Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Feature: Director Robert Tsonos on Mrs. Warren's Profession

The Supreme Court, GBS, The Lady and Perfection
by Robert Tsonos

Robert Tsonos has directed, or acted in, over 50 productions across Canada, Japan, England, Venezuela, and Hong Kong during his long career. He has been the Artistic Director of Sometimes Y Theatre for the past 15 years and was the resident director at the Canadian Embassy Theatre in Tokyo from 2003-2006. Robert Tsonos's directing credits include “Shakespeare’s Will” and “Old Times” at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, “Elisa’s Skin” for TEATRELA in Caracas, “The Goat” at the Hong Kong Fringe Club, “La Ronde” for Temple University Japan,  “Night, Mother” at The Etcetera Theatre in London and the Dancehall Theatre in Manchester;  “Vigil”, “The Drawer Boy”, and “For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again” at the Canadian Embassy Theatre; and “A Doll’s House” and “Proof” for Tokyo International Theatre. Mr Tsonos's theatre acting credits include  “Macbeth” (Shouson Theatre Hong Kong), “The Domino Heart” and “Problem Child” (Canadian Embassy Theatre, Tokyo), “True West” (Akasaka Playbox, Tokyo), “The Qualities of Zero”, “Ines de Castro”, “Total Body Washout”, and “Romeo & Rosaline” (Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space), “Othello” (Persephone Theatre), and “Three Days of Rain” (Sudbury Theatre Centre). As a playwright, Robert Tsonos recently completed a Playwright Residency at Globus Theatre; his newest play “It’s Time” recently won the Uprising National Playwright’s Award and was a finalist for The Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition; his play “The Hum” was produced in Hong Kong, received readings at NAAA in London, Dezart Performs in Palm Springs, CA; and was published by Level 4 Press in “Regional Best 2012”. His play “William & James” has been produced in Toronto (Theatre Passe Muraille), New York, Montreal and Ottawa with staged readings in Melbourne and Washington. 

I’ve wanted to direct “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” by George Bernard Shaw for many years now and was thrilled when Sterling Studio Theatre programmed it into their season and selected me to direct. I believe it to be Shaw’s most accessible play and one that remains extremely relevant today. 

The play was originally banned in England for its frank discussion, sympathetic views and defence of prostitution. Shaw said he wrote the play "to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together." Quite the statement in 1898.

There is no such thing as a perfect play, a perfect theatre space, a perfect set, or a perfect actor.

Just last month the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws after finding that their, “impact on the life and safety on vulnerable women was disproportionate to the public policy objective of controlling the sex trade”. For our upcoming production I plan to have one foot firmly entrenched in the past and another in the present. Mr. Shaw’s language is clearly of its age but I have decided to forego British accents and use the actor’s own Canadian ones. Our set and costumes are set in modern day with hints of an historical English past. I hope this mirroring of each time period will portray the political situation of Shaw’s day while enlightening how the plight of prostitutes and prostitution has changed very little over the ages.

Amongst this fascinating intellectual discussion is a very powerful, complicated, and dysfunctional relationship between a mother and daughter. I believe that the reason this play has endured is this complex, loving, angry, disconnected, long distant relationship between these two very different people. Their struggles to love each other, to forgive one another, and their attempt to build an adult relationship is heartbreaking to watch, frustrating to witness, and tragically portrayed. We root for both of them to try to find a way to connect with one another in a way they have never been able to in the past. 

I believe that the theatre is a place to see others express emotions that we are unable to in our own lives.

I believe the director’s job is to accentuate the strengths of a production and mitigate any weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect play, a perfect theatre space, a perfect set, or a perfect actor. All aspects of a production have their strong points as well as their challenges. Identifying these is crucial, learning how to capitalize on and nurture the strengths is paramount, and tempering any problems so they become unnoticeable to an audience are the signs of a good director.

I believe that the theatre is a place to see others express emotions that we are unable to in our own lives.  A release if you will. The childlike ability to express soaring emotions that are repressed in our daily lives, be it pure joy, or extreme anger, when expressed are cathartic to an audience. So, I always instruct my actors that being annoyed with someone on stage isn’t enough, we must be furious with them; liking a character is flat, we must passionately love them until our dying days; being happy isn’t as robust as pure unadulterated joy. These are the emotions the audience wants to see and the reason they return.

Feb. 19 - Mar. 1

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