Acclaimed Filmmaker Sets The Stage


Director Mort Ransen says he’s in a state of transition.

Although his life has been filled with acclaim when it comes to the silver screen, his focus has recently shifted back to his roots in theatre.

“I started in the theatre. And when I left, I thought I was leaving it for a year,” he says with a laugh.

“I had no idea that I would spend most of my life making films and I’ve always planned to go back.

“I’ve always thought of how delightful it is to work with a real audience instead of doing something and seeing an audience’s reaction years later.”

Over the past few years, Ransen has been drawn back to the stage. This month he’ll bring the comedy Born Yesterday to life for The Guild.

Born in Montréal, Ransen made a name for himself as a member of the writing and directing staff for the National Film Board of Canada. His extensive list of films received critical praise and international awards.

After his days with NFB, his most notable achievement followed with the 1995 film, Margaret’s Museum. Helena Bonham Carter was cast in the lead role and the drama won six Genie awards.

His impressive resumé is refreshingly coupled with his humble character, as he softly and passionately speaks about his experiences.

He explains that success on the big screen is translatable to the stage.

“In film, I got into the habit of casting the large roles with the biggest stars I could. But then I would cast real people in tiny roles to try to give the film a sense of reality,” he says.

“And so, I had to work very quickly with people who had no experience and get them to give a world-class performance. That’s turned out to be useful in a place like Whitehorse where there are a certain number of skilled actors, but there are other actors who are learning.”

To prepare himself for a return to live theatre, Ransen says he travelled to spots like London and New York to take in the best performances he could find.

“When you’re making a film, you work for years preparing something without having a sense at all about how people will react,” he explains.

“Even though you’re working with so many people, it’s a personal and private thing and it’s not the kind of dance that happens when you have real people there and you immediately see whether what you’re doing has any affect at all.”

Born Yesterday will be The Guild’s largest production this season. The tale of political corruption spliced with humour will be presented at the Yukon Arts Centre.

When discussing the play, Ransen describes it with slight hand gestures, while his voice indicates an enthusiasm in developing it for a Yukon audience.

He now lives in Saltspring Island, B.C. and this isn’t the first time theatrical direction has brought him north to the territory. Ransen previously worked with The Guild on the production, Problem Child. He attributes his return to the welcoming Yukon community.

He says Whitehorse is a lot like his stomping ground.

“Everybody here is just normal and they don’t put on acts for me and they don’t behave in a way that isn’t them,” he says with a grin. “And it’s just a pleasure, and relaxing, to work with people like that.”

Born Yesterday runs March 19 to 29 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

PHOTO: MORGAN WHIBLEY [email protected]

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