BY TARA McCARTHY
Last season, Moving Parts Theatre tackled the orchestrated words of Shakespeare – now the company is taking a page out of human history with the 1979 play, The Elephant Man.
“The Elephant Man is a reality that is closer to how we interpret our own reality. So, we’re expecting as an audience to see real emotion, real stakes. Not acted with a capital ‘A’, but experienced,” says artistic director, Anton Solomon.
“And that’s where I wanted to take the company next, was to move into the heavy stuff; the stuff that requires you to commit a little of yourself to it.”
Penned by Bernard Pomerance, The Elephant Man is based on the true story of 19th century Londoner Joseph Merrick, who is extremely disfigured and deformed. As a young child, Merrick developed small bumps on his left side, which later entirely altered his appearance, leading to a life of sideshow performances and medical examinations.
Only days after the first read-through, the cast members gather at Wood Street Centre to begin interpreting the humanity behind Pomerance’s scripted words. Solomon speaks about the play as though it were an existing alternate world – urging the actors to attain a strong sense of comfort with their subject matter.
“The canvas I paint on might be the concept I have for the play, but the colour I paint with is what they [the cast] give me,” he says.
And that raw emotion inevitably leads to an intriguing cast of characters.
“It is an episodic, anecdotal kind of piece. It doesn’t have a straight, linear line. So every scene is its own start, middle and end. And even the small parts, in terms of line count or number of scenes, have a complete story in the scenes they perform,” Solomon says of the Tony Award-winning play.
“So it’s a really good character-developing piece for that reason. Everybody’s got a life history to play with.”
When Solomon began Moving Parts Theatre years ago, he intended for it to be a skill-building experience for actors. Around 17 local performers currently take part in the company’s workshops and about 10 fill the principle roles of this next production.
And the cast is a welcomed mixture of amateur and experienced players.
“A lot of the veterans in the company had other commitments and chose not to be in a show,” he says.
“But it does two really good things. It removes the complacency of the veterans. We go back to exercises that we haven’t done for a while … and they re-discover things about their abilities. It also makes people realize that there are other people out there who can do these roles and it ups their game.”
For high school student and Music Arts and Drama program performer, Wren Hookey, gaining experience from her peers in the company is a huge draw.
“Just to be able to work with different people and especially adults … MAD is great, but working with adults is a totally different experience and it’s really nice to get that,” she says.
Hookey plays the role of one of the pinheads – a group of young women exploited alongside Merrick in the world of Carnival sideshows. She also takes on the role of the Duchess, a generous woman who showers Merrick with gifts.
Although Hookey admits she had no previous knowledge of the play, she says the more research she did, the more she realized its engaging capacity.
“It’s such an interesting piece of work about humanity and you see all of these different points of view and there’s a lot of metaphors within it, too. It’s just fascinating,” she explains.
“I think there’s a lot to work with. It makes you think. And that’s what’s great about it, it makes you think about your own humanity and how you treat other people and how would you treat someone like that.”
For fellow actor Sean Hopkins – who plays the role of hospital director Carl Gomm – it’s a chance to act out “a magnificent story of love and tragedy” and jump back onto the stage after a personal hiatus.
“I’m hoping first and foremost to have some fun, to provide some entertainment for some people and to expose people in Whitehorse to this wonderful play,” he says. “And I’m hoping the audience will connect with the humanity of the Merrick character.”
The Elephant Man runs Nov. 12 to 15 and Nov. 18 to 22 at the Wood Street Centre. Tickets are $15 and available at Well-Read Books.
Find out more about the production in the next issue of What’s Up Yukon.
PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]