by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Allyson McMackon directed all shows at Theatre Rusticle. Other recent credits include Movement Coach: Farther West (Soulpepper Theatre), If We Were Birds (Tarragon Theatre), Them & Us (Theatre Passe Muraille), Coyote Ugly (DVxT); Outside Eye: Enough Rope, Older & Reckless, Zata Omm Dance Projects, Blue Ceiling Dance Projects. Direction: The Stronger Variations (Theatre @ York), Trudeau Stories (Brooke Johnson/ Summerworks/TPM/Magnetic North/National Arts Centre/ Centaur and others). Ms McMackon has taught 4th year movement and devised theatre at York University since 2008; Movement Teacher at The Globe Theatre Conservatory (Regina), The Director’s Lab North (Tarragon) and on-going Rusticle Gyms. She has been twice nominated for the KM Hunter Artists Award, has received a Dora-Mavor Moore Award nomination for direction, and a Harold Award. She founded Theatre Rusticle in 1998 and the work has received nine Dora nominations, been presented at the Magnetic North (Ottawa/Vancouver) and SuperNova Theatre Festivals (Nova Scotia), and toured BC. She has an MFA in Theatre Performance from York University and has been working in the community since 1989.
CHARPO: The definitions of theatre are changing constantly. When I was an acting student we had movement classes and dance classes and never the twain shall meet. However, you're a movement based company - how does that differ from a dance company?
- what is the training you require of your performers, for instance?
- I notice the term "choreographer" is not on your website. Is that part of the difference between the two?
McMACKON: Theatre Rusticle's work is driven by a theatrical narrative or engine if you prefer. We do not work within forms of dance (either ballet or contemporary dance), but elements are certainly integrated into the work. I am not a dancer, but was an actor who could pass for one because I had trained extensively in that world alongside my theatrical practice. But I was never interested in pure dance…I needed to speak, hear speech, hear breath and connect the work on a human or pedestrian level. We sometimes get associated with dance companies, but that is not the thrust of the work.
It's interesting because movement within a theatrical training context is considered to be dance. Institutions sometimes train that way and I feel it's actually wrong. I wasn't trained that way. "Movement" was for the actor to understand how their body moves, develop a relationship with it (and in doing so with an incredibly profound part of themselves), understand where impulses, actions and creative sources exist. At the end of the day it's all we have and everything stems from that physical source. The voice, the imagination, the ability to do stage fighting, and dance all come from that simple place of the performer in space, questioning, possibility and a connection to their breath, bones and flesh.
Theatre Rusticle works with actors, dancers and in some cases classical musicians. Each speak a very different language, but each one is physical at its core. The form the streams of action each take are different and we seek to celebrate the collision points and the harmony within those forms.
I think a choreographer sets work on dancers. There is a specific form in mind; vision and the work is bringing dancers into a room and setting the dance on them, perhaps with them. I think of my role as offering the point of departure for the collaborators and then helping to keep the car on the road…keep the direction solid. I usually have a very specific direction I want to go in, but I love being knocked off balance by all the artists I work with. Part of my direction too is about unearthing the artists…finding ways to have their creative selves find a real voice or presence. I can always tell my collaborators what to do, but the work is better and more satisfying for all involved if we all are confident enough to offer our choices and see how they fit together or not. I'm never looking for one style in the work or one form. I suppose I am always looking for what is true among us…asking how do we meet this source material? How do we show that?
I have lost people, been beaten around by life a bit and also had fantastic moments. So, life is richer.
CHARPO: You began developing Dinner at Seven-Thirty over a decade ago - how have the work and the company grown around each other?
McMACKON: It was one of our first pieces and we did it in 2001 with very little financial support or actual experience. So on a practical level, 12 years later, Theatre Rusticle has obviously grown in terms of its vision, support and process. We have learned along the way and developed a process that is tested and true for us. So..with that experience comes the possibility to have bigger design concepts, more confidence with textual choices etc.
