Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday Feature: Interview with AD Christopher Moore on Persephone Productions and Spring Awakening

A Bright Awakening for Moore
by David Sklar

In July of 2013, Christopher Moore was asked to take over artistic direction of Persephone Productions. Senior contributor David Sklar spoke with him. 

Christopher Moore grew up in Montreal and attended CEGEP John Abbott's Professional Theatre Program, where he received The Pamela Montgomery Award upon graduation in 2005. Since then he has worked primarily as an actor, but also a director for several companies on and off the Island of Montreal. He first met Gabrielle Soskin in 2002 at John Abbott College and worked for Persephone Productions several times over the next decade. He is now thrilled and terrified to take on the position of Artistic Director to continue Gabrielle's work of providing exciting work opportunities for emerging artists within the Montreal theatre community. 

CHARPO:  How does it feel to be the artistic director of Persephone?  

MOORE:  It’s exciting. And nerve-wracking. I’ve been working towards this for the past two years with Gabrielle Soskin, now the former artistic director and founder of Persephone Productions. And she’s been mentoring me for the purpose of eventually taking over.

CHARPO: Where do you hope to see Persephone in the coming years?

MOORE:  My vision doesn’t stem very far from Ms Soskin’s, which is why she chose me. I do feel the company's mandate is worthwhile and I’m really just here to serve as director of the company, which is ultimately to give work opportunities to emerging artists. In terms of the direction of the company and the kinds of plays we might do, I certainly have my own taste apart from what may have been previously produced. I love the classics but also contemporary plays. I don’t really have anywhere that I wouldn’t want to go. So the Persephone of the past will still be here but I’ll be here to choose plays that speak to me or might speak to the younger generation, which is why we chose our first production to be Spring Awakening.  

CHARPO: How does Persephone differentiate itself from other theatre companies that strive for the same mandate but seem to disappear after a year or so?

MOORE:  Well, by virtue of having been here so long we haven’t disappeared and there are a lot of companies that close after a while.  While some others may strive to be similar not many are founded with the specific purpose of giving work opportunities to emerging artists in general.  Most that pop up want to work with their friends, which is completely fine. But an established artist, Gabrielle Soskin and three other graduates of John Abbott College established Persephone Productions.  And so that is another difference. It was spearheaded and anchored by someone with experience. 

If we don’t go bankrupt, I’ll do it for another year.

CHARPO:  Why is someone as young as yourself so eager to become an artistic director of a company?

MOORE:  I don’t know that I was so eager to become artistic director of any company at first. I toyed with the idea of just starting my own company and taking it from there. I was involved with Vanguard Productions that did a couple of plays. It was the same idea: friends that got together to produce their own work. 

I wouldn't say that I had the need but it just sort of ended up going in that direction. I began directing more, working with Persephone and taking on more responsibilities which made it the logical place to go. I had to weigh the decision, it didn’t come lightly. There were days where I thought I should and other days where I thought I shouldn’t. And I still have those days.  We’ll see how everything goes. If we don’t go bankrupt, I’ll do it for another year. One step at a time.

CHARPO: Your choices suggest that you are hoping to grab a new younger audience?

MOORE:  I think that is what everyone is doing right now. Everyone is trying to find and ground an audience and keep their base while looking for a new audience. This art form is only going to exist for as long as people are going to come. If no one shows up, it doesn’t exist anymore. I can sit in a rehearsal and rehearse and rehearse and then book an empty theatre and perform it to no one but that is not theatre. 

So we are all looking for new audiences while trying to keep our loyal base. And yes, there are certainly some plays that will draw not only younger audiences but also younger actors: plays that excite the actors will also excite the audience. 

It was also, I think, Ms Soskin’s idea to place this job in the hands of a younger person who was perhaps closer to this upcoming generation.  Even though I am 10 years older than the most recent graduates, I like to think that I still see into their world.  

CHARPO: You seem to have a real love of this art form. Where does it come from?

