So Catriona, what is your fondest directing experience and why?
Directing Romeo and Juliet at the Telus Theatre at UBC in 2010. With a cast of 22 actors and a dream production team, this was the largest production I had ever worked on. As the thesis production for my MFA in Directing, R&J was an opportunity to experiment, push boundaries and play with approaches I was testing out, all in an atmosphere that was both supportive and challenging. The show was performed in the round (another first for me) and drew inspiration heavily from Bouffon - a physical approach to theatre where performers adopt elements of grotesque forms and interact with the audience. The concepts I wanted to try out were foreign to a lot of people and made some folks nervous during the planning stage. Personally, I found the idea of directing a show that is so well known, with so many clichés and connotations associated with it, to be extremely daunting – particularly given the number of people who rolled their eyes when I told them what show I was directing. However, everyone on the team was generous, brave and bold in a way that allowed me to honour such a timeless story while at the same time giving the production my own personal twist that, feedback tells me, was delightfully surprising to most audience goers. It’s a show that people still talk about when they meet me and it’s an absolute joy to see their eyes light up when they do.
And, how did you get into directing?
In the mid-1990’s I earned a BFA in Acting and set out to carve my path as an actor. Back then I was particularly drawn to two forms of theatre – physical and classical – and dreamed of the day when I could somehow combine the two. Somewhere along the way I ended up in Ottawa, where I continue to work a fair bit. When I first arrived there, during a Y2K-induced stint living in a camper van, I took up work with a Company of Fools – a troupe that creates physically-based adaptations of the plays of Shakespeare in the interest of making theatre accessible to all ages and income brackets (my dream come true!). Much of the work I did with The Fools early on was collectively devised. Initially shy about speaking up with my opinions as an actor, through this troupe I began to find my voice as a leader and creator – something very necessary when battling it out with a bunch of loud-mouthed clowns!
A few years later, in 2004, the Fools invited me to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for their “Torchlight Shakespeare” series – a program that tours 90-minute versions of Shakespearean plays with reduced casts around parks in the National Capital region during the summer. It’s an excellent program and a great way to expand audiences by bringing live theatre to suburban areas. This was my first foray into directing and it seemed a fairly safe transition into what at the time was an otherwise daunting task. I adapted the text myself and set out to direct 6 actors in all of the Midsummer’s roles with a very minimal set, simple costumes and a bit of physical comedy. I had no idea what I was doing – I’m pretty sure I just closed my eyes and randomly pointed to where people should go. When the show went up, I was pretty pleased with myself until the one review we had didn’t mention my direction at all and then later, at some point during the run, when a frienemy congratulated me on “such a valiant effort” – ouch! At the end of the summer, the show was the highest grossing production the Fools had ever had and overall the majority of people seemed pretty pleased. Despite that fact, I didn’t try to direct anything again until 2007… I guess the experience traumatized me!
How would describe your directing style?
Physical. Playful. Cheeky. Alive. I love a spectacle as long as a good story is involved. I first got into theatre because I loved musical theatre as a kid. As a grown-up, I have always been drawn to classical theatre and the circus. Elements of one, two or all three usually manage to make their way into my productions.
When it comes to rehearsals, I am thorough with my prep and am always ready to throw my pre-rehearsal work out the window in favour of actors’ offers. Actors are smart. I look at what they bring and then try to shape the sharpest, strongest, most specific choices possible. If they don’t know what to do, then I make suggestions based on what I know of the play, the actors’ own strengths, my instincts and personal preference. In addition, I think of the stage as the actors’ playground – I try to open up the actors’ imaginations and free them so that they can play within the structure of the story and ideally create an exciting, memorable theatrical experience.
The guys in the Bomb-itty cast love to joke that I am a hard ass. For the most part, it’s true - I walk a line between being supportive of what an actor is offering and then pushing them to take their work as far as possible, usually calling them out when they get lazy or safe. There is also a fair amount of fun and games in my rehearsal hall so I don’t think I’m all that strict (but don’t tell the actors that).
Also, coming from a physical theatre background, it is in my nature to love smooth transitions between scenes - they are always a key component to the shows I direct. I hate blackouts. I love magical moments when the stage transforms before the audience’s eyes.
Why did you decide to direct Bomb-itty and why should people come out to see the show?
Brian Cochrane and I initially met doing our MFA in Directing degrees at UBC. We became fast friends and almost immediately started talking about collaborating on a project. The question remained… which one? Given our backgrounds, we also wondered which of us would be the actor and who would be the director. I assumed Brian would be the one doing the directing until early last year when Brian brought up the possibility of acting in and producing The Bomb-itty of Errors. He told me that he wanted me to direct. I love Shakespeare – I’ve worked a lot with adapting his works over the years. I also love rap and hip-hop. I was sold.
(Catriona and Brian making funny faces)
If you had one piece of advice for young theatre artists aspiring to be directors what would you tell them?
Provided you are working with a good script, all the answers you’ll ever need are right there in the text. Let the words of the play open up your imagination and then trust your instincts. (p.s. Learn the difference between your “instincts” and your “ideas”)
Big thanks to Catriona for sharing with us. Official Opening Night is in two weeks!!