed the text Nancy sent asking if I could come in early to interview the gang from Boxhead first…

Yoinks!  I caught the errant text with an hour to spare (sorry, I’m new to the cellphone game), chugged a coffee, and bolted once again to Arts Court where the lovely Jess Preece, Assistant Stage Manager (as well as prop and costume-meister) for both Evolution shows, told me where to find my interviewees.  Which brings us back to the beginning of this rather rambling intro…the [boxhead] cast and crew, all fully clothed, and awaiting my gentle interview stylings.  If, when push came to shove, I in fact HAD any.

So who ARE the cast and crew?  Good question, wish I’D thought of it.  Well, on the acting front we have Evolution Theatre co-founder and artistic director Chris Bedford, stepping out of the director’s chair for this one (recent helming jobs of Chris’ at Evolution include IN THE EYES OF STONE DOGS and LITTLE MARTYRS), and Stewart Matthews of the legendary SCREWED AND CLUED troupe that helped put the Ottawa Fringe Festival on the map.  Lately he’s been hanging around the Gladstone theatre (I DO NOT LIKE THEE DR.FELL, CYRANO DE BERGERAC), and seems quite comfy at Evolution from what I could see.  For the crew, I was greeted by the always heartwarming sight of the lady Alix Sideris (recently seen on stage in Odyssey’s THE FAN, as well as working the MAGNETIC NORTH industry series), wearing the director’s hat for this show and making it look SO good.

If you took the table away, she wouldn't fall. That's how awesome she is.

By her side was the hardest working man in show business, Stage Manager Nick Alain…you’ve probably been struck by lightning more times than he’s had days off this year, and that seems to be the way he likes it.

I started off easy, asking the gang what drew them to this show in particular, and found the answers pretty similar, in a wonderfully bizarre fashion.  Chris Bedford, who was originally set to direct this show before succumbing to the urge to meet the rather unique acting challenges it poses, said that while he was drawn to a lot of things about the show, it boiled down to a few choice traits.  “I’m a fan of cheesy bad jokes interspersed with big ideas” he admitted with a smile, calling the show “…a little gem…something very intelligent framed in a very stupid framework, and I think that’s what makes it sing.”

Stewart Matthews puts it a little more bluntly.  “It’s dumbass,” he deadpans disarmingly,  quickly adding that the show has a sneakily sideways intellectual bent. “The philosophy is very simple, basic philosophy,” he notes, “… but is presented in such a way that it comes across as mere tomfoolery.”  Alix Sideris takes the theme a step further, calling the show both a ‘metaphysical meditation’ and ‘a hoot’ in the same sentence.  But how else could you describe a show where both actors have cardboard boxes on their heads for the duration?

I'll let you decide which one is better looking.

Asked about what made her want to direct this obviously mad little show, Alix Sideris admitted to becoming VERY excited several times during her reading of Darren O’Donnell’s script, which she calls “Brilliant…funny and true”, as well as one O’Donnell specifically wrote to terrify actors into paying attention to what they’re doing.  It also offers the kind of challenges she relishes…it’s a movement, dance, theatre, AND song piece, as well as being heavy on some rather unique tech, much of which falls to SM Nick Alain to handle.  Running this show, he says, is taking everything he learned in school about being a stage manager and “Turning it right on its head”.  I get the impression he’s both delighted and horrified by the challenges.

Bedford was especially proud about the double-bill aspect of the shows going up, noting that while both pieces of relatively new Canadian Theatre had been previously performed at Magnetic North Festivals (Boxhead in Vancouver, 2008; Mary Magdalene in St.Johns ‘06), neither has ever been performed in Ottawa.  And as he quite rightly pointed out, “How often do you get to see two shows in one night?”

Our impromptu interview session was joined at the last minute by Pierre Ducharme, who is heading up the set/light design for both shows, and was merrily cryptic (but enthusiastic) about what we can expect from this one…think a set that’s not a set, and I’ll say no more.  And just so you’ll forgive me for that teaser…remember when I said there were songs in the show?  Well…

That’s it for now…Let me know how I managed on this, my first ever solo piece of slapdash interview work.  And don’t go anywhere!  Because as soon as I was finished with this one, here’s what I found waiting outside the rehearsal hall, from the MARY MAGDALENE gang:

A Visitor's work is NEVER done!

Stay tuned for part two, kids!  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

– MARY MAGDALENE AND ADVENTURES IN SOBRIETY and [boxhead] play from April 18th-28th at 7:30 pm Arts Court Theatre (Pay What You Can matinee on the 22nd at 2 pm)  Tickets $25, $20 for Students/Seniors, no shows Monday


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