Sunday, December 2, 2012

First-Person: Matthew Gorman on Cart/Horse

Matthew Gorman in Rum and Vodka

Actor, Audience, Story is the tag line we’ve chosen to define our mandate.
by Matthew Gorman
(all photos by Scott Gorman)

We’re a very old fashioned theatre company made up of very old fashioned people. We have very simple tastes, and unfortunately, simple tastes are the hardest to satisfy. When you’ve had the best scotch in the world, it’s hard to get that flavour to leave your memory. As soon as you catch a hint of that smell your mouth waters as you remember not just the taste, but the experience of having that glass. You remember the people you were with, the coziness of the pub, the conversations. When I think of the best plays I’ve ever seen, I think of the whole night, I remember the atmosphere, the collective experience. I remember the story I was told, that feeling that comes from being invited into someone’s life for an evening.

This is what I wanted to create with Cart/Horse.

The plays we’ve chosen to produce have all been deceptively simple. A simple setting or premise. But there’s always much more going on once you enter the room. Like that cozy pub, once you’re inside you get to see the people around you for what they really are, with nothing hidden.

Actor, Audience, Story is the tag line we’ve chosen to define our mandate. Challenge the actor, trust them with difficult material and push them to invest in the work. Invite the audience in, talk to them, not at them. The audience is part of the company, not its customers. Tell a good story, don’t sugarcoat and don’t hide away from difficult truths.

With Alexis Taylor in Winners

The company name comes from how we started and how we’ve tended to operate up to this point. It speaks to the idea of committing before all the pieces have come together. We’ve been picking up momentum like a toddler first learning to walk. It’s not really walking yet, it’s more like falling forward and trying to stay on your feet as long as you can. The only way we can guarantee that we’ll follow through with our decisions is to make it impossible to go backwards. It’s a risky way to operate, that’s certain, but it’s garnered some really great results. As we grow and become more competent at the production side of creating the work, we have to promise ourselves that the artistic risk is always there. As soon as you’re comfortable with the work you’ve created, you’ve stopped making work that’s worth seeing.

Kyra Harper in Vincent River
We’ve received attention slowly and that will likely continue. We don’t have the resources of some other companies who’ve developed much faster, and that’s fine. Most of my favourite bands were on albums three and four before the radio caught on, if they ever actually got on the radio. Word of mouth spreads and quality does count for something. Selling tickets is a wonderful thing, and it relieves a lot of stress when sell outs happen. But once you decide you want to sell tickets and not put on plays, you’ve lost. There are many markers of success, it would be nice if they all resulted in rent being paid on time, but sadly, that’s not always the way.

I don’t know how long we’ll last. In the tougher times when money doesn’t look like it will ever appear and the house of cards that make up the company is wobbling more than usual, I often think about throwing it in. Not every theatre company has to last for fifty years. I think right now in Toronto we’re seeing what happens when companies are pushed forward after the initial impulse that gave them steam has left. That’s not to say we burn down every building that’s more than a couple years old, but it means we keep demanding that all the members of our community challenge themselves. There are precious few resources in this city, and we owe it to the audience not to waste them. (cont'd)

Gray Powell, Matthew Gorman and Anthony MacMahon in This Lime Tree Bower

All I do know is that there are things left that we as a company have not yet accomplished. There are still plays out there that I couldn’t forgive myself for not trying to bring to life. My main drive when choosing shows has always been to produce the kind of play I wanted to see. When I’ve been in the audience, what was it that made me sit on the edge of my seat, what was it that lingered in my head for days and months after. I will always remember the production of Michael Redhill’s Goodness that I saw in the Tarragon rehearsal hall before Volcano took it to Edinburgh. Simple, honest, painful. At the same time, I will always remember the Christmas panto I saw when I was five when Cinderella was actually alive, in the same room as me.

As long as we, as actors, directors, designers, carpenters, costume builders, writers, dancers, stage managers, musicians, painters and everyone else I’ve forgotten, stay home and wait for our show to be picked up, to be cast, to be asked, invited or offered, the work we should be making will never be made. The work I want to do is very rarely the work I am asked to do. While I will always be honoured to be cast by someone else, it doesn’t compare to the feeling I had before going on stage in one of Cart/Horse’s shows.

This Lime Tree Bower has been in my life for a number of years now. When you dedicate yourself to bringing something to the stage, it takes far more planning and pain than I think most people in our theatre community are aware. We have, in a way, adopted Conor McPherson as our company’s over the sea uncle and it’s a great privilege to bring these catalogue shows off the shelf. Getting into the room and fighting through the moments and stories he’s written with the kind of people we’ve been lucky enough to have on this show, and then to get to share that with an audience ready to listen and travel with you, makes all the unpleasantness of producing worthwhile.

This Lime Tree Bower runs from December 6-22 at The Berkeley Theatre Upstairs 

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