Friday, February 24, 2012

Hunchback: Follow-Up

I love Catalyst Theatre. I am a huge fan of their work so I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. And, last night I had the amazing opportunity to be at the Opening Night performance of Hunchback.

The first time I experienced the magic of Catalyst Theatre was at Nevermore two years ago. Back then I didn’t know anything about Catalyst or their shows so I walked in a completely neutral party and left in wonderment. I was blown away by the production and didn’t hesitate to say so afterwards. It was my first time experiencing Catalyst, and although there can only ever be one first time, Hunchback did not disappoint. Not in the slightest.

I did, however, get to experience my friends first time at a Catalyst production and that, in and of itself, was a gift. I have been raving and talking about Catalyst for two years so my friend has heard it all and was so excited to be seeing Hunchback. But, how do you put into words everything you feel and see and experience at a Catalyst show? How do you do it justice? The answer is: you can’t. It has to be experienced to be appreciated in the same way. So, when the finale was complete, and we had leapt to our feet with applause, and my friend turned to look at me with tears in her eyes, a look of utter shock, awe and admiration, I knew exactly how she was feeling. Through my friend I got to experience my first time again and I got to watch as yet another person was taken away and transformed by their theatre experience. This is the power of the theatre. This is the power of Catalyst.

So, I am not going to sit here and write a detailed review of Hunchback. Instead I am going to give you my top 5 moments from the production and then I am going to ask you to go out and experience it for yourself. Trust me it will be worth it.

1. When Captain Phoebus comes riding in on his horse drawn carriage. This was the epic design moment of the first half.

2. The second epic design moment of the night came at the top of the second half. I walked into the theatre thinking how could it possibly get better than the Captain Phoebus moment? Oh it did. The second half started with a giant Judge puppet whose arms were maneuvered by the ensemble actors as Esmeralda was given her sentence.

3. And, every time I thought it couldn’t get any better, it just kept getting better. The moment Robert Markus (playing the role of Jehan du Maulin) stepped onto stage in the second half and the choral boys choir music started and then he whipped out this bone-chilling countertenor (ie. boy soprano voice) I nearly died. That was a moment of pure beauty.

4. Then the bells of Notre Dame – oh the bells! – float in from the rafters illuminated from within and the most heart wrenching scene between Quasimodo and Esmeralda takes place with startling simplicity.

5. And, finally, the finale. That song. My god, that song! There is a reason the lady in the stall next to me was still humming the tune in the bathroom after the show was over.

Then after the performance I had the amazing pleasure of finally getting to meet and chat with Bretta Gerecke (Production Designer) after chatting with her for almost an hour on the phone and I tell you she is just as lovely in person. Then, as an added bonus, I also got to meet and chat with the man himself, Jonathan Christenson (Director/Writer/Composer). As I was saying to my friend, as the reception was drawing to a close at 12:30am, I just want to dive into their brains and swim around in there for awhile. Because, how they come up with these ideas and productions is beyond me.

I go to these Catalyst shows and get swept up in the experience and have an amazing time. But, then when I sit back and actually think about it I realize he, Jonathan, writes all those beautiful music & lyrics and she, Bretta, does not only the costumes but also the set and the lighting and then - and then - they combine it so beautifully, along with the polished and masterful choreography, to create a show like Hunchback. I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s mind-boggling.



Catalyst Theatre’s Hunchback will play at the Vancouver Playhouse until March 10th. Get your tickets soon before they're gone. I mean it. You do not want to miss this show! I’ve already got my ticket (paid for with my own dollars and dimes) to see it again at the March 6th talkback evening. Maybe I will see you there.

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hunchback: Part III

Well, it is Saturday, February 18th, and the time has come for Hunchback to begin Previews tonight at the Vancouver Playhouse. How exciting is that?! And, so without further ado, the conclusion of my interview with Bretta Gerecke, Resident Designer for Catalyst Theatre and Production Designer for Hunchback.

S: Often you're designing for an entire production - Set, Costume & Lights for Catalyst - and then other places such as the Pacific Opera you're only doing Set & Costumes. Do you find the process different when you're designing for one - if you are just designing Set or Costume or Light - different than if you're designing for the whole?

