Local Theatre Group Blurs Reality & Fiction With Latest Production

Thursday November 21st, 2019

Posted at 7:46pm

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In their most animated show yet, a local theatre group is taking things beyond the stage.

Finishing their 2019 season with another ambitious play, Post Productions will perform Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Opening at the Shadowbox Theatre (located at 1501 Howard Avenue) on Friday November 22nd, it’s something they’ve talked about doing since 2017.

Working with Eric Branget on their Christmas musical last year, the group learnt he was a fan and decided to produce the show with him as lead-actor. Following this, it became apparent that the play wouldn’t be a typical production however.

“At that time we were only planning a very straightforward production,” said Pillowman director/co-producer Michael K. Potter. “Then we realized that the two stories that were supposed to be acted out on stage would be very difficult to pull off, especially since they involve child actors. So we decided we would film those and project them as the stories were told. Then we thought, what about the other five?”

It was decided they would be turned into animated shorts. The group then commissioned concept art and animation to be done in March 2019 by the producer’s son and animator Kieran Potter. From there, all live-action footage was filmed by Eric’s younger brother Mitchell Branget.

Playing struggling writer Katurian, the lead-actor’s character lives in a totalitarian dictatorship while taking care of his disabled brother Michael (Joey Wright.) Working at an abattoir, Katurian is brought in for questioning by police officers Tupolski (Simon Du Toit) and Ariel (Fay Lynn) when his stories start to mirror a series of gruesome murders.

Knowing how they wanted the play to look, the ambitious project began with stage design at the theatre itself.

“We conceptualized the set before we shot the videos because I’ve known for more than a year how I wanted the world of the play – this grimy totalitarian dictatorship- to feel,” said the director. “Our art designer Matthew Burgess made that come to life and look even better than I’d envisioned, as is his way. For me, the aesthetics of a play are all about how I want that world to feel and how I want the audience to feel when they’re immersed in that world. The set design is crucial, so is the music, and sound design — even the art  and photography used in promotion.”

Dave Nisbet created music to accentuate these visuals, differentiating between real-life and Katurian’s stories. Michael also used the gritty reality as a contrast.

“I wanted both the live-action and animated films to be very colourful, even saturated, to contrast the vivid world inside Katurian’s head with the grimy reality of his actual life,” he said. “Also, I wanted the animated films to each be created in a different style. The reference points I gave Kieran were Caillou, South Park, early morning Treehouse shows, 1970s children’s books and The Maxx. Figuring out how all of that would work – how to have both stylistic contrasts and an overall sense of cohesion – was complicated.”

While originally worried this pre-edited content would overwhelm the audience, the director credits a solid cast for keeping the focus on stage. With so many moving parts and concepts, pre-casting was important to see Michael’s vision through.

This didn’t come without its own set of challenges though.

“Casting the kids for the films was much more difficult,” he said when comparing the process to pre-casting his adult actors. “It’s an intense, dark comedy with a lot of disturbing elements which limits our casting options. Not a lot of parents would be comfortable with what we were filming!  In the end, we wound up aging both kids up a couple of years and we found two who were perfect: Maria Hausmann and Angelo Lucier. They’re both a dream to work with – talented, intelligent and sensitive.”

Technical aspects of the play presented more issues too. Needing lots of behind the scenes work and coordination, several considerations had to be made. Beyond the director’s vision, pre-casting also served a practical purpose. With parts of the production beginning sooner than usual, audio recordings of each story were needed months in advance. This allowed the group to edit footage to the rhythm of the actors voices for when they’d be projected during the play.

Beyond focusing on their roles, the cast also have to ensure the stories being told sync up with each film during stage performances. As a result, live-action content was done in August and September. This was so it could be put together for actors to rehearse with. As if that weren’t enough, extra work and design went into props along with special effects, a lot of it taking place while the group was working on their October double-bill.

Adding these elements, those behind the scenes became even more important.

“Introducing technology into a production never makes anything easier – at least not at first,” said Michael. “Each technical addition causes complications and creates new potential for things to go wrong. Thankfully, we have a talented creative and technical crew that can avoid problems when possible and solve them when they arise. Our lighting technician Carter Dersch has been especially valuable in troubleshooting technical issues as we move closer to opening night.”

Although its inclusion of multimedia may gain a lot of attention, The Pillowman still has a strong message at its core. More than just a dark comedy, the play offers commentary on storytelling itself and how it shapes us.

Between this and the performances, Michael feels it will appeal to a wide audience.

“I ask myself, who is the audience for this play,” he said. “People who want to experience something new and exciting, certainly. Also people with a dark sense of humour for sure. People who just love a great story though, I think that’s our biggest potential audience. Because in its soul, The Pillowman is a great story about stories
And we’re all people who love stories, aren’t we?”

Reflecting on 2019, the co-producer remains thankful that Post Productions is continuing to do what they love. Taking pride in telling stories with new and old friends, he’s also glad to provide opportunities for people to create and enjoy their performances.

Despite this, he doesn’t know why their most ambitious shows close the season though.

“I have no idea why we stage our most ambitious productions at the end of the year,” said Michael. “Something is wrong with us! Relly, last year was the first time we did it with the one-two punch of Equus and the Christmas musical. I guess we needed a year to refresh. So maybe we’ve just locked ourselves into this pattern now.”

The Pillowman debuts on Friday night at 8 p.m. with doors opening a half an hour earlier. It will continue at the same time on November 23rd, 28th, 29th, 30th; December 5th, 6th and 7th. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $25 at Post Productions’ website or at the door if seats remain.

All information on this play and future shows can also be found on the group’s website.

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