On going small

Hello Internet, today is Monday, February 17, and I’m almost done reeling from rehearsing and remounting Original in St. John’s.


Original, 2018. Photo by Ashley Harding Photography

The biggest difference between the 2018 edition and this one – aside from the fact that I am producing it this time, with so much freaking love and appreciation for PerSIStence for doing so last time – is scale. Until PerSIStence came on board, I was expecting to produce it myself (which comes with a much smaller budget), so I had a hybrid theatre/storytelling aesthetic in mind. And then some brilliant designers chewed on the stories for a while and came up with something bigger. We gave Embla the role of storyteller and put her in a costume, in a place – a beach, specifically – and, as the story unfolded, she set up camp there. We built a frame for our stories. I built a fire, and a tent, and a clothesline. We made a setting for the story to happen in.

When we reunited, the plan was to shrink the design to something that would fit into a suitcase. Carry on a milkcrate to sit on, rather than finding a rock there. Embla could build the beach, along with her camp there. We put the costume back together. We knew that lighting was out, but I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve for very simple ideas that might augment an otherwise on/off design. We expected to still, for example: make and drink tea, hang laundry, sit, stand, lie on the ground.

That all went out of the window almost immediately. When Berni and Jaimie and I got together for the first time this month, I read the script for them (there are new pieces since 2018, because history isn’t fixed and feminism is an ever-changing landscape), and we just tossed it. We briefly considered a packable roll of burlap to indicate an outline of a beach (or a nest, as we used to call the inner circle of our set), but that didn’t stick either. On day 1 we built a pillar out of some milk crates that happened to be in the rehearsal room for the purpose of giving me something to put my script on so that I could use my hands, and I found myself interacting with it (mostly Eve enjoyed leaning on it). And Berni suggested that I just tell the stories. Very little blocking – but an invitation to interact with the space I am given.

In short, the alternative to going big was going very, very small. Storytelling amounts of small. Look the audience in the eyes amounts of small.

The characters are the same. The costume is also the same: the story it tells is of a woman who has been walking around the world for a long time, and that still fits the new show. The sound design remains – and is, as expected, the main design element now – and ties the setting of the various stories into the elemental nature of the women. The beach is still there, in the sound, but it’s less literal. We hear the water reach up onto the shore and pull back, drawing its fingers through the pebbles on the beach. We have wind, and fire, and sometimes we have the sound of people – because people are, after all, what the story is about. But the show hinges now on the connection that the performer makes with her audience, and there is something about that that feels… right.

Original goes on tour at the end of the month with 3 dates in the Ottawa area, followed by shows in Corner Brook and Clarenville. See here for details.

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