Second in a series of blog posts by Apprentice Artistic Director Camilla Fitzgibbon as part of the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s DemART-Mtl program
There is a raw, unprocessed quality to a theatrical creation in the works that is perhaps even more artistically nourishing than the final packaged product itself.
Sitting in on the most recent workshop for Thy Woman’s Weeds, I am, in my largely observational role, struck afresh by the wonders and intricacies of theatremaking – a most subtle alchemy of aesthetic sensibility, acute intellect, physical stamina, and emotional availability.
The workshop phase of development is a particularly vulnerable exposure for the playwright, whose tissues of text are momentarily stretched, twisted, and torn for successive treatment, regeneration, and strengthening.
Erin Shields’ nearly finalized script for her new play, which makes its fully staged premiere at the Centaur this May, serves as the launching point for a four-day intensive of collective creative exploration as writer, dramaturge, directors, designers, and actors converge in one room (in this given instance, Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal, who provides development support to the Tableau D’Hôte/Repercussion co-production). Play is indeed the order of the work day for our assembly of artists, who are now charged with collaboratively bringing the composition to its feet to give audiovisual shape to the textual components. Behind closed doors is free experimentation and open dialogue as we proceed to absorb the language and movement of the piece through all of its evolving iterations.
An examination of what it means to be a woman working with Shakespeare in this day and age, Thy Woman’s Weeds – and this particular workshop lab – can be largely framed by the encompassing question of “what’s missing in the Bard’s repertoire for women?” What are the contemporary female realities, narratives, and voices that are absent from his canon of classics? What challenges and constrictions do his works impose on female and female-identifying artists? What expressions have we been denied that we can now unleash through this platform? It is to that critical probing that the artists here respond with magnificent investigation.
It’s interesting the questions that arise in discussion. Oftentimes there are not immediate solutions and much is still left unanswered. The mind of a humble creator in their element but on uncharted territory is a spectacular curiosity.
Time is never a luxury in crafting theatre, but here we breathe a little. Trial, error, adjustment, and repetition are the tenets of the cycle of progression.
In my recurring reflections, I grapple with my own conflicted relationship with Shakespeare. I am enamoured by the language and all its witticisms. His dramatized insight on the human condition is something of note. But I cannot shun my frustrations towards the lack of substantial female roles, the largely male-driven plots, and the tired narrow depictions of women as either simplistic lovers, schemers, or “possessions” in the canon. Where are the mothers? The scholars? A product of his times, I know, but which then raises the controversial argument of why we continue to drill Shakespeare in theatre schools and produce these works across major world stages. I sit in the middle grey area on this spectrum of debate.
After impassioned talk, the workshop turns to the kinesthetic for potential answers. The verbal heavily informs and inspires the physical and vice-versa in Thy Woman’s Weeds, and at this phase we’re moving towards visceral reactions and an embodied expression of key words, ideas, phrases, and themes. Complete spontaneity, honesty, and presence are asked of the ensemble of seven performers; they become co-authors and architects of the piece through their acting choices. From the abstracted gestures of Viewpoints exercises, inspired glints of story and character organically begin to emerge. The sudden clarification of a moment in storytelling is a celebrated discovery for the team.
At the end of immersive week of toying with text, space, sound, action (and even bits of costume), a common movement vocabulary manifests itself. Scenes stand on their skeletons. We feel the pulse of the chorus – the unified voice of all women who have, through their course of their personal and professional journeys, been reduced, confined, rejected – and now, empowered.
What sits most vividly with me after this exploratory period is the memory of just being in that room with these extraordinary women and sharing such lived experiences, but in a palpable spirit of healing. It is a cathartic moment.
I suppose May 2020 can take its time – I’m rather enjoying the patient uprising.