Sunday, May 6, 2012

First-Person: Edward Roy on Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest

The Unspoken
Translating the darkness of the teen years to theatre
by Edward Roy

As I write this I’m deep in technical rehearsals for my new play, Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest, opening on May 9th at Young People’s Theatre. Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest follows the story of three young people dealing with mental illness and mood disorders. Although the subject matter of mental illness is an underlying issue in the play as a writer I felt it was extremely important to focus on the relationships between the characters and explore the challenges they face as teenagers dealing with each other, their desire for acceptance within their peer groups, and the “outside world”. As the story unfolds we watch how the young characters, under the guidance of their adult group facilitator, struggle to navigate their way through tough life choices and the consequences they face when they deny the realities of being a teenager dealing with mental illness.

...we are striving for a seamless marriage of lights, sound, video, and moving stage units...

Tech weeks can be an exhilarating and nail biting inducing experience depending on the level of technical and design elements that are incorporated into the storytelling and staging of each production. In the case of Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest we are striving for a seamless marriage of lights, sound, video, and moving stage units to transport the actors and audience from the intimate confines of a group therapy meeting room, various locations throughout downtown Toronto, a cavernous abandoned factory; and a psychotic episode of one of the character's experiences.
Since the main characters in the play are teenagers, the approach to the design of the production has been to conjure their world of music videos, iPhones, and fashion; a highly stylized visual reality. As a result the design vocabulary of the show is expressionistic rather than naturalistic. This approach evokes all of these locales imagistically, giving the audience an insight into the character’s emotional and psychological journeys throughout the play. This also put the onus on the actors to create a vivid and rooted stage reality through their acting rather than relying entirely on the “set” to conjure the locations their characters are situated in at any given time.  When all of these elements work in tandem it sparks the audience’s imagination and they become a part of the theatrical reality being created, and for me that is the magic of theatre and why we do it. 
Fortunately as director/writer I am working in collaboration with a team of truly gifted theatre artists that understand my creative process and have generously and courageously come on this journey with me.  I point out that they are all being courageous because as much as we have all prepared to put the various elements of the production together we are all on a journey of discovery, learning new things about the design elements as they come together, and as the actors interact with them. When I shortly return to the theatre we will resume the technical rehearsal and I’ll continue to bite my nails, scratch my head, and gape in wonder as the magic of theatre unfolds in front of me once again.

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