Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Abominable Showman, October 2, 2011

Kellock’s cereal
Montreal director Amanda Kellock finally hits the big stage with Centaur world premiere of  Colleen Curran’s True Nature 
by Richard Burnett

I have Montreal theatre director Amanda Kellock on the phone – she’s on her way to work, walking to the Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal – and the way we blab at a hundred miles per hour, it feels like I’ve known Amanda for ages. 

That’s because about a decade ago my partner-in-crime Vince and I accidentally met and hung out with Amanda’s amazing mom Sharon on a now legendary trip to Cuba some 10 years ago. 

Bugs Burnett, Amanda and Vince finally meet at opening
night of Daniel MacIvor's play A Beautiful View
at the Centaur Theatre, in April 2011
To wit, one of the many crazy things that happened to Vince and I was lightning striking our Soviet-era Aleutian airliner during take-off in Havana, causing sparks to explode everywhere inside our power blacked-out passenger plane. Fortunately the pilot was able to stop the airliner on the runway.

But I digress.

Vacation friendships have a way of inevitably falling to the wayside. But not with Sharon. 

Then one day on Facebook I met and asked her daughter Amanda – a fab woman in her own right – how her mom was.

Then last April Amanda, Vince and I finally met up in person, at the opening night of playwright and director Daniel MacIvor's terrific play A Beautiful View, also at the Centaur Theatre. It really was a wonderful moment.

But this week at the Centaur I know will be even more special as Amanda directs the much-anticipated world premiere of True Nature, a comedy by award-winning Montreal playwright Colleen Curran, whose work has been staged around the world, and whose play Cake-Walk was even acquired by Whoopi Goldberg for Showtime TV.

And you know what? It’s fine! No pressure!

Amanda has directed before, notably 2009’s The Shape of A Girl for Geordie Productions, a Montreal anglo institution that’s been around since 1980, not to mention has also acted on the Centaur stage, in Urban Tales a couple of years ago.

“But this is my biggest directing job,” Amanda tells me. “And you know what? It’s fine! No pressure! I mean, directing is always stressful to a certain extent because people are waiting for your final decision. You’re the captain of the ship. But this is what I trained in and I feel really prepared. I have a really great team, which is the number one job of a director: To surround yourself with people who can do their job better than you can do it!”

But Amanda admits that every now and then she tells herself, “Oh my God, I really can’t mess this up!”

But the BFA Concordia grad and University of Ottawa MFA graduate knows exactly what she’s doing. Her mantra is, “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

No, I appreciate the offer you’re making [but] I’m stepping in – this is what the play needs.

“It’s about figuring out the place of the ego,” Amanda explains. “There are times in this process I’ve had to say [to a colleague], ‘No, I appreciate the offer you’re making [but] I’m stepping in – this is what the play needs.’ Because I’m serving a greater master which is the final product and the audience.”

One of Kellock’s heroes is the great Orson Welles whom she quotes on her Facebook page: 

“Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. “Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing.”

Amanda, now 33, tells me, “I love that quote because it’s so easy to become disheartened as an artist in this country and even in this city [Montreal] because of the amount of work and the variety of work [theatre professionals] must do just to be able to pay the rent. There are so many brilliant designers and directors who are working so hard just to make a living and it can all become so disheartening.”

There are moments when we both go, "Why are we doing this again?"

Which is why once a year Amanda and her life partner, Dean Patrick Fleming, Artistic Director of Geordie Productions, say "Fuck it" and get the hell out of the big city for a vacation. 

“There are moments when we both go, ‘Why are we doing this again?’ It’s not to glorify ourselves. We do it because it’s important. Theatre connects people. Orson Welles’ quote is like a pat on the head: ‘Yes, it’s difficult. Now shutup and go back to work.’ That’s what you do.”

Our conversation steers back to Amanda’s stunning mom Sharon, whom I liken to actor Kim Cattrall (currently starring in the critically-hailed Toronto remount of Noel Coward’s Private Lives).

“My mom has always been very supportive of my career,” Amanda says.

But Sharon is a mom, bless her. “She was very happy I got my masters degree,” Amanda says, “because that meant I could teach university!”

But Amanda gets it. “Dean’s eldest son is now 14, wants to be an actor and is going into acting, and we’re both like, ‘Don’t do it!’ So I do understand my mom. But she’s been so supportive, comes to all of my shows and keeps all of my [newspaper] clippings. That feels good.”


Amanda Kellock directs the world premiere of Colleen Curran’s much-anticipated new play True Nature, a romantic comedy about Anna (played by Leni Parker), a romantically challenged baby boomer, who is torn between the man she loves (Bruce Dinsmore) and her academic obsession with Mary Anning, the unsung hero of palaeontology who was swept under the rug of history.

Anna’s funny and unconventional friends (actors Mary Harvey, Felicia Shulman and the great and always very funny actor Michel Perron) are also at critical mid-life junctures. 

“I want audiences to have a good time, love the story, root for the characters, and come away knowing about somebody amazing they've never heard of before,” says playwright Colleen Curran, who was first introduced to Mary Anning as a little girl. 

True Nature runs at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre until November 6. 

Also, on October 27, PhD Candidate Emily Bamforth will talk about Canadian Palaeontology and fossil hunting in Saskatchewan at 7 p.m. before that evening’s 8 p.m. start of True Nature

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