Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Feature: Interview with Alison Darcy on Scapegoat Carnivale's Othello

(photo by Sabrina Reeves)
Creating her path, one step at a time.  
by David Sklar

Alison Darcy is a  National Theatre School of Canada graduate and the Co- Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre. As well as directing, producing, teaching theatre, Ms Darcy has been acting professionally since childhood. Some of her directorial works include Faust and The Heretics of Bohemia (Segal/ Scapegoat), Hyena Subpoena (Catkidd/scapegoat), Medea and Life is a Dream (Centaur/Scapegoat), Things are bad-Ijumpile Lendaba (South Africa's Mopo Productions/Scapegoat), Last Call (scapegoat/NCTF/Uno festival), Real Estate (Centaur), Bash: Latterday plays (Muttertung), The Unknown Citizen (Project Porte Parole), and Burning Cage (Woman Alone). Selected acting credits include roles in Age of Arousal (Centaur), A Doll House (Saidye), Bye Bye Baby (Imago/Centaur), Brahm and the Angel (Geordie), Speak Easy (Sabooge), Bash: Latterday plays (Muttertung), Small Returns (Infinitheatre/November), girls!girls!girls! (Theatro Commanici/FTA), Taking Sides (Centaur), and various film and television productions. She has worked closely with Clyde Henry Productions, the Festival TransAmériques, Blue Metropolis, and South Africa's Mopo Productions. She is a multiple MECCA award winner, as well as recipient of awards from Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle fringes.
CHARPO: How did your acting career begin?  

DARCY: I started when I was eight. I did a show at the Centaur because my dad (Maurice Podbrey) needed kids in a play and so a bunch of my friends and I took part. Some casting agents saw the show just by chance and wanted me to be in the movie, “The Hotel New Hampshire”. My brother got an actual part and I was a glorified extra. But that started me off and one day I was at school and another casting agent was looking for kids for this movie called, “The Peanut Butter Solution” and they just picked me based on my look, I think, to audition. I got the third lead: they didn’t know I had had any previous experience. They were doing a hunt across Canada. 

I did a few plays but mostly film until about CEGEP when I started getting more interested in theatre and then decided to apply and I got in to NTS (National Theatre School) in 1992. After graduating I took four years off to travel and ended up living in Europe, in London, and finally came back home to start directing. In 2003, I met Joseph Shragge (co-artistic and co-founder) and later Melanie St-Jacques and by 2006 we started Scapegoat Carnivale. In 2007, David Oppenheim and Andreas Apergis came on board and we became the company. Since graduating, I’ve also been teaching classes. I work with various organizations such as Blue Metropolis, Festival TransAmérique and NTS, while all the while promoting anglo-theatre in this city.  

Acting is the study of life and if you don’t live it, you don’t have much to pull from.  

CHARPO: When you were living in Europe, were there any anxious thoughts of, “I need to get back home, move to Toronto, and start auditioning now?”

DARCY: Ya, I consciously made the choice not to follow that path. I knew that wasn’t what I was looking for. I didn’t want to go and try to get in Stratford and Shaw: I’m not really great in those big institutions; I’m better off in smaller organizations. I knew that I wanted to create my own work.  Maybe since I got an early start, I knew earlier on what I wanted to do. I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning it.  I just wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to do that, but I just needed to take a break. I needed time away from it. Acting is the study of life and if you don’t live it, you don’t have much to pull from.  

So I first moved to Costa Rica for a while. I came back for a few months and then off to Ireland and London. Working in bars and cafés, doing regular jobs, which was what I needed.    
CHARPO:  Since both your parents were heavily involved with the theatre community here, (Mother is teacher, director Elsa Bolam) what was your relationship with them in and out of theatre? 

DARCY: They’ve been very supportive of me for my whole life. I’m sure they would have preferred that I had a more stable lifestyle. I was really determined from a young age not to take advantage of their reputation but to earn my own name (that’s not the only reason why I go by a different name but I do). I’ve worked quite diligently not to take those kinds of advantages. Now that I’ve gotten older and become more secure with my identity and work, I no longer fear the image of nepotism. I can happily work with them. My mom’s on my board and I’ve been working with my father: he’ll be in Othello. They have been giving me great advice on running a company, fundraising and all the crazy things that have to be done. And now that I’m older, I actually can listen to them.  

After four years, I thought, this isn’t what I want.

CHARPO: Why did you decide on Montreal?

DARCY: Personally, I have never been interested in Toronto as a city. It wasn’t a good match for me. Montreal had an energy that worked well. It made sense with the way I live. It’s also a cheap city.  So you can focus on your art. When I was in London, I had no time to do anything but work. After four years, I thought, this isn’t what I want. I came back so that I could afford to do my work and live.  And culturally, it’s fascinating. I also grew up with the struggle to keep anglo-theatre relevant. That struggle has shaped me.  

CHARPO:  What path are you trying to lay out for Scapegoat as a successful independent theatre company? 

