Picture the scene: it's the end of the first week of rehearsals. In the labyrinthine backstage at the Festival Theatre, performers wind their way through the corridors during their lunch break - faces flushed from running through some of the spectacular dance numbers under the watchful gaze of director and choreographer Donna Feore.
In dressing room 16, Blythe Wilson and Sean Arbuckle take a seat in front of the row of illuminated mirrors and banter about the whirlwind experience of their first week delving into Guys and Dolls.
Playing one of the leading romantic couples - the showgirl Miss Adelaide and her fiancé of 14 years, Nathan Detroit - the energetic pair share a natural, easy dynamic that is sure to shine through on stage.
"It's funny," observes Mr. Arbuckle. "Despite how busy it's been this first week, it feels like the two of us have only rehearsed together for a grand total of half an hour so far!"
"Yes," agrees Ms Wilson. "We sang through our only duet, a huge number for us called 'Sue Me,' from the end of Act II, where Nathan and Adelaide really battle it out and come apart at the seams. All the music is beautifully written, but that song is a great example of why Guys and Dolls is known as the perfect musical."
"It's true," says Mr. Arbuckle. "The songs just seem to flow and come naturally out of the scenes and the characters. All the pieces come together in just the right way."
"One of the great things about this musical is that it's so book-heavy," says Ms Wilson. "It's a wonderful thing for actors to be able to sink our teeth into great scene work on top of all the singing and dancing. The show is written with brilliant comedic moments and some very sweet and poignant dramatic ones as well.
"That's the genius of basing the piece on Damon Runyon's short stories: all the characters are well-rounded and from all parts of New York. The Brooklyn accent is a fun challenge! We have to get our mouths and brains around that distinctive accent, not only when we're acting, but when we're singing."
"The thing about working at the Stratford Festival is that we have amazing coaches to help us to master the accents," adds Mr. Arbuckle. "Our dialect coach, Nancy Benjamin, has been great with her supportive training. She has family that hails from Brooklyn, so her ear for the accent is spot-on and authentic.
"For me, it's been a lot of fun to return to Guys and Dolls. I played Sky Masterson in a summer stock production during my university years. But each time you do a show, you find new ways to inhabit the world and the characters - and you see all over again just how great the music, songs, the book and the characters are in this musical."
"This is my first time doing Guys and Dolls," says Ms Wilson. "I've seen three productions of it over the years, including one here at Stratford. When I was younger, I was more interested in playing Sarah Brown - but I remember seeing one production and being utterly fascinated by the character of Adelaide. I was really struck by everything about the show, and I completely fell in love with every aspect of it."
"I've been doing a lot of reading of the Runyon stories," says Mr. Arbuckle. "He has a unique and distinctive sentence structure - formal, yet informal at the same time. It's been a good way to get my brain moving in that direction. What sorts of things have you been doing over the winter," he asks Ms Wilson, "to get ready to play Miss Adelaide?"
"I've been poring over books about showgirls from the '20s, '30s, '40s and onwards," she replies. "They were really powerful, strong women, like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker - who had over 10,000 marriage proposals, by the way! - and they were certainly no pushovers. They knew exactly what they wanted. I think they are great examples of the route to go for Adelaide.
"I also did some classes at the Toronto School of Burlesque learning about the old-style routines, like fan dancing. That was fun! And I also kept up with ballet classes to be ready and stretched out for rehearsals and performances."
"I appreciate the way Donna [Feore] does a review of the week's work," says Mr. Arbuckle. "We all get to see and share in the incredible progress the company has already made - the Havana dance number blew me away! Audiences are going to love it - there are so many great moments and surprises in store.
"Donna's so thorough: the routines are filmed so she can look at them as we go and see where she could make improvements, and fill out the story even more. Her choreography now is fantastic; it's just about making sure the story of the dance is told as completely and coherently as possible."
"All the Hot Box Girls were asked by Donna to write a backstory about themselves," adds Ms Wilson, "to figure out how they got to be where they are, and their relationships with each other. It makes them all come so alive for the audience."
