Thursday, 12 April 2012

Nothing amateur about emerging actors

The Citadel Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, opening tonight after a series of previews begun last Saturday when I saw it, presents a potential dilemma for the ticket-buying public.
The prices the Citadel is charging are its standard professional theatre ticket rates, but the majority of the performers are what are optimistically and encouragingly called "emerging artists."
The 14 young professionals — and it must be said that the depth of experience most of these in-training performers has is impressive — are performing here because the Citadel's artistic management has chosen them from dozens of theatre aspirants from across Canada and perhaps beyond to hone their acting craft. All of the young actors have worked professionally, some of them even in establishments like Stratford and the Canadian Stage Company in Toronto, and each of them has an impressive academy credential from a good Canadian theatre program, including the University of Alberta's and the National Theatre School's. There are lots of folks from Windsor's BFA in this group.
Director Tom Wood
Clearly these 20-somethings saw the Citadel's professional development program as a building block to help them construct a sustainable career as actors, and they've worked hard for a month to prepare for what is for many of them their Citadel Theatre debut in one of Shakespeare's most charming plays. A Midsummer Night's Dream calls for the kind of boundless energy young people can bring to a project. If ever a play required a cast of young talent, this fantastical romance is it.
So the question is, 'Will you get your money's worth from this professional production?', which is directed by consummate professional Tom Wood and designed by undeniably professional Bretta Gereke? Will you feel like you're coming to a student production that feels too much like a show pivoting on talent that is still some distance from prime-time ready?
Well the short answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT!
The opening scene in which a young man donning a stage beard and pretending to be a mature aristocrat creaked a little. But by and large, no actor made me feel like I had to compromise my normal audience expectations and simply endure, and most of them demonstrated convincingly that they deserve to be paid to entertain the ticket-buying public. The fairyland look Gereke has conjured and Wood's deft direction of the idyllic and frenetic aspects of the action are unequivocally top-quality Citadel production value.
Rose Napoli plays Hermia
Shannon Taylor
plays Helena

A few of the actors, such as Shannon Taylor as Helena and Rose Napoli as Helena's rival Hermia, were memorable. Taylor, a Toronto native, was excellent from start to finish. Napoli started a bit tentatively, but she was a hilarious terror by the farcical fight scene toward the end. The Mechanicals, especially Julian Arnold's blustrous Bottom, were consistently amusing bumblers. Arnold is an established local pro, and I don't want to read too much into it, but his performance had features that raised it a notch above the mark some of the greener folks made. One irony of the rustic players in this production, who are meant to seem totally out of their element on the stage, is that the developing actors who played them played bad actors terrifically.
The acrobatic Jonathan Purvis, completing his second stint in the Citadel program, literally took over the stage whenever he appeared, swinging from a rope, climbing walls and flipping through the air forwards and backwards when a mere stage leap might seem too pedestrian. He demonstrated what having total control of the actor's full instrument can look like in performance. He clearly revelled in his role as Puck.
Edmonton's Opera Nuova program develops emerging opera singers in a month to six-week boot camp like the Citadel/Banff intensive program for actors, and the opera camp culminates in two full-length opera productions at the end of the training period each year. Over the years that I've been going to those productions, I have noticed a sustained improvement in the performances of all the singers, most of whom don't have the breadth of stage experience the young actors bring to the Citadel. The singer who looks quite unsuited for the performance profession has been a rarity in the past few years.
My conclusion is that the selection process has become so assured that folks like Citadel artistic director Bob Baker are able to discover high-potential talent that is genuinely worthy of a critical audience's attention.
You don't have to believe in fairies to see the magic in this Midsummer Night's Dream.

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