B: Yeah, it is different. I think you sort of dream in a different way when you're doing all three. You are working as a unified whole, right?! So, you don't know on any given day what's going to come, you know?! Something that I thought was going to be a collar turned into a skirt. Something I thought was a skirt turned into a table. You know what I mean?! (laughs)

S: (laughs)

B: That sounds really flaky but it's all true. (laughs)

S: (laughs) No, it sounds completely true.

B: So things shift. Something we built as a set piece for Hunchback I actually thought was going to be a skirt. So you know, it just ended up that that sort of overlap happened. When [I'm working] on Enron - where I was doing Set & Costumes - I don't ever design a set without imagining it lit because that's how my brain works. I can't imagine it any other way. I see it lit and I am always fascinated by materials, translucence and transformation, right, so that's how my brain works.

Now, Kevin Lamotte (Lighting Designer for Enron at Theatre Calgary], lit it. I'm not telling him how to light it in any way but he's saying to me things like "So, is there anything I should know about how you thought this might all work or come together?" So he and I are able to collaborate. [I say] "I imagine this is possible or I imagine this was possible or I'm not sure how to get this glow happening but, you know?!". And then he sort of runs with that. And, the same is true for projections. The materials that were chosen for that set. For Enron. Were chosen specifically to be lit and projected on. So, it's not about me, in a singular way. It's about the team and those guys also don't hesitate to make offers or suggestions to me about what could happen on a set or costume front. I think that is personality, right?! It's just what you're open to because that's the way that team likes to work together. So, hopefully at the end of the day, I think the goal on all shows is for it to look pretty seamless like everyone was on the project and wanting to reach the same end result, right?!

S: Yes! So, a sort of related question but a little bit different. My blog that I write is geared towards younger emerging artists so if you had some advice for young designers - or you could go back and give young Bretta advice - what advice would you give them?

B: Oh my gosh.

S: (laughs)

B: Oh wow. (laughs). What advice would I give them?! Um...

S: Yeah, people that aspire to be costume designers or production designers or....?

B: I would say... Find the joy in what you do. I would say that it can be a very challenging, cut-throat, very harsh art form because you are being criticized publicly. All the time. I would say that that is anti-creative and counter-productive. And, to stay open to possibilities. To big, big dreams. Bravery. Fearlessness. And just being really okay with diving into unknown territory. Sort of leave any sort of fears behind about judgement. Because it will happen. That's the nature of this beast. And, with your integrity intact and your honesty and spirit of wanting it to be the best possible thing it can be, whatever your working on, you can keep from getting caught in the potential muck and mire. Does that make sense?!

S: Absolutely. That's great. Yeah.

B: I would say one more thing... I would say find the thing that drives you. That excites you about getting up and doing what you do every day. And, find out what that thing is that you bring. The unique thing that you bring that you love. Because I think we get all very caught up in, you know, having to make a living at this. Because it's mad.

S: (laughs)

B: (laughs) Like totally mad.

S: (laughs) Absolutely.

B: Like no one would ever choose such madness, right?! (laughs)

S: Yeah, exactly. (laughs). I agree very much. Absolutely.

B: (laughs) So find the thing that keeps you excited and inspired and drives you forward.

S: Yeah, yeah, Absolutely! So, I'll just bring it back to Hunchback since that's kind of why I'm chatting with you (laughs).

B: (laughing). It all applies.

S: (laughs) It does all apply. It's true. So, for people that are coming to see the show soon, how would you like the audience to leave the theatre feeling? How do want people to leave Hunchback feeling or having had experienced?

(The cast of Hunchback. Photo by Ian Jackson)

B: I want them to feel transported. To feel like they just went on a ride. They got on a ride and they went on a ride. (laughs). They went somewhere that wasn't driven by their brain. It was driven by their heart and gut and their soul, and they went on the ups and on the downs, and they came out the other end feeling excited, feeling moved, feeling something. That's what I want. I think that's what we all want, you know?!

S: Yes.

B: We want to be moved. We want to be taken somewhere. And, that's what we want for Hunchback.

