Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Thoughts from George

From "Paul Faber, Surgeon", by George MacDonald

But love is the first comforter, and where love and truth speak, the love will be felt where the truth is never perceived.  Love indeed is the highest in all truth; and the pressure of a hand, a kiss, the caress of a child, will do more to save sometimes than the wisest argument, even rightly understood.  Love alone is wisdom, love alone is power; and where love seems to faint it is where self has stepped between and dulled the potency of its rays. 


Saturday, 26 March 2011

Because We Believe

Morris & Cast on Opening Night.  Photo by Dale Marushy.
A Bright Particular Star has opened, and it has opened very fine indeed. This is going to be a bit of a gush, but a person has to celebrate glorious moments, like collecting travel stickers, or autographs, creating word talismans of some sort. It is the momentum caused by a growing collection of glorious moments in our theatre’s life - in our own lives - that add up to something mythic and grand.
It was a glorious opening, heightened by the presence of my dear friend and theatrical cohort of some 30 years, Ron Reed. He’s the playwright who penned the words that came to life over the course of four weeks of rehearsal, the story that resonated and came to life in the performers for the sake of our audience. He’s a man of considerable warmth, and he loved the show. So now we can both sleep at nights!
The company was wonderful last night, delivering performances that gave such clarity to the humor and the truth and the pathos of the story. I am, in a word, proud. The actors are costumed in Victorian garments fitted and built to perfection in our wardrobe. I feel like I’m back at Stratford again, looking at the finery of the fit and finish. The set is a small wonder, effortlessly gliding through the scenes in a way that lends such magic to the storytelling. It looks as beautiful from the back as from the front. Am I really in Rosebud, or did I wake up in a theatre with ten times the resource to pull off the magic we delivered? It feels a bit like loaves and fishes made more by some mystical hand.
This is what it means to have a resident company of artists, creating together show to show, year to year. It means that we reach beyond what we’d ever be able to do because we trust in the fundamental heart commitment of everyone involved. A question was asked of the well-known Estonian composer, Arvo Part in a music workshop. “Why do you fill your music with religious themes?” His answer was quite simple, “Because I believe it.”
Last night’s glorious coming together of all of the elements of our theatre into a unified and up-lifting experience for all rests on the same answer. “Because we believe it.”


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Celebrity Spotlight: Ron Reed

Alright, so maybe he's not a celebrity in the Hollywood sense, but for anyone in his sphere of influence, this guy's a shining star.  He's Artistic Director and founder of Pacific Theatre, a widely-produced playwright (Bright Particular Star, Tent Meeting, Refuge of Lies, and Book of the Dragon to name a few), a wonderful actor, and regular cohort with Rosebud's Morris Ertman.  AND he still finds time to teach acting and playwriting at Trinity Western University and occasional courses for Regent College.   Not to mention he's currently at work on a book, "Soul Food Movies:  A guide to films with a spiritual flavour," and keeps others abreast of notable arts events with his Soulfood blog.

Whew.  Not to mention his influence on countless number of individuals who have been inspired by his passion and dedication to theatre.  Ron proves again and again that art and faith are kindred spirits.  His favorite play opens up our 2011 Season.   It's the story of Lilia MacDonald, (daughter of famed 19th century writer George MacDonald), who was a talented actress and vibrant social worker eventually forced to choose between marriage and her love of theatre.  She fought for her passion, despite the objections of family and friends.  So we chatted with Ron for some inside intel about this play and his process.  
So, what first sparked your idea for Bright Particular Star?
 It was a conversation I had quite a long time ago, flying back from St. Louis with Scott Nolte, Artistic Director of Taproot Theatre.  He had done a Christmas show based on one of  George Macdonald's short stories: a fantasy / fairy tale with a Christian theme.  I thought it sounded great but since based on a short story, too brief for a full-length production.  But Scott started telling me that the MacDonalds used to put on theatricals, so Taproot used the family's productions as a framing device for telling the story.  I thought that was great, something really worth writing about.  "Oh, but there's more", Scott says.  "Apparently the eldest daughter, Lilia, was quite an actress.  But she was made to choose between an acting career and the love of her life."  That had happened to me [as well].   So I needed to write this story.  

