In the lead up to the summer season, QDF sat down with Amanda Kellock, Artistic Director of Repercussion Theatre, to discuss her freshman year and the upcoming production of Julius Caesar.
QDF: Let’s start by talking about your first year. You’re finished your first year, so any surprises you weren’t anticipating?
Amanda: Not really in terms of the company or the work itself. I think I probably learned a lot about just how much work goes on the entire year, just to put up a show for 4 weeks in the summer. And given that I was also Artist-in-Residence at Concordia for the year… it was a lot!
QDF: The other part that’s very different for you than any theatre company is this thing about constantly moving the show. What does that require?
Amanda: Well, it requires thinking a lot about how you build everything because you know that it needs to be packed and unpacked every day. You know it needs to be carted around by human beings ever day. It needs to withstand the weather and be all packed “tetris-like” into two trucks. That’s one of the things we’re doing right now. I’m talking with our production manager and our technical director about what types of materials we can investigate that will be sturdy, light, weather-resistant, and be easy for actors and crew to carry and store.
QDF: What does that mean though in terms of the rehearsal process? As a director, how do you build that fluidity into the process?
Amanda: Well one of the things we do is move out into the park as early as possible. So this summer we’ll spend 3 weeks in the rehearsal hall and then we’ll spend a week and a half outside. There’s a full week of rehearsal that is just outside so that they can start to get used to the sun and the bugs-
QDF: Shakespeare in the park, Repercussion Theatre, prides itself on being and is one of the most accessible works that you find in theatre. Partially because of where you do it -open and in the park, and the other part is because its pay-what-you-can, is that right?
Amanda: Yeah, we actually call it free-will donation.
QDF: Okay, so let’s talk about this year’s show because I hear exciting things are happening. Tell us about this year’s show.
Amanda: Sure! It’s an all female production of Julius Caesar. (…)I had the idea, essentially last year, when I was auditioning people for Twelfth Night. I think I saw about 75 women and about 15 men and I was essentially looking for 7 men and 3 women and just the scope of that inequality really hit me hard. I ended up in that instance changing two of the roles to women because I just couldn’t stomach it, and because I just wanted those two particular women in the show. (So the cast ended up being split – 5 men and 5 women.) But as I was watching these auditions – I mean, I was watching the actors you know, no actors out there should think, “Directors are thinking about other shows when they’re watching me!” – but while I was watching them, the idea hit me and I just knew: next summer I’m doing an all-female show. I had known that I wanted to do Julius Caesar for a while and it felt like that was kind of the perfect show to explore with all women.
Amanda: Because in some ways it’s such a masculine play – or what we consider to be “masculine”. It’s about politics, it’s about honour, and it’s about conspiracy, power. It’s about all of these things that I think we tend to associate with men, or an idea of maleness, of manhood. Yet, in my life, I think about politics. I think about power. I think about how people act with each other, and how social change happens. So it frustrated me that in the Canon, roles like Cassius and Brutus and Antony and Caesar and Casca are inaccessible to me because I’m a woman, and yet I identify with those characters so much more than I identify with Calpurnia or Portia – the only two women in Julius Caesar – and they’re wonderful characters, they’re really fascinating people. But for me, I feel like it’s a really exciting world for women to have access to. For a number of reasons: I think it’ll be really interesting for an audience to see women speaking these parts but I also think it’s really useful for women, as actors, to be able to imagine themselves in those parts, to play those parts, and to speak those lines. For women in the audience to be able to see themselves in positions of power. Obviously we’re not the only piece of culture in the world – there are other instances of – and I think this is true in television right now, especially – that there are more and more really strong roles for women that are exciting. I think it’s important for an audience to see themselves reflected on stage and I think women seeing other women in a variety of positions of power is a really useful tool along the road of more and more women stepping into their own sense of who they are and their own power.
QDF: It’s interesting that you say that because I do see this “women embodying power” more in television but what I think is interesting – well, curious about, is that they’re being directed to embody that power the way a man would. Are you looking at that in terms of production and process?
