Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Feature: Jessica Kostuck on Far Away (Bad Dress Productions, Toronto)

A not-so-distant dystopian future
by Jessica Kostuck

A graduate of McGill University’s English Drama and Theatre Program, Jessica Kostuck is Artistic Director of Bad Dress Productions. Previous credits include Third Floor (Assistant Director, Thousand Islands Playhouse), 21 Days (Director, 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival, Patron’s Pick Award), The Vagina Monologues (Director, V-Day McGill) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Director, Players’ Theatre). 

What thrills me about Far Away is that it’s not – so many aspects of the play can be traced back to one's own reality. From our set to our costumes to our original score, everything is very familiar, but slightly different. It’s that feeling when you walk into your apartment and wonder – was someone else just here? 

In Far Away, Joan’s world drastically changes when she witnesses a violent event. Years later, Joan gets a job as a hatmaker, and she and Todd unravel the threads of a political conspiracy. Joan realizes that everything in her life has been connected, has been leading up to her placement in this hat factory. As she gets more involved in the rebellion movement, Joan must examine if she’s the one in control of her destiny - if she’s the player or the pawn. 

Far Away is the story of a world war in the truest sense – everything in nature is fighting

The deer are with us as of three weeks ago, but before then they were on the side of the mosquitos and the Canadians. From a single blade of grass to entire nations, everything has taken a stance, and it’s not just axis and allies. I’ve got these mad charts all over my bedroom with notes on attacks, battles and enemies - if the government ever came knocking I’d be taken away under suspicion of something for sure.  

It’s such a chilling, interesting concept, the idea that everything, even the elements, has turned against us. The psychological horror is palpable and all-encompassing - if the wind is our enemy, how can we trust the air we breathe? Its cancerous, and mutually assured destruction isn’t enough to stop the action. 

Caryl Churchill is a director’s playwright

Part of the beauty of Churchill’s writing is that she doesn’t over-explain any aspect of the show, and I think that creative open door is what draws directors to her works – she’s a director’s dream playwright. A large part of our process for Far Away was world-building. We spent hours in discussion over details like, what programs are offered at university? What is the punishment for jay-walking? What is the monetary value of a human life?

I first fell in love with Far Away when we used sections of the script for a scene study in university. The quick and easy dialogue contrastingly laden with such deep implications fascinated me. It’s a privilege to be able to revisit the show with Bad Dress Productions, and to delve into the play as a whole. I love the incredible potential for each element to be the star of the show – elaborate hats, detailed set dressing, or our original score. 

Stop trying to make a musical happen – it’s not going to happen

So many of my previous creative projects have been musicals, and while Far Away is a straight play, I find there’s something incredibly lyrical about its ebb and flow, its movement through scenes. The more I got into the text, the more I realized that the structure of the play, from larger aspects like its themes, to minute details like the repetition of words, is very lyrical indeed. It’s been such a delight to collaborate once again with Mary Lougheed, with whom I had previously worked on 21 Days. She’s composed this beautiful original score to go with the show, and it’s added this wonderful layer to our production. It’s very à propos, I think, to be reaching out to the audience on an auditory level beyond dialogue. It’s an appeal to, and, occasionally, an assault on the senses. 

Bad Dress – good show!

It’s a terrifying and exhilarating time to be an indie theatre artist, and I couldn’t think of a better group of people than Bad Dress Productions with whom to tread this path. We’re all living these ridiculous double lives – by day, we’re administrative assistants, bank tellers and retail clerks, but by night we come together, come alive, to create art with unbelievable and undeniable passion.

Far Away has been weeks, months and years in the making. I’ve had these ideas floating in my head since I first picked up the script, and to see them realized on stage, it’s the most marvellous and rewarding experience. It’s my favourite part of being a director. Painters step back and see their imagination on canvas, bakers present their creation on a plate; as a director you breathe life into the images that have previously only existed in your fantasy, and you bring your vision into consciousness and being. 

Far Away runs from November 7-10 

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