So I did a bit of research, but at the time there wasn't much information out there other than little bits about the family making plays.  I suppose I could have invented a lot of stuff and made the story more fictional, but I didn't feel like it.  So I let the idea lurk in the back of my mind to follow up another days.
A few years later, I'm not sure what brought it to mind, I sent out a few e-mails queries looking for research and found that lots more had become available about the family. So I went after it.  I developed the first draft at Lamb's Players Theatre in San Diego, and eventually put it on the Pacific Theatre stage in 2006.
What was one of the most surprising parts of your research?
That George and Louisa MacDonald actually put some barriers in Lilia's way.  They didn't want her to be an actress.  Which shocked me.  Here's George MacDonald, the imagination guy, the man who left the ministry to be a fantasy novelist, trying to keep his daughter from pursuing a calling in the arts.
Two of Lilia's brothers wrote books about growing up under their father.  One of them was quite expressive about his unhappiness with their parents' opposition to her acting.  He felt they didn't trust her and it became a source of controversy in the family.
The other discovery was Octavia Hill, who was an important mentor to Lilia.  She was an amazing figure in British history.  She's one of 3 people who sort of originated the "social-action" movement.  There are charitable trusts she invented still in operation today.  She got money from John Ruskin and bought buildings in the slums and essentially started building housing co-ops.  She lived there among the poor and made a difference.  So in her I found this other claim to Lilia's passions: her drive to serve the people in need.  So there were all these forces pulling Lilia in all directions, which only makes her story more compelling.

          Which character do you identify with most?  You, of course followed your calling (like Lilia) but also are a father of daughters (like George). 

Of course I have compassion for George.  Being an actor, I'm used to entering into the mind/soul/skin of anyone I play.  As a writer, it's the same thing.  I recognize George as a character who will present obstacles for Lilia, but in my mind I'm playing the role of father.
There was a time in my life my parents had qualms about me pursuing theatre.  Not because they wanted to control me, but because they had genuine anxiety about whether or not I would be happy.  So I understand the parent aspect.
But really, Lilia is the hero for me.  She faced the same decisions that I faced in my life, and she faced them, I think, more courageously than I.
Do you think her journey was different, being a woman?
Oh absolutely.  Sure.  There are whole new layers of complexity when you factor in the social elements of her time.  But, we're also all so dumb historically.  We think everything happened in our lifetime.  But the Suffragette and Feminisim movement was huge in the MacDonald's era.  Even still, in Victorian culture, a woman in theatre was still literally assumed to be a prostititute.  Nowadays, I'm sure there are exotic dancers and strippers who aren't prostitutes, but it's still an assumption that gets made.  You wouldn't stand up in your women's church group and announce yourself as a career girl, a stripper working at the Kit Kat Club.  It was a similar thing with actresses back then.  
As opposed to me, a young man in the 1970's, deciding to pursue theatre.  There are differences to the social obstacles.
Was there a particular play that lit the spark for your calling?  
The first professional play I saw was in grade 8.  It was Great Expectations at Theatre Calgary, and it was definitely an epiphany for me.
I was actually a year younger than my classmates, so I think I was 11 when we went to see it.  Christopher Newton directed.  After the performance I phoned the box office and bought a season subscription.  Me and my friend Mike bought bus tickets and went to see shows on Saturdays.  How many grade 8 kids see a show on a school outing and them become subscribers with their allowance money?
It was love at first sight.
In grade 10, my lowest grade on the report card was in drama.  I loved it, but it just wasn't happening.  In grade 11, I had my spiritual awakening - you know, where the lights just turn on.  My life was different and all of a sudden I started doing great in drama and music.  A week before the school show went up, I got cast.  It was Enter Laughing, based on the novel by Carl Reiner.
It was phenomenal.  I had so much fun, and for me, it was the beginning of the end.  I didn't become an actor right away, I left it for awhile and returned in 1980.  But I haven't done anything else since.  So those two plays were my turning points.
Why do you think so many Christians struggle with seeing arts as a valid calling?
I [actually] don't see that anymore.  It's still true for some people, but it wasn't my story.  I never thought theatre wasn't legitimate.  I had an experience where acting and music were given to me - I never questioned that they were from God.  And at Pacific Theatre, the audiences and the church are both really behind what we're doing.  The tension between faith and arts is less.
Why do you think that is?  What's happened to lesson the tension?
Because Evangelical Christians have become less and less isolated from Culture.  It started in the sixties when they bought televisions.  Once they had a television it was harder to tell the kids they couldn't go to the movies.  And once they go to the movies, it's harder to explain why they can't make them, too.  Once they had radios and could listen to rock music, wouldn't it be better to MAKE rock music and have a Christian presence in that scene?