S: I'm excited to see it!

B: Ahhhh! I'm excited for you to see it too!

S: Were there any big surprises that came that you didn't expect, through rehearsal or through the process, that came up that you were like "oh, that surprised me the way it turned out. Or I really like this one element but I didn't kind of expect it to happen?"

B: (laughs). You ask the most impossible questions. Excellent. It's a challenge.

S: (laughing). I'm sorry!

B: (laughing) No! It's great. That's the way it should be. That's a tricky thing to say because... Seriously, every single day is a surprise! (laughs)

I'm in a constant state of "Really?! Oh my god! Okay! Really?! That's where we're going" You know?! Seriously, I'm not in Edmonton right now and right up to this very second I'm still getting texts with pictures. I have an assistant working on a bunch of improvements on the show and she's sending me these images and I'm like "oh, thank god. Now that feels right. Now that feels like it's in the right zone".

If it was one big surprise I would say that in a visual world I'm sort of shocked...
One of the people I'm living with right now was watching a tv show called "Smash". Have you heard about this new tv series?

S: Yes, I have heard about it. I haven't seen it but I've heard of it.

B: Okay, so he was watching "Smash" and Dennis [Garnhum], the director [of Carmen at Pacific Opera], and I came home from rehearsal two nights ago walked in and saw two seconds of this tv show and then it went to commercial. And, the commercial was for Hunchback!

So on the tv were all these images of Hunchback and it startled me in a way that I can't even describe to you. It went from this New York audition - which is what was going on in "Smash" - to this crazy visual world of Hunchback. And, what surprised me was, that I'm so in that zone all the time I always think that what we do is kind of normal. Then when I see it butted up against something that's real. Like real people in an audition in New York. I'm like (laughs) what we do is stranger than I ever give it credit for.

(Molly Flood. Photo by Layla Hyde)

So, I don't know how to describe that but I think it is just the butting up of reality [against] this kind of dreamworld [of Hunchback]. I catch myself a little bit and I go "oh, wow, okay, yeah, now I get it, why people say it's not what they expected". Because it takes a minute to immerse yourself in that universe. Does that make sense?!

S: Yes, that when you're so involved in something and you do it so often that then to stand back and see it on tv butted up against something else you go "oh, right, yeah okay, I get that."

B: Yes, and its context right?! You're used to being in the zone and you don't see it as odd and then to see it contextually on tv that I just went "Wow, yeah, that makes statement" (laughs).

S: Yes, absolutely (laughs). Well, I don't have too many other questions. Is there anything else you wanted to say about Hunchback or your design process or anything before I let you go after taking almost an hour of your time (laughs)?

B: (laughs). I don't know. I don't think so. I think you've probably covered a great deal of it. More than many. (laughs).

S: Oh! Well...good I'm glad. (laughs).

B: It's great! It's lovely to talk to you. And, I hope that people come and enjoy.

And, there you have it folks. Bretta Gerecke. It was such a pleasure to be able to chat with her and I love what she had to say to young aspiring artists and designers: Find the joy.

Tickets and more information on Hunchback can be found on the Vancouver Playhouse website. It officially opens February 23rd and then will run until March 10th. Get your tickets now before they are gone!!

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hunchback: Part II

So we ended off last time with Bretta talking about how her and Jonathan decide which story they are going to tell next. And, I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger as she said she felt it was “the end of a trilogy of cautionary tales”. If you are anything like me you were asking yourself ‘So, what are you going to do next?’ but I didn’t ask that question (sorry guys!). Instead she went on to say:

B: Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe, Hunchback, Okay, yeah, a trilogy of cautionary tales (laughs). So, now what's next? What is the next thing that gets us fired up and inspired and wanting to go jogging down that terrifying road of the unknown?! We don't know but we do it, right?! (laughs). So that's how he and I work. We start right from the long list of what's next projects. Then once we figure out what we're doing. It's a little bit of a free-for-all. We share images, or thoughts, or movies, or dreams, or nightmares we've had, or whatever it is, and we bring them to the table and try to find the world that the story lives in. Because it's all about what world does this story inhabit. And, because we're inventing those worlds, we're using period references or architectural references or installation references but not… We call it a dream logic. You know how dreams are completely illogical and yet they make total sense?!

