“The shadow puppets are eating me alive. But in a good way.”
So begins my conversation with Glenys Robinson, Playwright and Director of the production, This Play is Like _____, which blends the seemingly innocuous elements of high school, allergies, and anime obsession with original folklore, stand-up comedy, and the above mentioned carnivorous shadow puppets.
“I’ve never worked with anything like them before and sometimes I feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. We want to make them very folktale/fairytale-esque. But culturally universal. How does a person design shadow puppets that stem from a culturally universal collective consciousness?”
Despite her natural humility, Glenys has assembled an impressive creative team, populated primarily by fellow seniors of Alexander Mackenzie High School in Richmond Hill. The completion of the puppets (designed by Robinson with her Shadow Puppet Co-ordinator, Ana Ghookassian) will mark an exciting benchmark for a play that has been in development since last spring.
“This play began when I was sitting in anthropology class trying to understand the ridiculous influx of anaphylactic allergies in North America. One of our friends is severely allergic to basically every kind of nut and seed and had previously performed a stand-up comedy routine on the realities of having an allergy in our drama class. I told her I wanted to write a play about allergies, incorporating her experiences, and she said she would help. I spent the entire summer reading folktales, writing down my experiences in high school (and stories of the experiences my friends have had), and letting it percolate. When I sat down to write it, it had morphed into something beyond allergies. It became a play about being incompatible with an environment; be it a public space that someone might have smeared peanut better all over, a high school where nobody is interested in the same things as you, a remote village smothering you with its traditions, or a home with a communication barrier. I took it to school originally planning on performing it at the Sears Drama Festival. Its only because everybody else – my teachers, my friends who are now the actors and the production team – cares about it as much as I do that it ever made it as far as Paprika.”
In addition to the support of her teachers and peers, Glenys will have the benefit of professional mentorship, provided by the Paprika Festival, in the form of Tarragon Theatre’s Assistant Artistic Director: the effervescent Andrea Donaldson.
“I’m really excited to be working with her; I feel like she’s the exact right person to be working with for this project.”
When asked to elaborate about the somewhat elusive meaning behind the title (This Play is Like ____), Glenys admitted to a personal Achilles Heel; one that, in this case, she has found a way to turn into a strength.
“I have a hard time with specifics like titles and names. They always feel very false to me – very intentional and contrived and inorganic. I think I’m probably just being silly, but by making the title something so vague it feels like I’m getting around that. It’s really a question. It begs to be filled in. It demands that each member of the audience reflects on what the play really meant to them. It forces you to make it personal.”
Abby Weisbrot, who officially joined the team in early September, agreed that the ambiguity of the title is also its greatest strength.
“To me, it represents all the different ways a person can describe something that is important to them. We all connect to it in different ways.”
For the team, especially the actors, the title has also become part of the process. “At the end of each rehearsal we ‘fill in the blank’ and each individual reflects on what the show means to them at that particular moment in time. We also have a little photography project where each team member takes a watercolour painting of the words ‘This Play Is Like ____’ home for two weeks and capture images exploring the themes of the play, as well as documenting their personal/artistic relationship to the play.”
While the show is still in early stages of rehearsal, this creative side-project has already borne some exciting results. You can follow their inspiring photo-journal here.
Abby, who is also in grade 12 at Alexander Mackenzie, has the added challenge of playing a variety of roles (as well as a variety of genders).
“I play characters far different from myself, so I have to put in the extra effort to make sure that pieces of me (or most pieces of me) don’t come out in my characters. It is also difficult, because I can’t focus all my attention on one character and polishing my choices, but rather four characters. Playing the male love interest is probably the most challenging, because, well, I’m a girl! Glenys has told me that it is more important that I distinguish the fact that I am not a girl, rather than that I am playing a boy (if that makes any sense). I have to pay more attention to how boys walk and talk, etc., which is a challenge. But I love being challenged in theatre and am really enjoying digging deeper into the crazy world of men!”
For Abby, the play is really about human connection, a theme which she hopes will suck the audience in, making them complicit with its full fruition.
“I hope the audience is able to relate and connect to the play. I, personally, was able to relate to most the situations in the play, which is why I feel so connected to it. I would love for the audience to also feel a connection to the show on a personal level, and really appreciate what the characters have to say.”
Glenys echoed Abby’s sentiments regarding audience connection and added this hope for her peers who come to see the play:
“For people my age, who are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, I just want them to walk away thinking that it’s all going to be okay. For parents, and people who haven’t been in that position in a while, I want them to remember what it’s like to be 17 and excited and terrified. As high school students, we often hear people say ‘Just wait until you finish high school and you start real life.’ But, this is our real life. We exist. Right now.”
The Paprika Festival runs March 28 – April 6, 2013. Check back soon for a full schedule, including the dates and times you can see This Play is Like ____ and watch this blog for another exciting “Spotlight On: Paprika Production: coming soon!
Wesley J. Colford is an emerging actor and playwright, originally from Sydney, NS but currently based in Toronto. He has been a Paprika Participant for three years, and is currently serving as a member of the Paprika Advisory Board, and pill perform in the upcoming Paprika Production “Genesis and Other Stories” by Rosamund Small.