Friday, February 8, 2013

A Fly On The Wall, February 8, 2013

Budget Shmudget
by Jim Murchison 

I went to see Metamorphoses this week and was struck by how impossible it would be for most theatres in Canada to do. It needs a big space with a high ceiling and it is prohibitively expensive because of the engineering costs. I should say, it would be impossible to do this particular version. You could do the play without a gigantic wading pool and a big glass fronted deep pool in the same way that Orpheus can do Titanic without a million dollar hydraulic system.

I won't say that I liked Metamorphoses in spite of the effects because it was a big part of what appealed to me, but what I did like was that the effects weren't the whole point of the play. The cast immersed themselves in the pools and became part of the set and it made the whole experience organic, which is why I also liked that the actors played the music. It was a big budget production with a small budget ensemble feel.

Interestingly enough, this production gave me the opportunity to speak with Rosemary Dunsmore who I had worked with in the 80's in a modestly budgeted Equity Showcase production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She played Titania. I played Starveling. I was mentioning what a wonderful experience that had been for me and that it was nice to see her again, as she rarely plays in Ottawa. She burst out that Dream was one of her fondest memories, said it was incredible and that she has played in it twice since, including at Stratford but the best production was the one we did for no pay with a budget of next to nothing at the Harbourfront Theatre in Toronto. She also said that of all the productions she has been in or seen of the play there was only one other where the mechanicals were close to being as funny as our group of Quince, Bottom, Snout, Flute and Starveling.

Oddly enough, as close to two days before we opened she was telling her friends, "Don't come. We've got nothing." Some actors in interviews will often say that from day one they knew they had something special. I doubt it. Why make the journey if you already know, and where is the discovery?

Our director, Michele George had just come back from Africa and had been working with acclaimed director Peter Brook. She was and is a therapeutic voice teacher and had been working with jazz musicians and studying pygmy chanting with - you guessed it - pygmies. We also worked with clown master Dean Gilmour to find what was pathetic and vulnerable and funny in each of us. We didn't dress in traditional clown attire or wear red noses and we didn't try to look like pygmies. We just used what we learned and applied it.

We entered from all parts of the house surrounding the audience, playing different percussion instruments and doing vocalized saxophone jazz riffs in counterpoint with high and low end pygmy chanting. By the time we got to the front of the stage it was like we had hypnotized the audience. They were ours and we were theirs. It was already like a dream. And like a dream, no one saw it coming.


  1. Just a point of clarification, this version of Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman was conceived almost 15 years ago and has been performed at numerous educational institutions including both Ryerson and York Universities here in Toronto. I understand a department can afford to take a risk and underwrite a costly production (look at the size of these casts!) but don't let the water fool you into thinking there is only one way to stage that show or that there is a prohibitive budget attached.

    1. It's a point well taken. Although I was referring to this particular staging, my comment implied that this was a premiere. It would have been more accurate to say it has been staged on smaller budgets and will be again. I generally find that too much freedom on a budget actually can work against creative staging. You kind of Disneyfy it with effects. Great! Now I'm going to get sued by Disney. Thanks for the input Chris.
      Jim Murchison


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