S: (laughs) Yes.

B: (laughs) Well, that's the sort of logic we apply. It’s the logic of dreams. We keep coming back to wanting to build a world of imaginative possibilities. So, if you were the kind of kid who was read stories - or told stories by your parents before you went to bed - it's that kind of wild, vivid, imaginative, pop off the page, fairytale landscape we are drawn to. So that's the next step. Trying to figure out the world.

(Scott Walters. Photo by Layla Hyde)


And, then there is a lot of drawing. A lot of composing. Jon writes the music before anything else. Music comes first to him. Images come first to me. But he's also a really image driven guy. There are very blurry lines. I always tease him that he could be the designer he just doesn't have the time (laughs). Which is true. He is a really visual creature so he's able to see things with very little to go on. Like he can imagine something just through a little thumbnail sktech or what have you. So we're pretty lucky in that we now have a short hand after years of doing this and of where we're going and how we might get there. So, there's a lot of back and forth.

Then, once we get into rehearsal, Jon and Laura are really the rehearsal team. Then they are building that vocabulary of visual movement. How the storytelling is going to work through the body and face. And, we work with a woman named Betty Moulton who does the same thing but just does that with voice. So, there is a team of us. And, Laura is fantastic because by the time they are in rehearsal I am often - I'm in and out of rehearsal because I'm building stuff in my office - which is just 10 feet away. So they'll grab me and say "'Kay, come watch something" and I'll watch and then we'll talk about what's possible or what that inspires. Most of Laura's breaks - bless her heart - she comes into my office and says "Okay, if Edgar is doing this with his back leg and this with his arm and his head is over here, how do you think we can make this work with his costume? What can he possibly be wearing that will work?” So, she's really great at doing this back and forth with me. Nothing ever arrives in rehearsal and it's like "oh well, obviously that's the thing". There's no "there's the hat" like there is no negotiation or discussion. It is more "Here's the starting place for the hat. Now let's see if we can make the hat work. And, if we can't make the hat work, what do we want to do with the hat to make it better?" You know?!

(C: Ava Jane Markus & Ron Pederson with the cast. Photo by Layla Hyde)

S: Yeah, yes.


B: So, it requires a certain amount of flexibility on the idea front. You need to have a really long, very patient, extended feeling about what you do because nothing is ever right. And, nothing is ever done. It's always an evolution. (laughs). Trust me.

S: (laughs) Yeah.

B: (laughs) We've become extremely good at letting go. It’s a highly trained skill of art.

S: (laughs) I can imagine, yeah. And, so in saying that, it's a very particular process for you guys and obviously very open. So do you find that when you work with other theatre companies or on other shows, it is very different? And, how do you do that? Is it easy for you to do that? And, do you like working both ways? Or, do you kind of bring your aesthetic with you and go this is how I work, do you know what I mean?!

B: I do. I think what I love about what I do is that there is a lot to be learned from every project. From example we just opened Enron at Theatre Calgary. Theatre Calgary - a big theatre - full of people with incredible skills and talents. So I'm able to work with - I did the Set & Costume design for that show - I'm able to work with people in wardrobe who have a whole range of skills that I do not have.

So, there are these Raptors in this show. They are Raptors that eat the debt. For Enron, right?! So they are these strange dinosaur characters that I drew. Then from what I drew I built a prototype in my office in Edmonton of how I would build it. Because that's all I know to do. I know how to do it the way I would build it so it's made out of painter's coveralls and then stuck to it is a bunch of foam core cut into pyramids that's placed on the costume and then those are covered in duct tape. (laughs). Because that is how I know how to do it. How I would do it.

So, I take this prototype to Theatre Calgary on the bus. (laughs).

S: (laughs)

B: (laughing) So glamourous.

S: (laughing) That is hilarious. That's awesome.