"One of the joys about mounting this show at the Festival is that we have the budget and the opportunity to really create a fully formed and populated world up there on stage," says Mr. Arbuckle. "I think we have something like 19 men involved in the Crapshooters' Ballet. That's only possible at a place like Stratford. And there are something like 165 unique costumes in the production.
"That makes it an amazing playground, both for us performers and the people out there watching. Guys and Dolls is going to be an incredible ride. I can't wait to start sharing it with our audiences in April."BONUS: Watch exclusive rehearsal footage!
Production Co-Sponsors: RBC Royal Bank and Union Gas Limited
Production support is generously provided by Robert & Mary Ann Gorlin, by Riki Turofsky & Charles Petersen and by Catherine & David Wilkes
Bringing a beloved novel to life on stage is an adventure in itself, and this season's retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic pirate tale is sure to be a hit for all the family to enjoy. An innovative new adaptation by Nicolas Billon will explore unexpected emotional dimensions of this high-stakes story of seafaring derring-do.
"This production uses the framing device of a father reading Treasure Island as a bedtime story to his two children," explains cast member Juan Chioran. "When his father sets the book aside for the night, young James dreams the rest of the adventure, with himself as Jim Hawkins. His imagination takes him on an incredible flight of fancy - and we get to go along for the ride.
"I play both his father and Long John Silver, who becomes very much a surrogate father figure to Jim within the story."
How can a nefarious crew of pirates become a sort of surrogate family? It happens for young Jim: he finds himself accepted by the rough-and-ready bunch, and they become almost like brothers and sisters to him.
"It truly is the quintessential adventure story for all time," says Mr. Chioran. "It is a coming-of-age for Jim, and he grows up very quickly in this relentlessly exciting set of circumstances, and he is able to manage very well in the midst of the pirate characters - he even finds himself in charge of the ship at one point."
Male or female, young or old, everyone relishes the idea of going on an adventure - if only in our dreams. Treasure Island is the ultimate example of what happens when a young person's boundless imagination is engaged and pushed to the limit.
"At the start of rehearsal, our director, Mitchell Cushman, asked each of the cast members to bring in a prop that represented what adventure meant to them. A lot of people brought something they had picked up while they were travelling - things that capture the idea of a world filled with possibility and exploring the great unknown. That is, I think, the universal appeal of adventure: there is a human need to discover and take a journey."
Setting forth on an adventure is a thrilling concept - but also a hazardous one. "It's a lot of fun, yes," says Mr. Chioran. "But it is also fraught with dangers. It takes a great deal of courage to embark on such an epic journey - there are so many unknowns and potential pitfalls involved, but the only way to triumph is to say, 'Yes, I will!' You must be willing to observe and soak it all up like a sponge. You can be so much better as a person for taking an adventure, but it's only profitable if you are open to its rewards.
"There is an incredible sense of forward thrust to our story. Just like sailing on a ship, your sights must always be set ahead. There is no turning back on a sea voyage. In that way, both the story and the ship are one and the same - relentlessly driving forward all the time."
It is easy to see how a boy on an adventure would need a father figure to help him on his way. But is it a two-way street? If Jim needs Long John Silver, does the pirate need a surrogate son?
"Yes, I think their father-son relationship is a very mutual one," says Mr. Chioran. "Jim looks up to Long John Silver as an elder - someone he can learn from - and he learns on his feet, as a kind of apprentice. Long John mentions along the way that he has children, but that he never gets to see them. I guess it's a bit tricky, given his profession! So he has a need to pass along his knowledge to the next generation.
"I think we all reach an age where we have an innate need to pass on what we have learned in the course of our lives: we want to leave our wisdom behind and leave our mark."
Treasure Island will appeal to girls as much as boys: in this new adaptation, some traditionally male characters are portrayed as female - among them Jim's friend Dr. Livesey, played by Sarah Dodd, and a remarkable version of Ben Gunn as played by aerialist Katelyn McCulloch. The dastardly crew of pirates will also have a number of female brigands on board.
