Breaking down the wall

I hadn't planned to attend the open rehearsal of Vigilante on Sunday, hosted by the Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association, but when I saw the event pop up on Facebook that morning, I couldn't resist.

(For the marketers reading this:  YES! Creating a Facebook event listing worked, at least with this customer)

I've known for years that the Catalyst Theatre process, at least while they are working shows here at Keyano Theatre, is to rehearse the show during the day and run it at night.  As I have never witnessed what happens during these 5-hour rehearsal calls, I saw yesterday as an opportunity to test my assumptions.  I also saw it as an opportunity to expose Dylan and Ben to the process, giving them both a small taste of what to expect when we start Les Mis rehearsals next week.

For the purposes of the rehearsal, stage manager John Raymond was positioned in the cross-aisle (Row H), at a temporary work station that normally gets removed at the conclusion of cue to cue.  But as we discovered, they do these daytime rehearsals with all the technology, and having the stage manager closer to the director makes the process more functional.  Time is precious, and Catalyst has developed a system to make sure that every minute in the theatre is used to best effect.

Before they dived into the rehearsal, Jonathan Christenson had the company introduce themselves and the roles they play.  He also gave lots of background about what makes Catalyst different from other companies.

"We create our shows for a five year life," he said.  "Most companies create something for a two or three week run in their home community and then it's all over.  We find opportunities to share our work in theatres in the UK, across Canada, Australia and the USA."

"It might surprise you to know that four weeks ago, these actors may have known they were doing Vigilante, but they didn't know what parts they were playing," he said.  "They hadn't even heard the music, which is very rare when you're doing musicals."

Thinking about the complex harmonies, the staggering number of lines and both the vocal and physical demands of the show, I was totally blown away that four weeks ago the ensemble was exposed to it all for the first time.

Introductions accomplished and context given, Jonathan dived into the work, working on the scene near the end of the play when Mikey Donnelly gets shot while his sister Jenny hides under the bed.  It was fascinating to watch him identify small adjustments that needed to be made to strengthen the telling of the story: moving a Shhh! finger, changing the direction of a reach, adjusting the timing of a lift.  What we got to watch were micro changes that incrementally improved the show, one moment, one scene at a time.

Lighting Technician Shawn Watson had commented last week how impressed he was with the ability of the ensemble to absorb the changes.  "They are incredible," he said.  "Their professionalism in being able to adapt and pick up the adjustments is a joy to watch." Sitting in rehearsal for a full hour on a Sunday afternoon, I now fully appreciate what he meant.

I get the sense that Jonathan gets to do, in this rehearsal/production process, what many directors who have worked with Keyano Theatre Company would love to do.  Working with volunteer community actors who either attend school or work at full-time jobs, we are limited to the six-week rehearsal period.  Once the show is on its feet, the director hands it over to the stage manager who ensures that the actors stay on task throughout the run of the show.  Adding a 5-hour rehearsal to a performance day would be an impossibility in our model.

Watching the Catalyst process, it makes me imagine how fun it would be to take a holiday during the run of the show and continue working it between performances.  I know my wife would hate it, as I would never be home, but it is when you have an almost-finished product that the most impactful changes can be made.  I can see Claude Giroux shaking his head in the affirmative reading this.

We witnessed one small scene near the end of Vigilante evolve to the next level during our 60 minutes in the theatre. They will continue working, adjusting, tightening as they prepare to close the first phase of this production on Saturday night.  It would be so interesting to see the difference from opening to closing, and ultimately, what gets presented down in Edmonton in 2015.

Thanks to Catalyst Theatre for pulling back the curtain, and allowing us to peek at the process.  It felt like a rare treat, to see how the magic gets even more magical.

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