B: (laughs) So I take it on the bus. And, I show the director and he says "Cool. I totally get it. That makes sense to me. I just want to make sure they look tough, right?!" And, I'm like "Yep, I'm totally in". So I take them into wardrobe and the wardrobe guys then look at it and say "okay, great. What is it about this that is important." Because with the kind of style of theatre we're doing at Theatre Calgary they are not going to make them out of paper and tape because they actually know how to make them properly (laughs).

S: (laughs) Yes.

B: (laughing) You know what I'm saying?!

S: (laughing) Yeah, absolutely.

B: They take the essence. And, they say "okay, what's the essence of what's important with this?" And I say "well, okay, it has to look fierce. And it has to look mean. And they can't be funny, like Barney, purple dinosaurs. They have to be nasty Raptors. So I like that it's jagged and pointy and the tape makes it rugged and tough". So we talk about that and then they come up with methods of making that work within a wardrobe rather than a workshop which is essentially what I have. So, it's that kind of difference. I still bring what I bring but then it's built in a completely different way by people who have very different skills sets. Does that make sense?!

S: Yes, totally. They probably figure out how to... well exactly, they have an entire wardrobe team to figure out how to make it from fabric - or whatever other materials - to then make what you've brought.

B: Yeah. Now what's happened is that they're built [by the wardrobe team at Theatre Calgary] but they're built more like a soft fabric jumpsuit that then has a mask head and all these foam pyramid things that are covered with a different fabric. Then I did the finishing. The finish details are red tape. Literally. The question was "Are we going to paint this or...?" And I said "You know what?! I'm just going to tack this thing with red tape." (laughs).

S: (laughs)

B: (laughing) They said "Okay. You go to it." (laughs). So, that's kind of how we work as a team and make it happen.

S: And, for that kind of production: do you show up on the first day of rehearsal and have those designs already done in your mind and present them? Or is it still more of a collaborative process as you go through rehearsal?

B: No, I show up with a model. The set was already built prior to rehearsal starting so I show up with a model and talk through the designs in a pretty normal way. And, the costumes are all sketched - and I think it's a pretty common thing that they are drawn as they are intended – but then you actually meet these people and see them in real life. And, you see bodies, hair and faces and then you might make slightly different choices then you did on paper because they will work better for a particular actor or they will look better in combination with other actors. Do you know what I mean?! There's still an evolution on the wardrobe front but the basic idea is all on paper.

S: Yes! I'm just always curious to find out - I don't know how much was mentioned to you about me - but I'm a costume designer so I'm always very curious to find out what other people's processes are.

B: Ahhhhhhh, there ya go.

S: So, that's why I'm asking you all these questions.

B: Yes, for sure.

S: Because I know my process and how I'm used to working. And, I'm still quite young. I'm not by any means… So I'm always curious to see what other people's processes are and especially people like yourself who, you know, I really admire your work. So, yeah, it's just a curious thing to me. Because I find that too and, I think that's what I like - I don't do Set or Lighting design - but I like the collaborative process even once you get into rehearsal. So that you're seeing actors bodies and that something that might come up in rehearsal that you didn't think of prior can inspire a choice. I like to have that freedom. So, it's just interesting that that happens in your process - and elsewhere - as opposed to just what I'm doing or projects that I work on.

B: Yeah, yeah, No, I think it's really important. I think it's really important to stay open to the evolution that happens in rehearsal. It’s really important to listen to performers because they know all sorts of things that you don't know. You learn from them what their fears are, what their needs are, what their wishes are, and at the end of the day, what is critical is that they go on stage feeling absolutely fantastic. And, that doesn't mean that they look fantastic. Maybe that part is not about looking fantastic but that they the feel right. There is nothing more frustrating to me then people who close off options because they know better. I never know better. I bring what I bring. You bring what you bring. We come up with the best solution to the given problem but there is not a lot of room, for me, for being shut down or of one mind.

S: Or imposing something on somebody. If you come in and think this is the only and best idea and then imposing that on somebody that maybe has other ideas then there's no give and take. There's no meeting of minds. There's just...

B: That's right, that's right. Then it's not an organic art form. Then you could do it on your own, you know?! Certainly for me I need the input of everyone. I'm happy to make decisions. It's not about that. It's just that it will be better if we're open to keeping the ideas free flowing...