Lucy Rupert and I are the only original members of the first production. Ron Kennell was involved in the very earliest inception (pre-Lucy), but then went to Stratford for nine years and so was not involved in the production. In this show Lucy is taking a different role than her original one.
The show has been sitting waiting for a chance to have another look. I've grown obviously. I am 12 years older and things have happened. I have lost people, been beaten around by life a bit and also had fantastic moments. So, life is richer. We/I go back to look at this piece with that in mind. We are all closer in age to the characters at the dinner. We know more things about them, we know more about our craft and what we want to say. Or that we have something to say.
CHARPO: Thanks to David Gilmour we now all know that Virginia Woolf is the only female writer of any importance - how have you treated her novel to render it theatrical?
McMACKON: Well, we also know that she is one of a bazillion female writers of importance. The Waves in my opinion is theatrical. It is written in a series of inner monologues set against descriptions of a rising and setting sun over the sea. So time and space are inherent in the structure of her world. The characters are finely drawn and she tells us a great deal about who they are and what their journeys are. The novel and Woolf's writing is often thought of as impenetrable, but she writes as we think with the everyday and the profound commingling all over the place. She draws our attention to that and from a literary point of view forged a new form to explore that. Kind of like what we do theatrically.
The novel has been distilled down to its bare essentials and to what has been profound for us. The image of one final reunion dinner. Characters that are defined as types or archetypes rather than with formal names. Bernard becomes The Late Man, Rhoda becomes The Woman with Stones in her Pocket. We do not follow the narrative of the novel but rather have used it as a road map to explore the relationships between these characters through the lens of this dinner. So there are multiple time shifts, memories, reveries…as they share bread and soup.
The focus is also on that collision point between language and the physical. So, language from the novel has been fragmented and used by the artists in ways they need to to communicate their tales. We are looking at the seed of the novel or really using it as a theatrical springboard rather than trying to 'do the novel'. Ours is a different piece…about a simple dinner, about memory, about loneliness and desire. All of the larger themes Woolf attacks are held within our work, but we have been a little more narrow.
physical or movement theatre, 'devised theatre' is very de rigeur at the moment
CHARPO: Are other companies doing the kind of work you are doing - and if so what sets you apart or what is the commonality?
McMACKON: Well physical or movement theatre, 'devised theatre' is very de rigeur at the moment. There are companies who integrate a lot more technology or work as collectives. I think what sets us apart is our process (Viewpoints, and Suzuki are the very current ways people get into the work…ours was originally inspired by Grotowski based work but has since evolved into our own process). Our work focuses on the human and emotional responses from and with the audience. Ours is not didactic theatre or political. Ours is personal and hopefully universal. We have a core that has been together since 1998 and new artists come and go. We have a fluidity of language that is common in all our work and we all believe in our dreams and realities, in bringing the inner out within the held moments within a theatre.
CHARPO: I tend to believe that what speaks to people in song and movement/dance is that there is something quite basic in each of us - a rhythm if you will - that leads us to hum to a song or move about the house with grace we don't know we have even when we're vacuuming. Is it this you are reaching with this fusion of theatre/word/movement or have you parsed the attraction to your work in another way?
McMACKON: Perhaps. I hadn't thought about that. It goes back to the misconceptions about movement and dance and singing. We all move, hum, have a heartbeat rhythm, inner songs and dialogues.
CHARPO: Finally, what in this piece has prompted you to keep it alive and to bring it back?
McMACKON: Our last show in 2011, Peter and the Wolf was massive. 18 performers including a chamber orchestra. I wanted to do something smaller and I also feel very strongly about the need to revisit work, otherwise the work is created and then sits and dies. I am lucky this year to be able to reinvestigate this show at the same time that I am reinvestigating The Stronger Variations with students at York University. It pushes me as an artist and helps me look at the work in general with new and fresh eyes.
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