Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone is written with four female characters over the age of 70, which is something we don’t often see on stage. We asked Brenda, Kyra, Clare, and Maria to reflect on their first roles and compare it to their experiences now, working on Escaped Alone as established artists in their craft.
My very first role was in a production of a Polish play that was done at the Red Light Theatre Company in Toronto in 1977/78. That was the first Feminist theatre company in Toronto and they had been running all through the seventies but then that shut it down, that was the last production they ever did – I like to take credit for that! I was 22 years old.
Compared to now, I was thinking about my career, and now I’m not thinking about career. Now all I think about is the work because I know how ephemeral it all is. You can do something fantastic and a week later it is forgotten, or you can do something terrible and beat yourself up for it and then a week later nobody remembers.
It really is about the here and now and the work. My career is what my career is now at this age. So it’s very freeing.
I played Mary Warren in The Crucible when I was 14 or 15. That was magic to me. It was really magic to be able to submerge myself in that world – I had done a couple of shows before that point but that real role in a real play was just… I had a glimpse of what it was like really to be an actor and that was what I wanted to do with my life and it set me on a path that I’ve been lucky enough to follow through all my life.
Now doing something like this with four women of a certain age. I look at it from a totally different perspective. The work is so important, I still feel as an older actor that I am learning all the time and I’m eager to learn but there’s more ease in the work. There is more accumulated knowledge, and comfort, the comfort of being in the room with four other women who are similarly minded and of a similar age it’s just such a comfort and it helps to make you feel fulfilled in the work and the environment.
My first role that I remember was in Grade Five, we were doing Mother Goose Stories, and I really wanted the part of Mother Goose, but we had to do an audition piece and my dad had taught me a poem which was:
Starkle starkle little twink
Who the heck you are you think
I’m not under the alcafluence of incohol
Though some thinkle peep I am
I fool so feelish don’t know who is me
But the drunker I sit here the longer I get
I got the part of Mother Hubbard, which is an OK part, it wasn’t the lead though. And the girl who got Mother Goose did To Be or Not To Be. From Hamlet. In Grade Five.
That was still a good audition piece and I could probably still learn something from that, you know, the purity of that… The truth of it as an 11 year old.
I have to admit that this play now is kind of reminding me of my parents, so maybe it is a bit of a full circle – learning that wonderful audition piece from my dad for my first part and now pretty well playing a relative.
For my first role I was a child, a Canadian child, in London, England. I was a lost elf in the pantomime Where the Rainbow Ends at the Coliseum in London. It was very exciting to be what I thought was a professional.
The first school I went to was a ballet school in a church hall run by a very eccentric woman, and a few eccentric parents sent their children there to avoid the school system. The whole year was spent preparing for the summer charity concert that was held at the Fortune Theatre in Drury Lane. The days were spent preparing for these little concert presentations of musical songs and pas-de-deux and tap dances – all the things that were current in London for entertainment. I was under the illusion that I was a little professional. Somehow, at the age of nine, I found myself ironing all the layers and layers of tutu and then jumping into a cab with my costumes and saying to the cab driver “Fortune Theatre, Drury Lane. Stage Door please.” And thinking he must think I’m a big star. It was those years you could just imagine you’re everything you wanted to be.
I was in London then because of my parents work, and when my parents work took them back to Canada, I was sea-lifted back to my own country and was absolutely desolate. There was no opportunity for children, or anybody actually, to have a career in theatre in the 1950s. Stratford had begun, but it wasn’t exactly something that people would say “I will make my career there”, it can be now, but it wasn’t at the time.
I went into this period of growing up having lost what I thought I could do and was very homesick for London and for my lost life. When I came to graduate I could’ve gone back to London to take up my life as an actress there. I had been so homesick that I thought I could never go through it again, and I didn’t want to be homesick for Canada so I thought I’d do something else. Thinking “obviously there is no theatre here”, I went go to the college of art. Sitting in front of a block of paper or a canvas in silence all day long was just not the thing that suited me at all – I needed to be with people. It wasn’t long after that that Pierre Trudeau that came up with Local Initiative Program grants for anyone that wanted to initiate something in the arts. This is when Theatre Passe Muraille started, Tarragon started, Factory Lab started, all these came from these Local Initiative Program grants and so I suddenly had a beginning! I started out with people my own age and we didn’t know very much and nobody knew anything about us. We were in church hall basements again, and if it weren’t for Urjo Kareda as the Toronto Star critic, I don’t know where our audiences would have come from. He began promoting like crazy these small groups saying “If you think you’ve seen good theatre at Stratford, come back here and you’ll really see something now.” We all kind of watched in wonder as he, through the press, built more and more credibility for what we were doing and it became something of wonderful happiness.
