Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In a Word... Anna Hagan on Western Gold Theatre and Relatively Speaking

Say Anything But Adorable
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Anna Hagan received a BA degree in English Literature from the University of British Columbia in 2009. This year her long and artistically accomplished career in professional theatre was honoured with the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award for Outstanding Career Achievement. She has worked with the leading theatre artists and companies of the day, including as a founding member of the experimental company, Tamahnous Theatre and the classic company, West Coast Actors, and as a company member of the Citadel Theatre, from 1993 to 1995, under the internationally renowned director, Robin Phillips. She was one of three Canadians invited to participate in the International Directors Seminar in London, England, and served as assistant director of the (Ontario) Stratford Festival’s Young Company under Robin Phillips. A strong advocate for children’s theatre, she also served on the Board of Carousel Theatre. During the 1980’s, she was associate director of the Arena Theatre Company, a professional repertory company, where she directed, among other plays: Waiting for Godot, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and She Stoops to Conquer. Her extensive acting credits include the acclaimed World Theatre 2000 production of The Mill on the Floss (Soulpepper Theatre) and recently: A Delicate Balance (Tempus Theatre),  Revenge (Felix Culpa), Old Goriot (Western Gold Theatre),  Half Life (Belfry  Theatre), and Home Child (Arts Club Theatre).  Her career as a screen actor with extensive film and television credits remains active.

CHARPO:  I'd like to talk about the company first which, if I was being patronizing I would say was a noble idea instead of, how I feel, an essential idea. However, there has always been a perception in the performing arts that the "barrier" of age was mostly one for women. How do you perceive it? 

HAGAN: The fastest growing demographic, we are told, is women over the age of 55; we are generally healthier -  living longer and certainly in the creative arts seeking ways to continue 'telling the story of what it means to be human; ' male or female.  

CHARPO: There is some experimentation going on with the ages of characters in theatre - I think immediately of Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones as Beatrice and Benedick in London recently. Is this one solution or ONE OF the solutions to keeping veterans in the public eye? 

HAGAN: I don't know about solutions !  but I do know if I had to choose between seeing two up and coming stars playing Beatrice and Benedick or Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, the latter pair would win hands down. Masters of their craft vs. the newcomers, who are probably insanely talented...but just don't have the track record yet, the years invested in the craft. 

CHARPO:  Is one of the problems the cute factor? We have a few actors in Quebec who are still working in their 80s and, one even, 90s - but they are trotted out beyond the theatre as adorable. How do you fight that perception that a veteran is not just good because they can remember their lines? 

HAGAN: Babies are adorable !! and I find it offensive to apply that word to an 80-90 yr. old creative artist. My experience is that they are often crusty, opinionated, highly skilled and pissed off at their aging bodies that no longer respond to their wishes.

CHARPO: Tell us about how you choose plays and, especially, this delightful Ayckbourn play. 

HAGAN: Part of our mandate as a senior professional company is not only to present quality work using senior actors, but also to mentor younger actors who might benefit from exposure to their more experienced colleagues; conversely, senior actors are energized and refreshed by the involvement with their younger colleagues. Ayckbourne's play is a perfect fit for this mandate: a quality farce written by one of the major playwrights of the last 50 years which involves an older couple and a younger couple...what could be more perfect ?  witty language, mistaken identity, and hilarious confusion.

CHARPO: What sets Ayckbourn apart from other playwrights who write older characters?

HAGAN: Ayckbourn's genius is that his characters are not limited to any specific period. Like Shakespeare, his characters are universal and speak to the human condition. His structure may be comedy/farce, but his characters are recognizable as people young/old with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies.

CHARPO: Finally, if you had a message you'd like to send out to both audiences and theatre practitioners about the state of affairs as your company sees it, what would it be?

HAGAN: Theatre has been around for a long time - thousands of years - and it is not about to disappear. Theatre is about people telling stories to one another in a place where everyone congregates....the storytellers and the listeners the young and the old.  

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