Monday, September 2, 2013

The Question... Rebecca Currie on The Universal Language (Fringe: Atlantic)

The Eloquence of Gibberish
by Estelle Rosen

Rebecca Currie is a Cape Breton born Jill-of-all-trades, currently based in Halifax, NS.   She has worked with Lions Den Theatre and Vile Passéist Theatre as an actor, stage-manager, dancer and choreographer.  David Ives's The Universal Language is her first directing credit.  It will be presented with Ives's Babel's in Arms (directed  by Matt Downey) in the Atlantic Fringe Festival from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8  Universal Babble is produced by Lions Den Theatre.

CHARPO: Considering the first play you're directing is by David Ives who enjoys a well established reputation for one-act comedies and verbal dexterity, what challenges did this present?

CURRIE: Though David Ives's pieces each contain a number of factors that can make them slightly more difficult to present than those of a number of other playwrights, I was very eager to take on these challenges.  As a first-time director, a few friends did caution me against choosing to direct The Universal Language as it is an extremely difficult piece due to the fact that a large portion of the lines are spoken in the pseudo language Unamunda  which is - for the lack of a better word - gibberish.

I first became involved in theatre as a singer and dancer, there was something about the potential for exploring the musicality of the text and the rhythm of how people speak and move.  I treated the play like a silent comedy and though some of the actual Unamunda lines are quite funny, the challenge was being sure that the meanings of the Unamunda words were clear to the audience.  As the cast and crew were aware of what many of the words meant due to some nicely placed footnotes by Ives, it wasn't until one of our final rehearsals -- when we had some guests in the room -- that we felt we'd accomplished this.   

Colleen MacIsaac and Shawn Maggio are two tremendously fun performers who are particularly excellent when it comes to quirky roles.  Both are also appearing in Babel's in Arms -- the other half of the double bill.  I knew that Colleen and Shawn's talents would make it possible to present this non-existent language in a way that the audiences would both enjoy and understand. For the production of this play I reversed the gender roles. Colleen plays the teacher and Shawn plays the shy stuttering student. Colleen and Shawn are both well suited for these roles despite the genders having been swapped. A lot of the major challenges I could have faced, especially as a new director, were averted by choosing the right actors for the roles, even if that meant changing the genders.

Any piece of theatre holds its own challenges but I do believe that The Universal Language has its own uniqueness in that the very language of the play is so central to the theme, understanding and overall enjoyment of the play. As people are watching the show they are likely to agree with Dawn when he says, "You know, it’s strange how much I understand". 

The Universal Language is at the Atlantic Fringe

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