So, once walls were breached, Evangelicals became way more involved.  That increasingly keeps happening.

When I started teaching at Trinity Western 23 years ago, challenging students meant having them question whether or not they would swear on stage, in character... or see the value of a show without a happy ending, or one not overtly centered on Jesus.  Now, I challenge my students not to take every role that comes their way - to listen to the Holy Spirit and consider whether as a Christian you have boundaries for what stories you tell.  So there's been a significant shift with respect to culture.

As for tension between religion and theatre, I think there will always be some kind of wrestling because theatre is not a good medium for preaching messages.  Plays are open-ended, they go after the hard stuff that doesn't have clear answers.  People who turn to religion or faith to nail things down or find certainty can feel threatened by the arts - especially theatre, which loves to dwell in uncertainty.
Plays like complexity.  And if you're trying to simplify your world-view, you might not like them.
Also, the craft of theatre is centered on an actor.  It physically involves the body and involves transforming ourselves into characters that might not be role models.  Exploring that side of life can seem like a dangerous thing to do.  But it's also dangerous to go to Rwanda and become a missionary.
For me, life is full of risk and when you go into theatre you embrace those risks.  But it is not really that different than all the other risks you take in life.  "Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world."  You don't travel into those explorations alone.
Anything else you'd like to add?
 This is my favorite play I've written.  Hard to say why.  Probably my very strong identification with it.

Ron will be with Rosebud Theatre, LIVE and IN PERSON for two special talk-back performances of Bright Particular Star.  Stick around after the shows on Saturday 3/26 (8:00pm) or Wednesday 3/30 (matinee) to dialogue more about this show and his writing process.

For more information on availability and ticket prices, check out www.rosebudtheatre.com

Monday, 21 March 2011

What we're on about...

                                                       Photo by Kelsey Krogman.
There's a way certain people see the world: visionaries, optimists, prophets, artists, fools... While they view the same landscape, they somehow discover a different perspective.

Here at Rosebud Theatre, we are all of these things.  We take life as it's given, but strive to see beyond that reality, into something extraordinary. 

There are riches hidden in the fields, stories lurking in the silences, and wild wonder in the winds sweeping through Alberta.  But the greatest magic lurks within.  Within the people we are, the people we could be, the people we wish to be, and the real people that surround us, everyday.  People waiting to discover what ignites their passions, tickles their funny bone, exposes their indignation, and swallows their sadness.  A spectrum of experience and intricacies that we never tire of exploring.

This is our art.  Our gift.

This is our calling.

A way of life that in its best moments transcends the haze and gives glimpses of the brilliance lurking in all our lives.  Moments we mine to discover, so that we can share them with you.

This is life.  Yours and ours, the way we see... through Rosebud Colored Glasses.

Stick around for the conversations and insights that occur behind the scenes.