And, that's Part II. I think my favourite thing from this part of the interview is that she took her Raptor prototype on the bus with her to Theatre Calgary. I can just imagine the looks on the faces of the people riding that bus. Priceless!!

The final installment of my chat with Bretta will be up on the blog on Saturday (just in time for their first preview). We chatted for almost an hour last Thursday and when I transcribed it into Word it ended up being 15 pages long! And, I just felt that there was nothing extraneous in what she had to say.

Part III has some of her most inspiring words and thoughts that came during the part of the conversation when I asked her if she had any advice to give to young, aspiring designers and/or theatre artists. Plus we'll come back to more about Hunchback and the thing that surprised her most about the production.

So, stayed tuned...


~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hunchback: Part I

In 10 days a major theatrical event will be happening here in Vancouver. Catalyst Theatre will be Opening its production of Hunchback at the Vancouver Playhouse. Two years ago I had the great priviledge to experience Nevermore by Catalyst Theatre and to this day it is still, without a doubt, one of my top theatre experiences. Since the day Catalyst Theatre announced that their next project would be Hunchback I have been counting down the days until I could see it. I even contemplated flying to Edmonton to see the World Premiere at the Citadel but unfortunately I was working on a project of my own at the time. Then they announced they would be bringing the production to Vancouver and when the press release was delivered into my inbox I leapt at the chance to interview the woman behind the visual worlds created by Catalyst: Bretta Gerecke.

Bretta is the Resident Designer for Catalyst Theatre and has designed the Set, Costume and/or Lighting for a variety of theatre companies across Canada. She is the recipient of over twenty Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, Jessie Richardson and Betty Mitchell Awards and has been nominated twice for the Siminovitch Prize (Canada’s top theatre prize). She is a theatrical genius and I had the great honour of spending an hour chatting with her last Thursday over the phone.

Our conversation starts out rather awkwardly probably because I was slightly (okay, okay, a lot) nervous:

Overlapping: Hello?! How are you? (we both laugh).

S: I'm good. How are you?


B: I'm really well thank you.


S: It's nice to talk to you.


B: Awww, thanks! It's great to talk to you too.


S: And, so you're in Victoria right now.


B: I sure am.

S: Designing for Pacific Opera?


B: That's right. Yeah. We're doing a new production of Carmen.


S: Great! And, then are you coming to Vancouver to see the show here? Or, do you go back to Alberta?


B: No, I come to Vancouver the morning after we open here.
 

S: Kinda crazy for you, right?! Busy all the time.

B: That's okay. It's a good kind of busy. That's for sure.


S: Just quickly I wanted to ask do you have a time limit or anything? So, I make sure I get my questions in or...?


B: No, I think I'm good for the next little bit. You just do whatever you need to do.
S: Ok, great. That's perfect. I just didn't want to take up too much of your time.

B: No, no, that's ok.

And, that folks, is right off the bat, how nice of a person she is. She doesn’t know me from a hole-in-the wall and she’s willing to just sit on the phone and chat with me for who knows how long.

S: Okay, I guess then, where did the idea come to do Hunchback after you guys did Nevermore and Frankenstein? How did you and Jonathan [Christenson - writer, director and composer for Hunchback and Artistic Director of Catalyst Theatre] decide on this particular story?

B: Um, well, it's a story that I've always loved. It's a beautiful, romantic, and yet very harsh tale of the underdog, you know?! I mean it's been, of course, Disney-afied and turned into a pretty romantic fairytale. It's not really a fairytale. It doesn't end well. (laughs)


S: No, it doesn't. That's for sure.


B: The true story does not end well. Nor does ours. I just love the complexity of the characters and we talk a lot about the fact that in life no one is hero or villain. We are all combinations of those in whatever percentage of that happens to come out on any given day. And that is true for this tale. That no one is hero and no one is a villain. It's a beautifully written story of character.

