October 14th, 2014

Behind the Curtain: Stacey Christodoulou (Province)

As we continue our quest to extend the conversation on theatre, QDF had a chance to talk to the director, Stacey Christodoulou, of Centaur Theatre’s Brave New Looks’ show, Province. It is a co-production between Talisman Theatre and The Other Theatre, the latter which Christodoulou is the Artistic Director. Province takes the audience on a wild ride, full of potent questions and uneasy answers. Set in the deep forest of Quebec, this darkly comic play is part of a rich tradition of dystopian art, exploring humanity’s indifference to environmental destruction and its commitment to individualism at any cost. A poetic, whimsical fable, steeped in organic rural textures, Province revolves around a gallery of colourful characters who must face off against mutant animals—suddenly rebellious and determined to destroy their human masters. Despite the ecological malaise, the people of Province continue their pre-apocalypse lives with as much gusto as before, playing Wii, making home videos, obsessing over their looks and material possessions. Will they react before it is too late or will they be swallowed up by the ever-encroaching greenery of the Province?

Province-Stacey colour ©Deborah Dunn

QDF: What are the main themes of the play?

Stacey: The main theme concerns these animals and plants around a region which are going rogue and are attacking their human masters. It is about humanity’s attempt to survive these attacks and people’s struggles to come to terms with them. You know, it’s funny as you direct it, you realize it is a very dark show but it’s also very cathartic. It is cathartic because you get to see all these emotions played out. It is a play about the end of the world, but at the same time it lets us purge our fears. By doing this, we see if we can come up with any real solutions that will make our world better. It is a surrealistic play, but at the same time, it’s accessible. People talk about the play after seeing it. They talk about nature and animals and their roles in their lives as human beings.

QDF: How much of the Original French play is in the English Translation?

Stacey: It was originally written by Mathieu Gosselin and it was presented at La Licorne in 2012. And Nadine Desrochers, who works with Talisman Theatre, translated the play. I saw the original production and it inspired me a lot.  I also thought our production had to do stuff really differently and be complimentary to the original.  People, who have seen the French production, came to see this one and told me: “It looks nothing like it.”  We had to build something different for the Centaur space since La Licorne space is very different.  There are nine actors in the show. The process was really great. They are very talented actors who were committed to the project.

QDF: Why did you create The Other Theatre?

Stacey: I started The Other Theatre in 1991. I came to Montreal from Toronto, where I had seen a great mime workshop done on Shakespeare. It was really engaging and visceral and I realized that this was the kind of theatre I wanted to do. So I moved to Montreal with the idea that I was going to study for a few months and then head back. I started acting, then I feel in love with that, then I moved on to directing and that started happening. So I ended up staying here for twenty-five years. It was a huge influence on my work and my life. I had German teachers at theatre school, and then I had French teachers here at the École de Mime and dance teachers, as well. So I started incorporating all this in my work, as a director and with my company.

QDF: In the question before you mentioned that you’re from Toronto, why did you move to Montreal?

Stacey: I was actually born in Germany and my parents immigrated to Canada. I lived in Toronto till I was 24 years old, and then I moved to Montreal. I didn’t know a word of French but I loved French theatre. I loved the theatre they were creating. I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to learn from it, and I wanted to put as much of it in to my work. The only way to do that was to come here and to be a part of it.

QDF: What message do you hope people will leave with after they have seen Province?

Stacey: It’s more than a message play. It talks a lot about family and human relationships. Our relationship to our animal nature is discussed in an indirect way. The focus of the play is that the  characters continue to live their lives while all this destruction is happening around them. In fact, that is what people are doing right now. We are protected here in Canada. Our climate hasn’t changed that much. There aren’t any droughts, or fires or land falls, due to erosion of soil, in Montreal, but other areas in the world have had these changes happen already. People are becoming displaced and our world is going to have a big crisis because of this. The play is very much a microcosm of these events.  You know that in reality the animals and the plants will not turn against the human race like in the play, but the animals mutating is a metaphor that could actually happen.

It is also a piece about reaching for paradise, whether it be in the pursuit of a perfect personal appearance, money, the imaginary world of video games, or by isolating oneself in the safety of one’s home and eventually becoming alienated from the natural environment, which is our real paradise.  It is a piece about our world right now. It is certainly not an “up” piece. I feel that it’s a piece that will leave the audience reflective about our world. The play is very beautiful and poetic. There is a lot of discussion about sacrifices, about being one with nature and staying connected to each other as human beings. Think about how much we spend in front of screens and videos, or how we get really hung up on dieting or how we focus a lot on aging, or making our house really secure against nature – we aren’t letting people in. When we turn on the news, we’ll hear there is flooding in North Carolina, there’s fire in California, we’ll notice it and immediately forget it after we turn on a cat video on Youtube.

QDF: What was the biggest challenge in interpreting the story?

Stacey: You always want to make a piece an audience can relate to and be emotionally invested in. The work also presents very poetic text, so it’s necessary to make it accessible to the audience. It is also a piece where you don’t get all the clues right away. Slowly as the piece moves on, stuff starts to come together and it works on many levels: the metaphorical and the everyday. As a director, you just want to get these elements across to the audience and make everything clear.

QDF: For an aspiring director, what is one tip you wished you had when you started in the community?

Stacey: Other than have a lot of money? That’s a joke!  I have been doing this for twenty-five years now and I think the most important thing is: to be true to who you are. I know it sounds cliché but everyone of us is different and each one of us has a different process by which to create art. What may work for you doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good for others. However, you should start your artistic journey and investigation with what interests you and to be completely true to that. People might say, you should be doing this, you should be doing that. You need to stick to your guns. Luckily, when I was young, people told me this. Of course, when you are young, it is very easy to do this because people expect you to try new things, take risks, be crazy and do stuff. You can explore. It is only when you get older, when you get to your middle age, there is this pressure to let go of that. So you need to constantly try to stay true to your own vision and artistic goals.

PROVINCE 04 © Louise Verdone

Don’t Miss Province

Produced by Talisman Theatre and The Other Theatre

Presented at Centaur Theatre’s Brave New Look

October 7th-17th

http://www.centaurtheatre.com/index.html

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