Real Life Characters
There are many different ways for performers to approach verbatim theatre characters. Some productions have their cast listen to all the interviews for them to get a vivid sense of the person behind the characters. Some companies go as far as having the performers wear ear buds and listen to the recordings of interviews as they say the lines so they can replicate as precisely as possible every intonation shift.
Open Pit Theatre decided to go down a different path. None of the performers have access to any of the audio recordings. Jess and I wanted to maintain people's anonymity (as much as a small town allows it) and we especially wanted to avoid having actors imitate or mimic the interviewees. For us, what mattered was for the performers to be true to the essence of the people we interviewed rather than striving for a documentary-like accuracy.
We started by all sitting down together to talk about these characters. Jess and I shared what we recall of them physically, what they were wearing, how they smelt, their mannerisms, tone of the voice, where the interview took place, etc. With that information and all the insight that the exact transcriptions offer as far as speech patterns, stutters, hesitations and accents, each performer's job was to find their own interpretations of the real Yukoners behind the characters, with guidance from the director and myself as playwright.
We are one week into rehearsals and it has been so gratifying to see all these words I have been reading over and over and over again in the editing process come to life. During our very first read through, I was fascinated to hear performers absolutely nail characters they have never met before. JD, a Saskatchewan raised and Vancouver based actor read the part of Bill, a Yukon miner, with such accuracy that I thought to myself "He knows him!!! How does he know him?!" But he didn't. It's been just as interesting to discover new layers of the script by hearing some of thewords delivered in a slightly different way than how the interviewees spoke them. I love to see these new perspectives emerge and I am finding that they often emerge when a character is being played by a performer from a very different age group, shape or ethnicity. When Brenda plays the role of a character who is described by his peers as "the local redneck" or when our youngest cast member Katlyn plays the role of a woman who's been in the Yukon for over 40 years, I find their stories and statements resonate in a different way. Strangely, I hear the words themselves more.
With several more weeks to go before opening, I can't wait to see how these real-life characters mature in the rehearsal hall.
- Geneviève Doyon (Playwright/Performer)