Sunday, December 7, 2014

Joel Ivany, Artistic Director of Against The Grain Theatre, on #UncleJohn

Uncle John is on his way to TO. 
by Joel Ivany, Artistic Director, Against the Grain Theatre

He wreaked utter havoc in the picturesque landscape of the Rocky Mountains, and now he's taking his game to the big city.  

It's been quite an experience taking this libretto, arrangement and production of #UncleJohn from a workshop setting at The Banff Centre to AtG's home setting for its première in Toronto. In Banff, we were able to play, practice and hone our technique with some of North America's best voice, acting and music instructors. Exploration and dramaturgy made our unique product even better, and being supported by The Banff Centre and the Canadian Opera Company ensured a high quality production. I believe wholeheartedly that had we not been able to workshop this piece in Banff, we wouldn't be able to achieve what we will do in Toronto.

So, how will it be different? What will be the same? What did we learn in Banff to set up our Toronto production?  

A constant reminder when producing English opera is the need for clarity of text. When you don't use supertitles it’s imperative to emphasize diction, spit out consonants and at times gesture along with text in order for audiences to understanding the storytelling. I’m still blown away when I hear Mozart’s operas in English. It remains a novel concept, but works so well. Context, double meanings and puns take on a whole new significance and my adventures in translation have revealed how much there is to work with in Italian and German operas.  

For our Toronto production, we've continued this social media push.

One lesson learned from our time in Banff is the playground that can exist outside the actual production itself. When we produced Figaro's Wedding in Toronto, we really started to learn how to engage our audience outside of actual performance. We could prepare our story months in advance by initiating a social media campaign through Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. These platforms offer a compelling way to offer a glimpse into the progress and development of a production. What we initiated with our Figaro and what I personally enjoyed quite a bit was the interactions that we created with the characters themselves. On Youtube, for example, you saw Figaro propose to Susanna and you met Alberto talking about his wife Rosina. We had so much fun with it that we decided to continue this creative exploration with our characters in #UncleJohn. This past summer, The Banff Centre team was more than ready to play, and we ended up giving our singers a different and added experience by placing them in front of the camera as well as on stage. For those who followed along online, they were able to meet the cast, meet the characters and participate in the discovery of this new telling of Don Giovanni.  For our Toronto production, we've continued this social media push. The way we engage with each other is changing and evolving daily, which was one of the main reasons for including a hashtag in our opera's title. It's how we live, interact and engage.

For Toronto, we’ve also decided to take it indoors. We had a gorgeous, postcard-like outdoor setting in Banff…we were spoiled! The sunset and our lighting designer Jason Hand offered natural light at the top of show, and then we ended in darkness with the stars overtop. As well, our capacity at the Cave and Basin sat around 225. For our Toronto production, we have gone indoors at The Black Box Theatre in The Great Hall, and there’s no sunset to light our set. This venue is a two-tiered space with a capacity for our production at 130. It is more intimate, in your face and acoustically vibrant. It is the former home of the Theatre Centre, and I was determined to find the right project when I first saw this space a few years ago during SummerWorks. I’m intent on channelling the amount of creativity, theatre and artistry which existed in this space over the many, many years.

We’ll be working with the Cecilia String Quartet for the first time

As always, Against the Grain is committed to presenting the best talent we can to our audiences. The best meals require the best ingredients, and we believe the same when it comes to casting. Our cast is experienced, generous and incredibly talented. They have committed to the intention, story and situations which these old and yet new characters find themselves in. Although our orchestra is not huge, it is made up of intensely gifted musicians. We’ll be working with the Cecilia String Quartet for the first time and they will be led at the piano by our Guest Music Director Miloš Repický.  

Behind the scenes, we have some of the nicest theatre people you will ever meet.  Joanna and Caitlyn, our stage management team, have provided the perfect blend of levity and organization. I can’t say enough about our miracle worker production manager, Autumn and the design team of Patrick DuWors (set and costume design) and Jason Hand (LX). They understand AtG productions and bring their best to the table, even though the table may be broken and needing a lot of duct tape.

With only five performances from Dec. 11 to 19, we hope to see you there. It’s a great way to support local opera and a great way to give a brand new story life.  


December 11 - 19

Read also: Sable Chan on what indie opera is doing right; case study - #UncleJohn

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