Monday, January 28, 2013

The Question, January 28, 2013

Two cultures, two different senses of humour.
by Estelle Rosen

Harry Standjofski is an actor, playwright, musician and teacher based in Montreal who works in both English and French. Recent stage roles include Les Contes urbains 2012 at La Licorne (for which he also co-created and performed the music), Le Spa des Joyeux Divorcées  at Ste Adele, Don Quixote at the Centaur, Un Maison Face au Nord at Théâtre Jean Duceppe. In 2012 he directed Jean-Marc Dalpé’s August: an afternoon in the country for the Centaur and Patrice Desbien’s bilingual piece The Invisible man/L’Homme Invisible at the Monument Nationale as well as writing a new stage version of Pinocchio for Geordie productions. Recent big screen credits include the role of George Buchanan in the Quebecois cult film Un Capitalisme Sentimentale and Dr. Maury in Barney’s Version and he played the manic railway guard in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s upcoming The Collected Works of T.S. Spivet. For the past six seasons he has been directing, translating, writing some pieces for, acting in, as well as creating and performing the music for the Urban Tales a yearly collection of raunchy Christmas stories. His recently produced plays include two/three, Here & There (nominated for a Masque Award in 2005). He has been teaching acting at Concordia University since 1986.

CHARPO: In addition to actor, director, playwright, and musician, you perform in both French and English theatre in Montreal. Are there differences in preparation or approach when preparing for a role whether French or English theatre?

STANDJOFSKI: No actor I have ever met likes the "first reading" on the first day of rehearsal; as much as everyone says it's only to "hear the play with the cast" there is always some pressure to make sure that no one around the table asks "geez, why'd they hire him?" - especially if it's a comedy (we should all be laughing, right?).

The more one knows the rest of the cast the easier it is but often we are seated with strangers from out of town etc.

And of course it is much more difficult when the play is not in your first language.

I prepare twice as hard for that dreaded first day

I have performed in about 30 plays in French (as well as countless play readings, television episodes and film shoots) so it's not as if I am any kind of novice but the first reading is still twice as nerve-wracking for A French show, even if by now I have worked with most of the francophone community and the atmosphere is friendly.

So I prepare twice as hard for that dreaded first day, just wrapping my mouth around the words aloud.

Mercifully most of the French roles I have been given expect me to have the accent that I do have - I will never be cast as a "Tremblay" or anything - but even so I will have put in twice the time before the first sit-around-the-table reading.

Beyond that I approach the work the same way in both languages BUT I have performed in the same play in both English and French twice (both summer farces and a few years apart) as well as once doing the same play in rep/alternating shows in both English and French and I learned a tremendous amount (especially on the first farce).

"Dry" humour does not work well with francophone audiences, the same joke that one can deliver in a dead-pan in English for a great laugh will be met with stony silence on the French side; one really does have to "send it out there" a bit more for those audiences and conversely the kind of French verve can come off as too much for English audiences.

Two cultures, two different senses of humour.

Proud to be working in both.

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