MOORE:  When I went to theatre school, it was on a whim. I thought I was going to be a movie star. But before the end of the three years, I realized how much that didn’t matter. I had fallen in love with an art that I didn’t know existed. I never went to plays before.  But the live poetry that exists on stage through body and word is so magical.  Any kind of physical performance whether it’s mime or dance or storytelling that has physicality just gets to me. These images and these profound ideas that we can express in such a short amount of time opened a new world to me.  So I’m interested in spatial and physical use.  The idea that even a formation of actors in a room can say something is outstanding. (cont'd)
CHARPO: Why Spring Awakening?  

MOORE:  Spring Awakening, the play, by Frank Wedekind and translated by Ted Huges was the first paid gig that I got right out of school. This was right around the time it was becoming a musical. So it was definitely on my radar.  I had listened to the songs and then watched an abridged school version of it and it blew me away.  I sat there completely engrossed with the story and watched this adaptation come alive right in front of me.  When it came time to decide what to do, I proposed it. And it’s a perfect fit for our mandate. It became obvious to me, that the graduates knew and loved this musical and the more I talked about the possibilities, the more I saw their excitement and decided to go for it.  

Our first musical was two years ago and it was a great chance for me, who doesn’t have a lot of experience working with musicals, to discover the process and how best to go about it.  So we learnt a lot and then put it towards something.  

And we have an amazing musical director in David Terriault. He is one of the best people I have ever worked with. He is generous and kind and knows what he is doing. That takes the weight off so I can come in with Ms Soskin, who is also co-directing, work on the scenes and put it all together.    

It also helps that pretty much the entire cast are Spring Awakening experts. They know what’s going on. Nobody’s lost.

So the story of a group of kids in 19th century Germany comes to life.  We see a rebellious youth as far as the authority is concerned.  He (Melchoir) was ahead of his time in his beliefs and going against the system.  In that time period in Germany, it was quite mechanical: do as you're told, don’t step out of line, be an upstanding citizen and just 'fit' into society.  And that is its core; the children are socially and sexually repressed. These kids don’t know how sex works, what it's for, and comments on the dangers of keeping sex education out of schools.  

the truth is sex education is being dropped from schools and dare I say, narrow-minded views toward sex are blossoming

CHARPO: Do you find there is a link then between that period and today?

MOORE: Absolutely. I like to think that we are more liberal and open-minded to discuss things today but the truth is sex education is being dropped from schools and dare I say, narrow-minded views toward sex are blossoming. And there are certain schools that have told us that they will not bring their students to this production for that very reason and it’s sad to see such a lack of sexual understanding.  

Rape cases have been rampant in the past year and the unfortunate ignorance, whether from the individuals who perform the act or the people that defend it, makes it clear how people don't recognize  the significance of the increased number of rapes.  

An example I bring up was about a teacher after the Steubenville case in the U.S., one of her students said, “ya but miss they may have to do juvenile time and not get into a good university or get a good job” and she replied with, “maybe that is because they are rapists and maybe you shouldn’t be a rapist!”  It opened the discussion to “what level does it constitute rape” and it became clear to her that no one understood the meaning of “no means no” and “until it’s a yes, it’s still a no.” We’ve missed a step in the education when people think those are appropriate actions.  

And in terms of connecting it to the show, things like this can happen when you don’t educate your kids. It’s not that people are stupid or bad, but there’s a fundamental lesson that is missing. No one has told them that this is wrong.

I know parents want to keep their children untainted. But doing that is risky because they will find out, they will experiment, many in healthy ways, some in not so safe ways. There is nothing wrong with sex and it just needs to be understood better. 

CHARPO: And throw in some music while you’re at it?

MOORE: It always helps.

CHARPO: Any advice Ms Soskin gave you when she handed over the reigns?

MOORE:  She’s been giving me advice for years now!  She basically said, “do what you think is best. There will be voices on your left and voices on your right telling you that it is should be this or that way. But you should always follow your heart”.  

Spring Awakening plays at Theatre Calixa-Lavallee from October 17th to the 27th.

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