After presenting Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of the most well-known plays of the post-modern era, the Guild Theatre follows with the world premiere of Yukon writer Patti Flather’s play, The Soul Menders.
This play has no theatre history, no reputation, no guide and, for Chris McGregor, the director, it has no boundaries.
And that’s just perfect.
The Soul Menders, a joint Guild and Gwaandak Theatre production, is a play about three families trying to get through several challenges in their own lives, through issues that aren’t unfamiliar to most people.
“It’s a very realistic play. It’s also really charming … charming and quirky.”
McGregor, now living in Vancouver, has a masters in directing from UBC. His past experience includes directing touring children’s theatres, and next spring he’s directing at Studio 58.
But when faced with launching a play that no one’s ever seen before, McGregor recognized that the challenges can be daunting. “There’s no one to consult. You can’t go online and see other people’s ideas about how they put on this play.”
It’s a “big play”, McGregor admits. “Forty scenes. Some of those are very short.” With several different settings represented, McGregor admits this was the “hardest thing”.
In the end, he looked for a central, unifying metaphor and went for a non-realistic set rather than try to reflect multiple settings. “This gives the audience a chance to create the set with me.”
In some ways, The Soul Menders is still a collaborative work … still fluid. He relies on the actors, on the writer and on his own instincts. While it certainly provides McGregor with plenty of challenges, a world premiere also grants huge opportunities.
They’re the first actors, director and company that get to set the tone for this new play. They are first to decide how it is presented.
So for the first five days of rehearsal, McGregor sat down with the cast at the Guild, around a table, and he asked them (for every scene), “What does your character want?” He believes that having the actor’s conviction about what the character wants, before they block a scene, actually makes the scenes more natural.
Having Patti Flather, the writer, right there with them was helpful. “She’s been working with all of us, sometimes revisiting bits of the play as they go.” McGregor is a bridge between actors and writer. Sometimes the actors need to chat with Flather and sometimes Flather comes to him to talk about what she’s seeing.
He finds that the actors, though, can sometimes surprise everyone by finding the heart of a character – even before the writer or director. These discoveries come about through McGregor’s directing style.
“I never say no to an actor,” McGregor says. “There are no right or wrong choices; there are appropriate and inappropriate ones. And I let the actors discover the choices as they go, what feels right for the character.”
Actors try out all sorts of blocking choices during rehearsal, and the director and actor hone the best choices by production. “My job is to strengthen the action of the actors.”
In this way, McGregor allows The Soul Menders, for its World Premiere in Whitehorse, to find its best, first form.
The Soul Menders is at the Guild Theatre from Nov. 19 to Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at Whitehorse Motors.
Jerome Stueart has a BA in Theatre, writes fiction and enjoys seeing a good play.