DARCY:  Well, there aren’t that many theatre companies in this city that stick around. A lot of them leave once they get some success. Or they have to break apart when they can’t sustain themselves and so I think the way forward for us is to try to just make a living. There are only a few companies such as Porte Parole that have gone from the independent status and moved to the established state with operating funding and touring internationally. That is the path we want to follow: Montreal as our home base but touring both nationally and internationally. And to get our own space. The companies that have stuck around such as Imago, Black Theatre Workshop and Geordie  Productions that were the struggling little guys are now looked upon as the old guard who we look up to. 

I had a cold and made some…no forget it. It was disgusting.

CHARPO:  I’ve asked this before: What is your most embarrassing audition?   

DARCY: Oh god! NTS (National Theatre School) for sure. Final round. And I didn’t get in. I was so nervous I was just saying anything that came to my brain. And I said a few things that were kind of supposed to be jokes that came off as…well ok, sometimes my humour is blue when I’m nervous…I think I grossed out Perry Schneiderman. I had a cold and made some…no forget it. It was disgusting.  

Oh but there was one time when I was auditioning for a film, and I had to stay put and they were getting me to improv: they were telling me what’s in front of me and I just had to react. So they began to say, “you’re walking down a dark alleyway, and you see a taxi driver getting beat up, yell for help!” I kept saying, “help…help…help this poor man…help”, and they kept it going. “Help…this man…won’t someone do something…I think he’s a cab driver!” Oh god. That was pretty bad.

The more I look at it the more I fall in love.

CHARPO: Next up is Othello on the main stage at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. What is your relationship with Shakespeare?

DARCY: I am a fan. What else can I say? He’s the top of the heap. I have always been in awe of the multilayered nature of his work. The poetic and the functional, he’s got it all. And particularly of this play. The more I look at it the more I fall in love. I have been looking at Othello for over a year now: it’s tight and beautiful. We have had to edit it down to make it more palatable for modern audiences and it’s heartbreaking.  

Paul Flicker (Artistic Producer, Segal Centre) and I have wanted to work together for a while now and I think he suggested it and I thought, “why was I spending hours researching obscure plays? YES, let’s do it.”  

CHARPO: What do you hope to bring to this production since Stratford just wrapped up a very successful Othello?

DARCY:  I didn’t see Stratford’s version, I wasn’t sure if I should even go. You can be so influenced by your contemporaries. Chris Abraham (director of Stratford’s Othello) and I were at school at the same time and he’s a great director. It’s true that I have been watching a lot of the movie interpretations but I still see more of a distance between the films and an actual live production so I don’t feel I have been overtaken by other ideas.  

The general themes of the play are powerful and overwhelming, I don’t think I need to bring a 'take' on it at this point. At this point in my career, I am doing everything I can to capture the natural essence of the piece and let it breathe on its own. I am keeping it somewhat classical but I don’t want to see any men in tights. There is that touch without weighing everything down. There was a lot of decorating in that time with furniture, walls, fabrics and clothing so we have stripped that away. Physiologically is the most interesting aspect: the control, the manipulation, the passion, the release of unexpected emotions are fascinating and the way that Iago manipulations Othello into destroying himself. 

There is a lot in dealing with race and gender as well. In the end, the thing that draws me in, is seeing humans be absolutely human in their fullest realm. That’s what Shakespeare does. He gets the whole range into his pieces. And as long as humans exist, Shakespeare is going to be relevant.  

CHARPO: Are you directing this play with the Segal Centre audience in mind?

DARCY: I have worked in the studio before as a director and even as an audience member, I am aware of it. They are a specific audience; they have fostered a dedicated clientele. And they are not afraid to like what they like and not like what they don’t. There is a certain frankness that I appreciate. At the same time, I am going to try to give them a frank play, a frank look at these characters. I think the Segal Centre audience will appreciate that. 

The problem with other companies it that they rush into it and try to do too many shows at one time and then burn out.

CHARPO: What is your next project?

DARCY:  Blind, by Lindsey Wilson. We are part of the season at the MAI. It’s a play about a Canadian woman who goes to Tanzania to do social aid work for children who have albinism. There are a lot of human rights abuses there and these children are housed in a school for the blind. Everyone is shoved in all together. Lindsey went over there to do a month and a half research. This started when she and I developed a piece years ago at Concordia as hired actors. She took some article clippings that I brought in and just ran with it.   

CHARPO: Anything else you would like to add?  

DARCY: The first person to encourage Scapegoat Carnivale was Gaëtan Charlebois. Joe, Mel and I were at a café when we decided to put together our company and I bumped into Gaëtan sitting there. I told him we just started a new theatre company and he said, “well I’ll give you a piece of advice: Take it slow”. 

The problem with other companies it that they rush into it and try to do too many shows at one time and then burn out. I really took his advice to heart. We have been taking it slow and are climbing the mountain a little bit ever since. 

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