"The women are every bit as strong and gutsy in this production as the men," says Mr. Chioran. "They are not just women playing men's parts: they are written as female roles. It gives a slightly friendlier twist to that dark underbelly on board the pirate ship - not so relentlessly macho and brutal.
"I think it gives the story a richer, fuller insight on humanity. It is an adventure for everyone in the family."Treasure Island runs at the Avon Theatre from April 22 to October 22. For more information and to book tickets, call 1.800.567.1600 or visit our website.
Treasure Island is the 2017 Schulich Children's Play.
Ticket sales are brisk for this year's Festival. If you haven't already booked your seats for these two popular productions, don't miss your chance: check out these added dates and buy your tickets today!The Madwoman of ChaillotTom Patterson Theatre
Wednesday, August 23, at 8 p.m.
Wednesday, August 30, at 8 p.m.
Tuesday, September 12, at 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 16, at 2 p.m.The Virgin Trial
Friday, August 25, at 8 p.m.
Thursday, September 14, at 2 p.m.
Friday, September 15, at 2 p.m.
Production support for The Madwoman of Chaillot is generously provided by Bob & Martie Sachs and by Alice & Tim Thornton
Production support for The Virgin Trial is generously provided by Karon C. Bales & Charles E. Beall, by Sylvia D. Chrominska and by Dr. Robert & Roberta Sokol
Implications of Inclusivity:
A panel of actors, including Sean Arbuckle, Anusree Roy, E.B. Smith and Brigit Wilson, discuss their experiences playing roles not explicitly written for their gender or ethnic backgrounds - and some of the ripples from that practice. Moderated by Dr. Adrienne Harris of NYU.Mounting Musicals:
Company member Sara Farb and Stratford native Britta Johnson present their original musical He Is Coming and discuss the current burgeoning of musical theatre creation with Mitchell Marcus, Artistic Director of Acting Up Stage.Bothered and Betrothed:
Sarah Afful, Sara Farb, Anusree Roy and Shannon Taylor hold a candid discussion about a woman's agency and options in her affairs of the heart, from arranged marriage to respectability politics, casual online encounters and more.
Martin Hunter: Bright Stars:
Seana McKenna, Stephen Ouimette and other beloved Stratford personalities featured in Martin Hunter's new book, Bright Particular Stars: Canadian Performers, reflect on the Festival's impact in shaping a quintessential Canadian theatre.
Wayne Best, Seana McKenna, Lucy Peacock, Scott Wentworth and other seasoned Stratford actors discuss how they bring fresh perspectives to Shakespearean roles that they revisit on numerous occasions over the course of their careers.
Wordplay is back!
Geraint Wyn Davies returns to host a popular series of broad-ranging dramatic readings inspired by the season's themes and performed by members of the company. This season's works are Albert Speer by David Edgar, The Rover by Aphra Behn and The Honest Whore by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton.
Support for WordPlay is generously provided by The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation
The third fabulous season of Stratford Festival HD launches with the Canadian première of our critically acclaimed production of Macbeth on Saturday, March 18, in various Cineplex locations. Tickets are on sale now!
More Stratford Festival HD is on the wayMacbeth will be followed by the Canadian cinema première of Love's Labour's Lost on April 29.
U.S. screenings for both films will begin in early spring. Additional dates and locations will be announced soon.
See you at the movies!TICKETS & LOCATIONS
Stratford Festival HD is sponsored by Sun Life Financial as part of their Making the Arts More Accessible™ program.
Support for Stratford Festival HD is generously provided by Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, the Jenkins Family Foundation, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Ophelia & Mike Lazaridis, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio, and an anonymous donor.
The Festival also acknowledges the support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
Canadian distribution is through Cineplex, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen. Cinema screenings are followed by a broadcast window on CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster.
U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.