Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Director's Chair - Ron Reed on 'An Almost Holy Picture'

Currently playing on our BMO Studio Stage is 'An Almost Holy Picture', by Heather MacDonald. The play follows the spiritual journey of Samuel Gentle: a gardener wrestling with faith and divine mystery as he navigates his calling of care-taking. We caught up with director Ron Reed for some of his thoughts on the production.

Ron Reed in Pacific Theatre's production of Outside Mullingar. Photo by Jalen Saip.
What's the first thing that resonated with you in the story?
I found Samuel’s experiences in New Mexico so vivid. They stick with me. I also loved “that wild child, Angel Martinez” who is a complete outsider, and the fact that he is such a gifted photographer. 

You’re Artistic Director of Pacific Theatre (Vancouver), a playwright, AND a professional actor. Is it difficult to let go of those roles when you direct? Do different tools come into play?
In one way, yes, very much. In another way they are very similar, especially on a one-man show. What’s different? When I’m an actor, almost my entire job is to lose myself in the story, imagining myself in the middle of all the things that are happening. As a director I am the outside pair of eyes that provides shape, tempo, imagery to make the story clear and potent for the audience - so that the actor is free to lose himself in the story. What’s similar, though, is that I am very much working to help the actor bring his very best work, so I am constantly imagining myself in the middle of his process so I can build his confidence, figure out how to overcome obsacles, etc - thinking very much as an actor.

In ‘An Almost Holy Picture', Samuel Gentle is a father who’s walked away from an official role in the church to become a kind of recluse in care of a Church’s grounds and a daughter with an extraordinary condition. As an artist and father of two daughters, do you identify with his path? 
What we have in common is that the fact of being a father is probably the central thing in our lives. We also have in common an unshakeable preoccupation with God - though, while I’ve had all kinds of difficulties that have challenged my faith, I’ve never become alienated from God, or felt the need to walk away from the church or my own faith as a result. (Well, maybe for a week or two here or there, but that’s mostly just when we’re not on speaking terms - nothing permanent.)

David Snider (Samuel Gentle) and Ron Reed (Director) at first read for An Almost Holy Picture.

In a one-person show, is it difficult to establish a sense of conflict?  How do you engage the audience in a deeply complex and internal struggle?
I don’t think of the through-line or story of a play in terms of conflict, though I know that’s one way to approach it. I see it as a journey, a series of events, the consequences and choices that follow those events, and then the events that are caused by those choices - which then lead to other consequences and choices. And since Samuel talks with us so openly about that train of events and consequences, I find it just as interesting as I would to sit down and listen to anybody tell me their story. Especially someone as honest, observant and complex as Samuel.

Any surprises in the rehearsal process?
That the play had to be under two hours, including intermission. 

What’s currently inspiring you?
The baseball writing of W.P. Kinsella, especially his novel Shoeless Joe - such language! Spending time with my nine month old grand-daughter. The New Yorker Radio Hour podcast. Listening to music late at night: ska and early reggae, a jazz singer named Carolyn Credico, vintage rock and pop - The Flamingos, The Crows, The Chords, Del Vikings, Doris Troy, Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, The Tams. Endless listens to Donald Fagen’s Nightfly album. 

Ron Reed as the doctor himself in Pacific Theatre's production of Freud's Last Session. Photo by Damon Calderwood.
This production of ‘An Almost Holy Picture' is also a part of Pacific Theatre’s upcoming season, which includes a new play, by you, about the friendship between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Can you give a sneak peek into your process?
I’ve set aside couple weeks this summer to dig in on revising the play, and I hope to do another draft some time this fall. In this last draft the very important third character of Charles Williams finally clicked into place, especially his scenes with a young woman named Lois Lang-Sims. Now I can really focus on the over-arching story of the rise and fall of the friendship, really making sure one thing leads to another. And to centre it in J.R.R. Tolkien - what things does he do, and why, and are there moments where he realizes things? I think his wife Edith will be really important in that. (for more on the production, click here)

Is there a directing project on your bucket list?
I’m not thinking much further than Tolkien, which has been on my mind since I started work on it in 2012, which we’re premiering next May. But okay, two others come to mind, Will Eno’s Middletown and a stage adaptation of the bizarre John Patrick Shanley movie Joe Versus The Volcano.

What’s your favourite summer indulgence?
Spending long days and evenings in my back yard – board games, hammock, barbecue, baseball on the radio.

If you were going to create an almost holy picture, what would you put into the frame?
These days, it would be a very crowded picture.

What's next for you?
I’ll be playing Paul in The Christians at Pacific Theatre this September - the same role Dave Snider is playing here at Rosebud! Such a powerful play - and I’ve never worked with any of the rest of the cast before, which is a rare treat for me.  Already working on the lines...

Ron Reed is Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre. He founded the company in 1984 after receiving an M.F.A. in Acting from California Institute of the Arts. His critically acclaimed performances in 'Shadowlands', 'A Man for All Seasons', 'Mourning Dove', 'God's Man in Texas', and 'Cotton Patch Gospel' garnered Jessie Richardson Award nominations. As a widely produced playwright, (with over fifty productions of his plays to date), he won the Chalmers Canadian Play Award for 'Book of the Dragon' and was nominated for both Dora Mavor Moore and Sterling Awards for 'Tent Meeting' (a collaboration with Morris Ertman). His other works include 'Refuge of Lies', 'A Bright Particular Star', and 'You Still Can't'.  

'An Almost Holy Picture' plays now until September 2.  For tickets and information, visit

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