Because my background is architecture I also love the passion that Hugo writes about Paris and about every sort of cornerstone of every building. He invests and he humanizes and gives personality to all the structures that existed for him in his downtown Paris experience. There is something about the combination of those two things. The human characters are so rich and full and complex and confusing and full of beauty as is the architecture of the time he writes about. And, how that was a dying art, you know?! How masons and stoneworkers and ironworkers were even then starting to become artists of the past. So, all of that sort of ties itself into a really beautifully woven story that we were fascinated by.


S: So, then is the architecture of that time then one of the inspirations that you used to then create this world for Hunchback? Or what was your inspiration?

B: Yeah, yeah, it is. He writes in such a visual poetic way that you can sort of imagine all of the windows and walls and shapes, interior and exterior, of all these structures he's talking about. So, that becomes the visual landscape, if that makes sense?! A landscape that I then take into the building of the designing of the show. Obviously Notre Dame plays a big part in inspiring how the set came to be but the same is true for the costumes. The costumes have a very architectural, structural feel to them as well. There is the occasional costume that walks past that actually looks a bit more like a building than a costume. (laughs). But, hopefully in a fun way.

(L to R: Ryan Reid, Loretta Bailey & Molly Flood. Photo by Layla Hyde)

S: Well that's one of the things that I really love about your designs and appreciate is that they are so unusual but in a really great way and still applicable to the story. And so I just wanted to ask too, often in Nevermore - and I didn't have a chance to see Frankenstein which I still regret because that was before Nevermore and I hadn't yet gleamed the awesomeness that is Catalyst Theatre…

B: Oh my goodness!! How nice is that?!

S: (laughs)… But I did see Nevermore - and from what I've read of Frankenstein you often use different materials in your designs in costume. What I would not normally describe as costume materials. How do you come up with that?! And what is your inspiration for that? And, what is being used in Hunchback that's kind of different and interesting and not your typical fabric, right?!

B: I think necessity is so much invention born, right?! (laughs) You start with the fact that you're trying to create really structural pieces like the costume themselves could be stand alone structural elements, right?! And, that is not an easy thing to do with fabric. (laughs).


S: (laughs) No.


B: And second of all, I don't sew. (laughs) So…


S: Yeah, I read that. And I was like "that's so crazy!"


B: (laughs) Yeah, I'm hopeless. I don't sew. But I build. I can make things with my hands. My fascination is with space and light and how to sculpt with space, light and time. So I end up using materials like sticks and cardboard and chicken wire and things that I can get my hands on easily and cheaply. That I can manipulate and play with and figure out how to do what it is we want to be doing. So much of it is for me is learning with my hands and in staying open to materials that you wouldn't normally think of. I get lots of inspiration from places like construction sites, right?! Because they are using industrial materials on a really large scale so you know that you'll be able to find those things relatively inexpensively because they are used in massive amounts. And often they have inherent structure, right?! So, how do you take something that you use in a building and use it on a small scale on a body, on a costume and also respond to what's happening in rehearsal in terms of movement and style and character building, right?!

So those things all sort of tend to work together. There is never anything imposed. I don't say "oh, well we have to do everything out of sticks because that's what feels right." (laughs). It really is a necessity of the mother of invention and you just keep experimenting until you find the right fit. Does that make sense to you?!


S: Yes, absolutely. That it is more of a process. That it comes from the story and from rehearsal and then you sort of see what works, I guess, and then keep going (laughs).


(Ryan Reid. Photo by Layla Hyde)

B: Absolutely, absolutely. You know like with Nevermore. We knew that we wanted characters to be able to disappear into the darkness and then appear. It's a very tricky thing to do something scary in the theatre, right?!

S: Yeah, yes.


B: It's very hard. It's very hard to make something scary because you don't have the point of view advantages that you have with film. So, we were trying to invent this world where everything was black enough that people could disappear and reappear just by using light, right?!


Well, it all went extremely well until we started lighting it and I was like "I can't see anything!" because we had been so good at making everything disappear. So that's how the masking tape came out and everything got outlined. Everything you see that's cream is all masking tape because it needed to pop. You still needed to see the form and to see the shape of a body, or a skirt, or a hat, or what have you, and finding the right balance between appearing and disappearing, I guess. It's just always being open and being in response mode is kind of how I work.