Amanda: Yes! That’s one of the questions, because when I first decided I wanted to do Julius Caesar with all women, the first thing I had to figure out was: are the characters women or are the actors women playing male characters? So I thought about that for a long time and the conclusion that I came to is that I fundamentally believe that if the characters were women, the story would not go the way it does. Because if I believed that women, given that sense of power, would do the same thing then . . . I give up. I give up on the world. So once I made that discovery for myself, then I decided on the idea that this is a sort of post-apocalyptic world where for whatever reason there are either only women left or enough women left that they have basically taken control, and essentially as a ritual reminder of what not to do – they perform Julius Caesar. Because the play itself is incredibly depressing given that, historically, we know that Antony and Lepidus and Octavius are just gonna divide the known world amongst themselves and then they’re gonna fight amongst each other and then Lepidus is gonna die and Antony is gonna die and Octavius will become Augustus and the Roman Empire will start, and eventually fall…. It’s just a cycle of violence and power and corruption and so I’m super interested in asking : what might a truly “female” power look like? One of the things we’re exploring, because there is a war at the end of the play, is if women went to war – and women do go to war but a war that has been sort of designed by men for the most part – if women fought how would they fight? Would they use different strategies? And one of the things that I sort of landed on (in part because of the woman who is my assistant director on the show, Jessica Abdallah) is the idea of capoeira – she’s been doing capoeira for a few years now. We were both really excited by the idea of a form of fighting so connected to ritual, to music, to performance, and to the need to hide the fact that one is training to fight… It’s a bit more of a level playing field in terms of opponents because you can be smaller, lower to the ground, and still take someone out because of the way that you move. So that’s something we’re really going to explore a lot in rehearsals as we reimagine how to approach this war in the show. We’re not necessarily just transposing capoeira into the show but using it as a base, and Jessica’s going to bring in one of her capoeira teachers (mestre), who’s a women, to come in and teach us and talk to us also about the roots of capoeira and the history, because we want to approach it with a sense of respect. I think it will bring a lot to our exploration. One of the things that I want to talk about and explore is: does our very notion of power actually have a gender and can we re-imagine what power looks like if it is more infused with “femaleness” – whatever even that is.
QDF: Speaking of knowing about, Julius Caesar is one of those plays that most of us encountered in high school, so your audience will come in with a certain understanding of that. How do you think that will play with your vision of the play?
Amanda: I kind of like that relationship. I always assume that there will be people in the audience who’ve never heard of the play and people who know it inside out.
QDF: And those that only know the historic.
Amanda: Yeah or those who know Marlon Brando saying : (impersonates) “Friends, Romans…” and so I personally always try first a foremost to focus on telling a really clear story, that’s always number one for me. Then I also like playing with those expectations. I think it’s interesting to think about the way in to a really famous speech, and to make sure that the way into it is super grounded in the world of the play. Especially for the actor, it’s key that they don’t have a moment right before starting to speak where they go: “Ah crap, here it comes.” Yeah, I think I really enjoy playing with those expectations. And, because it’s all women it will, right there, blow the whole thing wide open. I think audiences will be interested to see how that all plays out. (At least I hope so!)
QDF: Okay, anything else you’d like to say to your audience either about the process, the play, anything you’d like to say?
Amanda: Pray for no rain?
QDF: Rain and that’s it, right? You close the show. You can’t do the show if there’s rain?
Amanda: We actually work really hard to keep the possibility of a show to the bitter end. We’ll do a show if there’s a light sprinkle and it’s not dangerous. We continue until it has the potential to become dangerous for either the audience or any actor. That’s never good. Often stage management both watching and checking in with the actors off stage going: “How is it out there? Everything ok?” And often it’s the actors who are like, “No, no, no, just keep going, keep going” because it’s really hard as an actor to stop a show. But we do stop if it’s dangerous. Sometimes we stop, wait out the rain for a few minutes, then mop the stage and keep going. That’s fun, actually. The audience sticks it out. They’re amazing. Our audiences are so dedicated they make my heart burst. As an actor, it’s so disappointing to get into costume, get ready, and be halfway through a show and have to stop. It’s one of the most disappointing feelings. Certainly for the poor crew to set up the stage and then just have to tear it down in the rain – that is no fun.
QDF: So if I’m an audience member and I get up on the morning of the show and I’m not sure about the weather, how can I find out on the day of, whether the show is canceled or not?
Amanda: Check our website. We always have a Twitter feed that is updating people. Usually our phone as well, people can call the office and there’s usually an answering machine that’ll give info. But I would say our website is the best place to go to check in and get the most up-to-date info.
Repercussion Theatre will be presenting Julius Caesar in parks around the Montreal area. For more information visit their website: repercussiontheatre.com.