Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Feature: Natalie Gershtein on Godspell (Montreal)

                                          (photo credit all photos: Eric Chad)

Two Beautiful Cities
by Natalie Gershtein

As I write this from my New York apartment in the Upper (extremely Upper) West Side, I am overwhelmed by the stronghold Montreal has on my heart. I moved to Montreal just over four years ago, and fell in love quite instantaneously. I know it was an emotional blow to my family in Toronto every time I called Montreal “home,” but that is exactly what it was. A youthful city, Montreal is constantly abuzz with the sound of driven and ambitious individuals bringing new ideas and initiatives to an already thriving cultural hub. In a city so vibrant and alive, who wouldn’t want to jump in and make noise?

Montreal has that special something, the “it” factor that makes it so remarkable. As a theatre artist, Montreal was the perfect place for me to grow and develop. The way I see it, Montreal has the look and feel of a large metropolis, yet maintains the intimacy that is only possible within smaller cities. I didn’t know it until I left the city, but I was blessed to be able to experience theatre the way I did in Montreal.  I was able to develop my own work through an institution that supported me (I owe a great deal to the support of the McGill theatre community), and could also take part in the larger Montreal theatre scene – from smaller groups like Teesri Duniya, to the larger theatre companies such as the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. After immersing myself in the Montreal theatre community for a few years, I reached a point where I yearned to collaborate with other artists I connected with in order to make our own contribution.


In October 2011, my partner, collaborator, and dear friend Calli Armstrong, approached me with an idea to create a safe space where we could explore through process-based theatre. From that idea, Beautiful City Theatre was born. A crucial part of BCT’s development came out of a desire to build community. What does that mean? We use the word “community” to talk about the relationships between artists and artists, as well as artists and audiences. We wanted our inaugural production to tackle both of these relationships, and thus the momentum for Godspell began.

We believe that Godspell embodies the essence of Beautiful City Theatre as it explores and celebrates life, play, and the building of community. A rock musical based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, the show is ultimately about a group of 13 people who come together and strive to do exactly what BCT aims to do: build a community. BCT’s specific interpretation of Godspell highlights themes of childhood and development, playing with the universal experiences and difficulties of growing up and learning to connect with others. The show addresses messages of caring and tolerance, approaching these themes in a way that is relatable to audiences regardless of religion or spiritual identity. 

Our rehearsals are extremely process-oriented. In an effort to build a community within our own company, the cast of Godspell spent the first month of the rehearsal process completing a series of clowning and ensemble-building workshops with Myrna Wyatt Selkirk (guest artist), and Calli Armstrong (Artistic Director of BCT and the director of Godspell). On a personal level, the amount of respect I have for both of these women is unquantifiable. I worked closely with both of them during my four-year stay in Montreal, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I am able to  continue collaborating with them, despite my                                         having moved to another country.                                      
In New York, I am undertaking a Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre Management and Producing at Columbia University. Living here for nearly four months now, I have experienced a world of theatre that is unlike anything else I have ever known.  The range of theatre is endless as new curtains rise and fall on Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and beyond. While I know it will take time for the streets of New York to feel as familiar to me as les rues that made up my home in Montreal, I am enamoured by the theatre-centred lifestyle that comes with living in New York City.

Producing Godspell and Beautiful City Theatre from New York has been quite an experience in and of itself. Of course, at times it is challenging to be in one city when my mind is in another – but the beauty of Skype and Gmail has made it all very possible. Truthfully, my ability to produce from afar has largely been due to the beautiful working relationship that I share with Calli Armstrong. We have been told that we are two halves of one brain.

In short, I am caught between two cities: the city I know and love and have called my home for several years, and the city with never-ending possibilities that I have just begun to explore. Both are beautiful. Both are magical. Both have a hold on my heart.

As the show approaches, I am getting increasingly excited to return to Montreal and reunite with the community that truly made me who I am today. I have many dreams and aspirations that have to do with creating a tie between my two beautiful cities. I am constantly applying the things I learn in New York to the way I practice and manage theatre in Montreal, and I am of the belief that while New York City has a lot, it doesn’t have it all… it could certainly do with adding a little Montreal pizzazz to its repertoire.

Beautiful City Theatre’s website:

Godspell will be performed at Centaur Theatre
January 24-26, and January 31 – February 2, 2013
7:30 pm

(Godspell can be found under "Incoming Shows")

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