S: And that's interesting that that element of the design didn't come in until you saw the lights on the costumes, right?! And, that is one of my other questions. I was looking at a video clip of an interview that was done with you guys from the production at the Citadel and they were saying that you were coming into rehearsals and sketching and all that kind of stuff. So, you obviously don't show up at first rehearsal and present designs so do you present something? How does that evolve? Do you then go through rehearsal and work on designs or how does that all happen for you and with Catalyst?


B: It sort of depends on what our timeline is, like anything. Sometimes you need to know what the set is, for example, ahead of when you'd like to because that is a big build. I tend to do a million and one little thumbnail sketches and sometimes things stick and they make sense and they work and sometimes they don't.

So, for the first day of rehearsal of Hunchback - for the workshop - all I had were a bunch of thumbnail sketches, a bunch of ideas, and I just sort of talked through - trying to hit on every page one or two - just to try to get people caught up on the conversations that Jon and I had been having before they got there, you know?!

Like I try to put them in a world of scale and some notion of what might come.

Then I watched what was going on and of course listened to music, text and watched what Laura [Krewski – choreographer] was doing with movement and so on. And, then I started playing with wire and forming these arch pieces and just sort of sticking them into cardboard and looking at space. And, how that might help to define space, or redefine space, because it's quite an episodic show. So, literally a whole bunch of bent wire became this thing that Jon, and eventually Laura, and I played with to create these archways that are - some of them are 3-legged and some of them are 4-legged - that work to delineate space. Now, that got built at the Citadel prior to our actual second rehearsal process.

But then I had ideas about costume that I sketched in really loose line drawing fashion and some of those stuck and some of them didn't make any sense because the character went a different way. Or, in the case of the Captain - Captain Phoebus is one of the characters - and he has this giant headdress and these sort of giant hockey shoulder pad things that we glued a bunch of foam onto. So, that kind of thing comes from the way he was standing in rehearsal. That doesn't come from me necessarily. It's a read. I read what's going on on his body and kind of where the energy is going and come up with something that feels that might work. Then, you know, put it on him and if it makes him even bigger and better then you know you're going in the right direction. (laughs). Or if it gets in his way then you know you have to start again. (laughs).

So, it tends to work like that. It's a lot of give and take. Tons of feedback. And it's also about desire, right?! When [people] sign on they are basically saying they are open to and desirous of being in a process that is in evolution. Because it's hard. It's not an easy thing to be in a state of constant change.


S: Yeah, because most more traditional styles of working, are you know, designers show up and they present and then you rehearse and it's very sort of structured whereas I'm guessing that what you do has much more flow, and sort of, evolution in the process which is a non-traditional way of working for some people. But exciting at the same time!

B: Yeah, it is exciting and you have to sort of be on board that the best idea or the best solution could come from anywhere. It's not about you (laughs). You know what I mean?! (laughs)


S: (laughs) Absolutely, yeah.

B: And, that applies to all of us. It's not about us as individuals. It's about what we can create as a team of people who are all aiming for the same finish line.

S: All aiming to, you know, represent the story and tell the story in the best possible way, I guess.

B: Exactly, exactly. It could be the text that takes the lead. It could be that choreography takes the lead. It could be that music takes the lead. Or visuals take the lead. It all depends on what tells the story best in that moment.

S: And on that note, what's the relationship or how is it working between you and the director, Jonathan, or you and Laura, the choreographer? How does that all work? When you start what's the director-designer relationship? How do you guys work that?

B: I was out for a run with a friend of mine and on that run I was talking about how Jon and I are starting to talk about what is the next the story. So, Jon and I talk about the story before there is a story. We try to figure out what is the next story we want to tell. And, right now, it feels like the end of a trilogy of cautionary tales, right?! (laughs).


S: (laughs) Yes...


And, that is the end of Part I of my interview with Bretta! On Thursday stay tuned for Part 2 where she talks more about her collaborative process with Jonathan and Laura as well as takes us behind the scenes of the Canadian premiere of Enron at Theatre Calgary.

Until then...

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer