Local Theatre Brings Whimsical Laughs To Windsor

Friday February 7th, 2020

Posted at 9:00am

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Colin Zorzit, Greg Girty, Stephanie Cragg, Rebecca Mickle, Luke Boughner, Cindy Pastorius. (Cast photo credit: Kieran Potter and Fay Lynn.)

Not known for fantastical tales, a local production company is bringing some magic to the stage.

Starting its run on Friday, February 7th, Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands will be performed by Post Productions. Taking place at the group’s Shadowbox Theatre (located at 1501 Howard Avenue,) the show is their second annual Windsor-Essex playwriting contest winner.

Written by Edele Winnie, it also stood out above the rest from the start.

“The play offered a stylistically sophisticated view of the interior life of a compelling character,” said Simon Du Toit, a judge for the 2019 contest. “I loved the way the play presents us with a world seen entirely through her eyes. Because of that, the play seems to offer intriguing possibilities for the director and cast.”

After bigger changes during the competition, the script only underwent tweaking for phrasing in its final version. With a main character everyone loved immediately, the production has been relatively easy-going.

“The play tells the story of Giselle, a young woman who is extremely neurotic and self-conscious to the point where all her time is spent going over and over the various doubts and fears cycling through her brain,” said co-director Michael O’Reilly. “She also has a powerful alter ego, personified in the play as its own character (played by Stephanie Cragg), who keeps the pressure on. There is a crisis that upsets the inertia and sends Giselle on a journey of self discovery that she both fears and craves.”

With much of the play taking place inside the main character’s head, staging is mainly set-free. Being their first attempt at blackbox theatre (with actual boxes being used as chairs, desks, etc,) the biggest challenge was ensuring it didn’t look flat.

To achieve this, co-director Fay Lynn used a grid system that created a proper depth of field: In the end, it also enhanced what was written with a dream-like quality.

“The script is heavy with monologues and scene transitions,” said Lynn. “That isn’t to say the script isn’t strong – it is! It would have been easy to blackbox the show and have Giselle standing alone, addressing the audience. Instead, we decided to try and enhance the dialogue with chorus movement and colour. This is a new avenue for Post Productions but we’ve seen it done in other productions, liked it and thought we’d give it a try.”

Beyond these elements, unique audio was added as well. pre-Recording Giselle’s inner-voice monologues, they play as voice-overs during the show.

Although it made things easier for lead actress Rebecca Mickle, that pressure landed on sound engineer/operator Michael K. Potter’s shoulders.

Despite the extra work however, it’s something that creates a unique effect.

“The effect on stage is wonderful – hearing what Giselle is thinking as she tries to live in society and appear ‘normal,'” said Lynn. “[Potter] certainly has his work cut out for him on this one though. We thought The Pillowman would be the most technical show we produced for a while, but I think now we may have been wrong.”

Even so, the production has had the fastest turnaround in the group’s history. From read through to opening night, eight weeks were spent on rehearsals: This includes Christmas and various cast being on vacation at different times.

Still, having strong actors went a long way in making it possible.

“The two biggest components in making this work were a play that didn’t need tinkering and a cast that was up to the challenge of learning,” said O’Reilly. “Not only the lines, but the intricate blocking and movements, all of which require precision timing and some of which are performed in time to the beat of a metronome.”

This process began by pre-casting Cragg. Auditioning for Post Productions before, she hadn’t been the right fit for a role until now: Upon reading this script however, everyone thought of her immediately. Needing attitude, authority and vulnerability, Cragg is said to steal the scenes she’s in.

For Giselle, chemistry with Cragg was the most important criteria. Not leaving for most of the show, a strong presence is also required for acting and re-acting to voiceovers.

Having worked with Mickle previously, both directors knew she could captivate an audience and make them laugh.

“We were looking for actors who are naturally funny, natural straight setup pros or both,” said O’Reilly. “[Mickle] was an easy choice for Giselle. I had worked with hher a number of times in musicals. That is the core of her experience and training. She is also a music teacher but I always thought she would excel as a comic actress. She’s funny – just plain funny – and a gifted physical comic as well.”

Having two actors with featured roles, it might be easy to overlook others’ importance to the production. Playing a big part in a different way, those in its chorus also star in an “appetizer” play called First Cut though.

“Cindy Pastorius, Luke Boughner, Greg Girty and Colin Zorzit have a lot to do,” said Lynn. “The timing and movements are very specific when they work as a unit. They each have at least one specific character to play on top of that. They’re also in charge of moving the set from one scene to the next. So they’re actors, set pieces and stage crew all at once. They turn on a dime and never stop moving. All the while they need to be charismatic. To put it simply, we cast multifaceted actors we felt we could rely on.”

Even with a quirky story and production elements, the company thinks audience members will relate. While there are several moments of poignancy, it has a hopeful and uplifting mood as well.

“Maybe I’m overgeneralizing from my own experiences, but I think everyone is insecure, neurotic and full of doubts to some extent,” said Potter. “We create traps for ourselves, ruts of routines and habits and thoughts that become so invisible to us over time that we take them for granted. We forget we created them and assume instead that they’re part of the framework of reality. So I think any human being will relate to Giselle’s predicament in Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands. Also, people love to laugh.”

Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands and “appetizer” play Final Cut will be performed at the Shadowbox Theatre on February 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th and 15th. All performances start at 8pm with doors opening at 7:30. Tickets can be purchased on Post Productions’ website in advance for $25. They’ll also be on sale for cash at the door while seats remain.

For those wanting to compete in this year’s playwriting contest, at least one producer from the theatre company recommends starting early.

“Start writing now,” said Lynn. “The deadline for submissions is April 30th, 2020, but there’s no reason not to submit sooner.  Go to the website and read the eligibility requirements. Read the blog post, ‘So You’re Writing A Play.’ Read plays! Go see plays. Most importantly: think of a story you’d like to tell and start writing. I’m looking forward to reading the submissions, plain and simple. It’s enjoyable and interesting.”

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