10 questions remixed: Unifying theories – Part II

1) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to performing magic?
Only the three rules: to dare, to know, and to will – and (I guess it’s four rules) to keep silent.


Bluemouth Inc. L-R Stephen O’Connell, Richard Windeyer, Lucy Simic, Sabrina Reeves.
2) Do you have any unifying theories about the performer-spectator relationship?
Definitely nothing unifying. The performer-spectator relationship is an aspect of our work which is in constant flux. Part Boal, part Grotowski, part spectator sport. We like it up close and intimate. Each location suggests new opportunities for exploring the dynamics between the viewer and participant. I believe the idea is to eventually remove the fourth wall from the equation entirely. Down with the passive viewer!

Chris Reynolds

3) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to art?
Safe is for suckers.

4) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to directing a play?
Don’t be late for rehearsal. Less is more.

5) Do you have any unifying theories about the artist-critic relationship?

The critic provides valuable feedback to the artist and guidance to the audience. However it is the artist who creates. As such, the critic works for, and is dependent upon, the artist and not the other way around.

I think it is tragic when artists define themselves by the comments (or lack thereof) of critics. It should be the artist who gets inside the heart and mind of the critic, and not the other way around.

6) Do you have any unifying theories about the artist-producer relationship?
Maybe not a unifying theory but a word of advice: if you find a good producer hang onto them as they are in serious short supply.

David Tompa (L) and Glen McDonald (R).

7) Do you have any unifying theories that have come out of your study of the Meisner Technique?
I’ve read a slew of books of actor’s talking about the craft and the only word or concept that appears without fail is “truth”. There are so many approaches to try to achieve truth; Meisner’s just one of them. Unifying theories or comprehensive “systems” are dangerous. No technique can achieve truth if it’s followed to the letter. They’ll give you a jump start or point you in a direction that is potentially good, but it’s such a complex, yet basic thing to achieve truth, that if you try to force a system on it, it’ll disappear.

8) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to stage management?
I’m more like a jack of all trades (sadly, master of none). It would be a lie to call myself a stage manager. I refuse to do most of that stuff. I think actors are way better at their own blocking notes and presets. Maybe I’m just lazy, but it works for us. Basically, I take care of what needs to be done.

9) Do you have any unifying theories that inform your approach to lighting design, generally?
I can think of some: Don’t be afraid to try new things, always take risks. Don’t try to to cut corners. Always do what’s good for the show, remember that your design is just one element in the big picture. Try to remain practical, don’t fall in love with your own work. Trust your instincts. Be very, very organized and do your homework.

I always try to light theatre like I light dance, I use very little front light, and as much side and back light as possible. Low side light (shin busters) and diagonal backs are my favorite lighting positions. I like bold choices with colour and patterns, while maintaining a certain subtlety. I try to do precise lighting so I use a lot of specials and usually have a lot of cues. Having said all that simplicity is a real key and very often less is more.

10) Do you have any unifying theories about the relationship between community and theatre?
Hhhmmm. Be playful, adaptable, and try not to be precious about the work (while at the same time never dumbing it down out of some idea that a mixed, non-theatrical audience can’t grasp subtle or difficult material). To try and create within a community, I think you need to let certain aspects of the work go, and realize that where you are will impinge on the process. And make that a positive thing – to welcome children and crazy people and bikers and dogs as interesting parts of the puzzle, rather than distractions (sometimes easier to preach than practice).

Not sure if that’s a unifying theory. The two things help and feed one another, and need lots of humour and silliness.

10 questions remixed: Unifying theories – Part I

1) Do you have any unifying theories about the artist-critic relationship?
They are both in league against the idiot public and every form of authority pope, president, CEO. They just don’t know it.

2) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to acting?
I think good stage-acting is more like good film-acting than people want to think, especially in smaller venues. Also, when you play a role I think you should use as much of yourself as possible, because you’ve had your whole life to work on the character and it’s probably going to be more interesting than a limp or a stutter. Unless you already do those things; then by all means, incorporate them.

3) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to comedy?
I also do sketch and improv so I have seen things that can work across those types of comedy too. Two things stand out for me:

1. Be specific with detail.
2. Surprise with the obvious response.

Detail makes a scene more real to people and gets their imagination involved. People’s imaginations are funnier than you are. A really good example of this was in the movie The Aristocrats. The movie is all about a single joke. When George Carlin tells it he sets the bar with funny because he gets into such detail that you can see, smell and taste what he is talking about even though you would rather not.

Using the obvious response works well in improv and clown as you are often put on the spot to react to something that you did not expect. If you respond with the most obvious thing that character would do it makes people laugh. Sometimes they laugh because they expected and wanted the character to do that and sometimes they laugh because they did not think of it themselves but in retrospect it was obvious that that’s what the character would actually do.

4) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to acting?
I don’t mind talking about or trying to theoretically analyze acting on my own time, but it’s way more efficient when you’re actually doing it. Amid a rehearsal process or when a film is in production, ‘theorizing’ as opposed to ‘doing’ will impede the project. In a theatre school, it’s dangerous for students to pay too much mind on theory of ‘how to act’ because when they finally get down to playing a role, their minds will be fixated on recollecting what Stanislavsky or Hagen said instead of practicing being alive in a moment. Acting is an emotional sport that needs to be practiced at all times and acknowledging your life experiences.

5) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to art?
It’s political whether you like it or not – either you choose to challenge the status quo or you support it.

6) You’ve written a lot about theatre, do you have any unifying theories that have risen to the top?
Right now, “curiosity” is a key word. As long as curiosity is there I think we have a chance. Also curiously doesn’t demand a specific style, which is good, since everyone making the same work would be very boring. Also a dedication to the “same time, same place” features of live performance – that we share time and space with our audience. This, in these times of mediation, seems remarkable and perhaps a trait we should focus on and articulate.

L-R: Dusan Dukic, Martin Julien and Dragana Varagic. Photo by Cylla Tiedemann.
Martin Julien

7) Do you have any unifying theories about performance?
No. The time of the great “isms” has passed. The great 20th century art movements. The only thing that unifies performance activities is political repression, and we don’t have enough of that in our soft society. Not overtly, anyway. It’s still about the actor and the audience in real time, I guess. New media and digital experimentation – well, we’ll see. Maybe we’re in the middle of a revolution. It’s hard to know when you’re in the middle of it.

8) Do you have any unifying theories about the role of formal education in shaping theatre artists?
The key word in that question, in my opinion, is “artists.” Most theatre educators, unfortunately, aren’t trying to create artists, they’re trying to create replacement parts for the current creaking theatre machine, which, as my answer to question #1 implies, is about as responsible as teaching kids how to do punchcard data entry as a means of getting a high-paying job.

Have you ever noticed that all the ads for theatre programs in American Theatre magazine brag about “training”? Training? Dogs are trained, not artists. But that should give you a clue that most theatre education is about obedience, not artistry. What’s my unifying theory? See the answer to question #3.

9) Do you have any unifying theories that inform your approach to directing theatre?
Always go into rehearsal with lots of ideas and be prepared to throw them all in the trash within five minutes. Try not to work too directly towards the outcome that you desire, in fact don’t be afraid to work far off in a different direction, before slowly making your way back towards your original idea. Always be highly suspicious of something that comes very quickly and easily in rehearsal. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

10) Do you have any unifying theories when it comes to directing?
It’s good not to blow all your screaming at the beginning of rehearsals. That way you still have some fury left in the bank come dress/tech day.

In real life, though – just this: Listen. There are so many forms of creation that are strong due to a single artist’s voice or vision. Theatre ain’t one of them. When I direct, I look at my role as being a co-creator, an outside eye, and a facilitator.