I really found my thing at Tarragon – Bill Glasgow was exploring scripts and writers. I found I could get a lot of satisfaction out of written scripts, and that lasted for a very long time.In some ways I feel I’ve done my best work for international writers, maybe because my earliest training as a child was not in Canadian writing but in English and American. For those English writers like Caryl Churchill, I feel like I’ve done very, very fine work for her. And yet my heart has always been with Michel Tremblay, Judith Thompson, and George Walker, and the people who have made this country come to light in the theatre.
Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill continues through November 25, 2018.
In honour of the powerful bonds of sisterhood and the World Premiere of Sisters later this month (Aug. 23), we asked those in the cast who have sisters to share something about their own. Here is what Karen Robinson and Raquel Duffy shared with us.
My great-grandmother had three daughters. Her youngest, my grandmother Esther, had three daughters. Esther’s youngest, my mother Joy, had three daughters. I am Joy’s youngest. I have no children. So many sisters in my maternal lineage, and my particular strand ended with me. Makes me want to hold my sisters that much closer.
I have two amazing sisters. My sister Tara reminded me of this memory.
When our family moved off Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia, my little sister started school for the first time. She was incredibly nervous and needed me to walk her to and from school, and also stay with her through recess…for the ENTIRE YEAR. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with this arrangement. I wanted to make friends in our new school, but instead was surrounded by snotty nosed, little children.
One day, as punishment for attempting to talk to a fellow classmate during History, I was forced to stay behind and clean the blackboards. I knew my sister would be waiting so I asked to be released from eraser duty. The teacher refused my request. Ten minutes later, I hear very loud screams coming from outside. Teachers and staff came out of the woodwork and started running outside to help. Yes, the screams were coming from my distraught sister. She was in such a state, I was granted a dismissal from detention. I ran out of the school, feeling horrible that my sister felt that I’d abandoned her. When I saw her, I hugged her tightly and told her I was so sorry and not to worry, I would never leave without her. She said, “Oh, I know that. I just screamed to get you out of detention!”
Join us at Sisters, perhaps even with your sister, to reveal the hidden heroism in the everyday life of Ann and Evelina Bunner. Performances run August 23 to September 16.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.
John Jarvis, who is currently performing in Orlando, reflects on an unbelievable adventure from when he was 27 years old! Hitting the stage shortly after Orlando is a brand new concert, The 27 Club, capturing the music, stories, and legacies from a staggering number of musicians who tragically left us at the age of 27. We are thankful John is here today to tell this tale…
When I was 27 I traveled to Peru and the Amazon basin in search of, well, everything. It was in the off season of my time at Stratford and I was about to play Silvius in John Hirsch’s brilliant production of As You Like It. It was a golden time indeed.
In the town of Cusco, in the Peruvian mountains, I found a guide, a man by the name of Juan who agreed to take me up the Rio Maldonado to a camp in the jungle. It was a short plane ride down to the river’s edge. Juan, I think he had hoped to find a bigger group of people to take up the river, but he only had me. We settled on things and headed off in one of those flat bottomed boats with a hand held motor. It was four hours of the real deal, villages of people gazing, going about their lives living in the forest, and connected only by the great river.
On the fourth day of endless, amazing things we were cutting our way through the jungle, when we came upon a dugout canoe. Juan instructed me to take my wallet out and wrap it in a big green leaf and then bury it by a tree and leave it there until we returned from a nearby Village, where a meal awaited us. We stepped into the canoe and pushed quietly out through the thick branches and leaves. Then, suddenly, Kaboom! A shot gun blast! Then quiet. Then a deep voice rumbled from the depths of the forest. “Guaaaaatipa!” something like that. “Back, back amigo” Juan murmured with a whispered intensity. We arrived back on shore and looked up to see two men staring down at us. “Juan!” the older one says in that deep assured forest voice. “It’s good to see you. Don’t take my canoe! But come with me for some wild boar!” A great guffaw and off the two men go down the trail and off we go in pursuit of where our hunger would take us. Now, I had been a vegetarian for ten years at that point so you can imagine my surprise when I saw the wild boar being brought into the village on a big pole over two sets of shoulders. “Go with them to the river and watch them clean it” the head man says. The family gathered in the shallows of the water and with surprising ease the dad takes a large machete and begins the task of cutting the most extraordinary lines through the hide. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen – children gently taking the heart and liver in their hands and washing them before passing them to mum for her to do her thing. Every organ carefully preserved and the meat cut and stored. I was overwhelmed and perhaps never more so than when I was sitting down to a lovely meal in the hot afternoon with a plate of fresh roasted boar crackling before me. With smiles around the table we all dug in with relish and great delight.
