Presenting fearless theatre
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Stuart Fink has worked professionally as an actor and director in 3 provinces so far. Most recently he performed in productions of Self-Help by Norm Foster and the Wizard of Oz, with Kimberley Summer Theatre in Kimberley BC. He has been directing since 2010 when he directed, produced, and acted in Who's on First's production of Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon. Selected acting credits include Millet in Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire, Jack in the Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde, Juror #10 in 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Mr. Fink has a DEC in Theatre from John Abbott College and a BFA in Acting from the University of Alberta.
CHARPO: Before we get into the show or the company, tell our readers a little about yourself.
FINK: My name is Stuart Fink, and I’ve been focused on being a part of the professional theatre community my entire adult life. I was a relatively late starter to the theatre (having only been introduced to performing when I was 17) but since that time I’ve dedicated myself to nothing else (well... that and supporting the Habs).
I completed the professional acting program at John Abbott College in Montreal. Which gave me the backbone of knowledge to get accepted to the prestigious BFA Acting Program at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton.
The three years I spent there changed my life, both personally and artistically. It gave me the tools and the passion to want to create my own work, and make a real contribution to my community.
The biggest reason I think our company can succeed in (you’re right) a struggling economy is our mandate.
CHARPO: We're a national magazine, and the one aspect of your story that appealed to me, and will to our readers, is the aspect of starting a new company! It takes a lot of chutzpah in a depressed economy - what makes you think you can beat the odds? and what kind of allies do you have supporting you?
FINK: The biggest reason I think our company can succeed in (you’re right) a struggling economy is our mandate. I believe that we will be presenting plays that no other companies in Montreal are doing. I have an immense respect for the classics (from Shakespeare to Williams and Miller). But there are already many great companies in Montreal tackling those works. I felt what was missing was a lack of the 'now', of plays written in the last 10 years that really spoke in our common language, about issues that contemporary Canadians (and all Western civilization really) were facing. So that’s what we’ve decided to focus on: either brand new plays by playwrights we commission (in April we’ll be premiering a play by Montrealer Leah Jane Esau focusing on infanticide in Canada) or by up and coming playwrights who are just now making huge in-roads into the world-wide theatrical scene.
CHARPO: On your website your say your shows will be aimed at "young adults...plays will focus on the 'now'...provoke and shake up the status quo...plays will affect our souls, cause us to question what is morally right or wrong, and excavate what we...prefer to keep buried." That's a tall order and a lot of buzz words. How can you make this vision real?
FINK: I think it’s completely dependent on the plays that we choose. Last year, in our so-called Season 0, instead of attempting a full production we decided to host a monthly play-reading series; once a month I would choose a play that fit our mandate, cast it with professional actors who generously donated their time, and presented it to the public at the FreeStanding Room. Examples of plays we presented were Stone Cold Dead Serious by Adam Rapp, Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, The Ugly Man by Brad Fraser, and Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire (to name a few).
These plays (and their playwrights) all have a fearlessness to them. They are not gratuitous for gratuitous’ sake. But they all can be (at times) harsh, brutal and blunt critics of the world they live in. The key point is that their harshness is always rooted in a deeper truth, as if to say 'Yes this is disturbing. But you can't deny that it is happening in our world, because it is still very much grounded in our reality'.
On a personal note, I’m also very much drawn to plays that make me laugh while simultaneously exposing me to the oft-brutal nature of life. And all of these playwrights include tremendous amounts of humour in their work. Whether or not it can be deemed 'black' comedy or not, as an audience member I often find myself laughing hysterically, and then feeling slightly guilty about laughing. That’s the work I like. Because that work feels so much more realistic to my own life experiences; when things go so wrong that you can’t help but laugh at yourself. Otherwise you’ll just go nuts.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing an actor take a huge leap on a character choice.
CHARPO: Now tell us about your relationship with the play, the play itself, how you plan to approach the material, and especially how it fits into your mandate.
FINK: I was introduced to Stone Cold Dead Serious at the University of Alberta, when I was researching material to find new monologues for my audition repertoire. And what really struck me then (and now) was the pursuit of happiness that all the characters in the play undertake. Right near the end of the play the character Brittany tells her younger brother that she 'wants to be happy. And not not-sad. But happy'. That line made me really ask myself whether I was truly happy, or simply living in a state of neutral existence, where things could be better, sure, but they could be worse too. That impacted me profoundly, and continues to impact my day to day life.
Stone Cold Dead Serious is about the Jericho family, a lower income household from Chicago Illinois. When the play begins the family has suffered through a long string of bad luck. The father, Cliffe, a window-glazier, has injured his back at work. And because they don’t have the money for the operation to heal him, he’s left to lie on the couch all day, high on painkillers, oblivious to the world around him. The mother, Linda, a stay-at-home mom who’s been thrust into supporting the family, is doing double-shifts at a diner to keep the bills paid, and failing. The daughter, Shaylee, has left the household and is living on the streets, stealing and screwing and doing whatever she can to survive. And that leaves Wynne, the 16-year old son, with the responsibility to keep the rest of his family from descending further into hell. The play is truly about Wynne’s journey, and the lengths to which he will go to revive his family from the brink of despair. It is dark. It is difficult. And oftentimes it is hilarious.
My style of directing is heavily influenced by my training and experiences as an actor. I trust actors. I trust their instincts. And so in rehearsal I try and cultivate an environment where they are free to explore the text and make creative choices on their own. Nothing makes me happier than seeing an actor take a huge leap on a character choice. Whether the leap fails or succeeds, it gives me so much more to work with and guide. So I simply create the frame-work of the play (with generous guidance by our set and lighting designers, Zak Thriepland and Beecher Pinet), and then let the actors discover their relationships and the world in which their characters will struggle and succeed.
CHARPO: And the future...?
FINK: Funny you should ask that. Our second play of the season will be in April. Creating brand new Canadian work was very important to me, and so back in January I met Leah Jane Esau, a recent National Theatre School Playwriting graduate. We were in similar phases of our careers, and immediately connected on what we feel theatre should do for our community. As we discussed the different topics in Canadian news, we were both struck by how often we were reading about infanticide, of mothers who had killed their own children. Quebec has the highest rate of infanticide in Canada. Why?
So Esau was commissioned to write a play about this difficult, controversial topic. Throughout the last eight months she has been writing the play with the guidance of Emma Tibaldo and Lois Brown at Playwrights Workshop of Montreal (PWM). PWM will be hosting a professional workshop of the play in early October. I look forward to talking more about the project (currently titled Living Room. Dark) later on in the season.