Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In a Word... Chelsea Haberlin on Killer Joe

Dark and In-Yer-Face
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Chelsea Haberlin is Co-Artistic Director of ITSAZOO Productions as well as a professional producer, director and dramaturge. Favourite ITSAZOO directing credits include The Flick (Presented by Blue Bridge), Mojo (for which she received a Jessie nomination for Outstanding Direction), Chairs: A Parable, Robin Hood, Grimm Tales and Death of a Clown. Other directing projects include Glendale (Co-op), Rhinoceros (UBC Masters Thesis project), Featuring Loretta & Criminal Genius (Vancouver Fringe Festival) and Faust is Dead (UBC). Assistant directing projects include My Turquoise Years (Arts Club Theatre), Elizabeth Rex (Bard on the Beach), The Idiot (PuSh Festival), Burnt By the Sun and London Assurance (United Players). Ms Haberlin  has an MFA in directing from UBC, a BFA with a specialization in Applied Theatre from UVic and is a graduate of the National Voice Intensive. She is the recipient of the Sydney J Risk award in directing and the Ray Michal award for outstanding body of work by an emerging director. She is currently Resident Producer with Neworld Theatre.

CHARPO:  We’re told Killer Joe is a grisly, pitch-black comedy. This is my cup of tea but I often ask myself - and am asking you - when does black comedy simply become an unpleasant night of theatre and how do you find that exquisite balance?

HABERLIN:  For me it's all about humour. We've always tackled heavy topics in our plays and the way we do that is through comedy. If we can keep you laughing you'll enjoy everything that comes at you. Killer Joe is hard hitting, dark and in-yer-face while at the same time being very funny. Tarantino films are really enjoyable and he's one of the greatest filmmakers of our time but if I described the plots to you it would be impossible to see where the humour could be found. It's found in the real human interactions that occur that we all relate to, in the clearly defined and exquisite characterizations and in the stuff that is so harsh that all you can do is laugh. That is the same with Killer Joe. It's a huge challenge but one I'm entirely up for. 

CHARPO:  Tell us about your relationship to the play - how did you come upon it and what made you say, “I can do this?”

HABERLIN:  ITSAZOO's Co-Artistic Director Sebastien Archibald originally brought this play to my attention. We're always looking for scripts with brilliant dialogue and comedy, that can be set in site-specific environments and that will provide a challenging and engaging experience for the audience. Killer Joe has all of this. When I first read the play I couldn't stop, I had to know what was going to come next. Each scene was more intriguing than the last. I loved the characters and could see the show so clearly. Plus I knew it would be a huge challenge to stage which is of great interest to me. If it's easy I'm not interested. 

CHARPO:  As to “doing it” - how do you prepare to approach a work before you even sit down for first reading?

HABERLIN: I've read the play many, many times in order to gain a clear understanding about where each of the characters are at the start of the play versus where they end  up at the end with the goal of identifying the turning points for them throughout. Since we're staging the show in a very small 60x12' trailer I am faced with a lot of blocking challenges that I have had to work through so that all of the action is clear and so that we can create a true 'fly on the wall' experience for the audience. I've spent a lot of time working with the designers on the world of the play and have worked with a fight director and a dialect coach to ensure that we're all on the same page and that the actors have the support they need to truly bring these characters to life.

CHARPO: Now, you are actually doing this “trailer-trash noir” in an ersatz trailer park! Tell us how you are going about it and the planning that went into that.

HABERLIN: I love site specific theatre and for me it is the future of the form. I often ask myself how theatre can be distinguished from film and for me the big difference is that with theatre the audience can be put inside the story in a way they can't in film.  ITSAZOO shows provide the audience with experiences that they live through rather than just watch. It was important to us that if we were going to have a show set in a trailer park that we actually have a trailer park. What better way to understand the characters than to actually be with them where they live. A massive amount of planning has gone into this to date and to be honest it's not all that interesting but I'll give you the Cole's notes. We had to find a vacant lot (super hard as the city was not at all helpful or supportive), secure a trailer that we could outfit as a mobile home, figure out how to get enough power on the lot to run the show, find sponsors to provide trailers to function as a green room and concession and it goes on and on. But it's all so worth it because the effect of being in a trailer park and drinking moonshine while you watch this show will be awesome

CHARPO: Your company’s motto is “thinking outside the cage” (which I love, by the way) and this leads to another question about transgressive theatre: how do you rattle cages and provoke artistically and keep from just being like the theatrical dilettantes we see in every Fringe festival.

HABERLIN: First of all, we've done a bunch of Fringe Festivals in both Vancouver and Victoria and many of our friends (Peter n' Chris, Sam Mullins) have had huge staying power as artists and have found great success nationally on the Fringe circuit so the Fringe is not inherently full of dilettantes.

Having said that, it's all about sticking to it. We're coming up to 10 years as a company and a lot of those years have been hard. We are now finding success but it wasn't always that way. We love what we do and believe that the theatre we make is unique and important for this community and because of that we've stuck with it. I'm stubborn and passionate and have always believed that making a living as a theatre artist was possible and I want to do it in a way that is exciting to me. There are lots of things that we could do that would be more commercially viable. We could produce musical theatre or do Shakespeare or stage classics, but that's not of interest to us. Working in theatre is a hard job but it's made worthwhile by doing plays you're passionate about and for us, at this point, that's site-specific hard-hitting, honest, in-yer-face shows. Not everyone loves this kind of stuff but if they do then we're a perfect fit. We have a large group of people who see everything we do and that group grows with each performance. I believe that if I love it someone else will too. So I make plays I think are awesome and provide people with an environment where they can hang out with friends, have drinks and watch a show that's going to push buttons and make them laugh. That keeps people coming back and keeps us producing. 

April 15 - May 4

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