It was something else I’ll tell ya. Now that story occurred a week after I turned 27.
– John Jarvis
The views and opinions expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization.
It’s a surprisingly chilly day in June, I’m in bed and I’ve deleted this document I’m writing in four times now. I’m struggling to write anything down without rolling my eyes. Even in the infinite space that is the Internet, I hesitate to take up space. Why?
Being born a rather confident young dame, for most of my life I’ve been confused about humility. Specifically how to reconcile feeling very large, dreaming big and wanting a lot in an industry that lends itself so well to feeling like that’s inappropriate. Despite my successes, in the interest of modesty, I try to make myself small; I lie. This habit of oscillating between fearless self-reliance and feeling the need to apologize for it has come up a lot lately.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the building, I don’t work at Soulpepper often. In fact, this is my first contract with the company as an actor proper and I’m still a bit in awe of that. But this isn’t what I talk about when friends ask me what it’s like at work. I catch myself talking about it like a grocery list. These are some details, this is what I like, this is what I wish I had more of etc. etc. I inject my thoughts with a neutral tone of ‘it’s just work’ when the truth is I’m bursting. The play I’m working on, La Bête, is a miraculous writing achievement and watching my cast mates tackle the thing is nothing short of a master class. Working for this company is a gift. I get a little electric buzz every time I use my key card to beep myself into the building (this is not because the electric lock system is broken, it’s because I’m pee-my-pants-happy to be here). I have felt welcomed, celebrated, challenged, intimidated, seen, cared for and inspired in entirely new ways by this process and the people within it. I’ve also been frightened on a daily basis that I’m not skilled enough to be playing at this level. Nothing makes me feel less like myself than not saying exactly that to anyone who asks me what work is like. Why is it always my last instinct?
I had a similar experience the last time I worked in this building, though the context was a bit different. Last year I had the immense good fortune of bringing a show my own company, Bad Hats Theatre, created and previously produced to Soulpepper’s Family Festival over the holidays. It was an adaptation of Peter Pan that I co-wrote, it starred a handful of my closest friends and I played the title role. Does it get better than that? Pretty much never.
Still, I tried to make it less than it was by changing it’s outward perception. I habitually performed the song and dance of ‘this is all normal’. I lied when I said ‘Thank you for coming, yes, it’s a really fun show to do’ because what I actually meant was ‘AHHHHHHHH THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN THE REAL WIDE WORLD OF MY LIFE I CAN’T BREATHE!!!!!’ and that’s what I should have said. The moment of working on that piece, in that place, with those people felt as magic as I had always dreamed it would be. I felt really guilty for being happy in that way and it manifested itself in all kinds of pretending.
My relationship with the Young Center dates back further still. I trained at George Brown Theatre School, which lives in the same building, just across the hall from Soulpepper. This pattern of undercutting myself was present then, too. I used to put away my scripts from school to read other plays in the lobby in the hopes that someone might mistake me as a professional instead of a student. A completely hilarious and reasonable fact, but did I admit this to my classmates? No. And now that I work professionally in the building, do I tell other company members how desperately I longed to join their ranks back in school? Absolutely not.
What the hell is that about? I can only speak for myself but I do often recognize these habits in colleagues of mine as well. Why are we wrapping our artistic experiences in calculated bows for the public and each other? When did candor get so stuck in our throats? Saying ‘I thought this thing I worked really hard on was deserving of the attention it got’ shouldn’t make me feel egocentric. The fact that I’m still learning and want to learn enough to earn a seat at a table I revere shouldn’t be the thing I’m scared to admit. Why are we so hesitant to shout ‘I’m scared! I don’t know what I’m doing!’ or ‘I feel amazing! I love what I’m doing!’? Perhaps we’re afraid that no one will care, or that feelings will be hurt because work is so scarce, or that making too much noise might get us in trouble with someone or other. The fact is, it probably will. Maybe that needs to matter a bit less.
I’m not sure when exactly I decided that being joyful in my work meant I was a narcissist or that practicing humility called only for self-lessening, but I’m trying to undo those attitudes. There are myriad obstacles to making good art and being good people, feeling unwelcome to express the many facets of that journey shouldn’t be one of them. I think there is immense value in feeling small if, and only if, it’s in the face of a challenge, or a place, or a moment so beautiful you have to reach for it. And, whatever the reaching looks like for you, I think it’s okay to shout ‘Look at me! I’m reaching!’