ron pederson, naomi snieckus, matt baram
photo by may truong
My favourite thing about The National Theatre of the World is that their shows always seek to bring artists together in collaboration with one another. Ever since its inception almost three years ago, Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson have been fostering and strengthening the Canadian comedy and theatre communities and seeking to unite them ardently together. One of the reasons that I support this company so steadfastly and so zestfully, apart from the obvious fact that the theatre that they create is of an impeccable quality which is both electric and inspiring, is that The National Theatre of the World’s ardent support for the rest of Canada’s theatre and comedy communities and their ability to introduce audiences from different theatrical experiences to actors, singers, playwrights, musicians and a slew of other performance genres and encouraging a collusion of “Improvisers” and “actors”, “directors” and “playwrights” goes hand in hand with the work that I do here at The Way I See It, encouraging the community to come together and to be invincible. To celebrate today, while Snieckus and Baram and Pederson are in Charleston, South Carolina performing a David Mamet Impromptu Splendor (they never stop!) at the Piccolo SpoletoFestival there, I’d just like to take a few moments to adequately appreciate how lucky we are to have these lovely laughter lunatics in our midst.
Matt Baram offstage often exudes this polite, modest affability, but he is the performer who is the most able to, metaphorically speaking (although watch enough Impromptu Splendors and I’m sure this will literally happen someday), pull the rabbit out of the hat. I have seen Matt Baram perform a great number of times, under different circumstances, with different Improv companies, and he is a performer who is continually able to surprise me. I remember this one time he was performing at Monkey Toast with Jan Caruana and they were doing this musical bit and Matt just suddenly burst out into song and together the two of them did this duet straight off the cutting board from Les Miserables. I remember at that moment being so struck, not only by how good Matt was at singing (when Ron’s not there to do it for him), but also the panache he had, the perfect gusto of a Broadway 11 o’clock number. I’ve seen Matt play the sweetest, most charming and pure of heart characters you could ever imagine, ones that would probably make you cry, if they weren’t in the middle of an improvised play. I have seen him play the most vindictive and callous villains, with exactly the same proficiency; characters that you earnestly love to hate. I have seen him do the silliest things too, usually at Carnegie Hall, when one never knows what madness will be conjured forth, but I have also seen him brilliantly improvise a song about Nepean, Ontario in an Impromptu Splendor and I have seen him play a wide array of Nazis and even Hitler, a few too many times! Of course, Matt has to be versatile, he is an Improviser, I’m sure he can do anything, but what makes him stand out so wonderfully is what depth, what commitment, he gives to every moment, and it is that which creates the lovely moments and the complex and sometimes heart rending characters so integral to the NTOW experience and, especially, what helps turn Impromptu Splendor into a play.
Naomi Snieckus has this incredible practical vision that helps to turn a plethora of incredibly great ideas into a reality of splendour. That is what always strikes me most about her. She is so ambitious and she is like the company magic maker, you whisper something to Naomi and POOF, she will see it materialize. It’s truly fascinating to watch. As a performer, and as the only female core member of the company, Naomi often plays all the female characters in any given play, which can sometimes mean developing one of depth, substance and complexity or playing a myriad of different ones, which can sometimes lead to her having her own little one-woman show on the side, constantly flipping in and out of people in a whirlwind. My favourite Naomi memory is from a play that she and Matt improvised together, a long time ago back when they were still at Comedy Bar, I think it was Clifford Odets, it was just the two of them, and it was one of the most beautiful and wistful performances that I have ever seen Naomi give. Since there was just her and Matt there was an intensity and chemistry to this play that was stronger than in others that I have seen and it drew the audience in so close. I also love watching Naomi when she is playing the strongest character onstage, which is often. She has a gift for playing characters whose thorny exteriors are hiding a deep, vulnerable hurt inside, and for striking the perfect balance between maintaining the facade, but also exposing moments that cut right to her heart. It’s fascinating. She is also, obviously, quick to say something that makes everyone laugh until their sides ache. All three of them are whizzes at such things. Naomi is really bright and you can see, especially when she Improvises, but off stage as well, that the wheels of that industrious mind are always turning and quickly. She is passionate about theatre, as all three of them are, but her exuberance and excitement for the playwrights that they are working with or the styles they are working with or the special guests that they have for the evening, resonate and are infectious with the audience. Naomi’s unbridled love for our artists is making Toronto (and indeed, now THE WORLD) fall in love with Canadian theatre and that is something that keeps making my heart burst with joy and pride day after day after day.
Ron Pederson, I’m sure anyone who has had the great fortune of seeing him onstage would tell you, is a mesmerizing performer to watch. He shines in all of the National Theatre of the World’s ventures, but first I am going to tell you about Carnegie Hall. In Carnegie Hall Naomi, Matt and Chris Gibbs host the evening as sort of “Through the Looking Glass” versions of themselves, but for me, it’s always Ron and his sleazy alter ego “Ronald” who really cement for me the world that this show has emerged from. He exudes this ambiance of New York in 1961, a television broadcast on PBS at 2am that forty five people have seen, and that drunken host, who was famous for something once that no one can remember, who is having a torrid affair with every girl on the set. That’s “Ronald,” he is a gateway to another era, and once you are transported to his place, The Carnegie Hall Show becomes a bit of brilliance. In Impromptu Splendor, Ron is most well known and beloved for penning some of the company’s most beautiful, lyrical, heartfelt and poetic lines. He has a poet’s soul and so too do many of his characters, even the ones that are most unlikely to have them, such as a character he once played in a George F. Walker Splendor at Comedy Bar one time, who amused himself in jail by reading the dictionary. Such brilliant tossing together of seemingly incongruous elements allows a lot of the humour that Ron evokes to rise naturally out of the character and story, which helps to keep the play faithful to its style. That’s not to say that he isn’t known for his silliness, thankfully he knows when to pull that out of his pocket too, but he has a deep respect for playwrights, and story and the heart of the theatre, and this raises the Impromptu Splendors beyond just being witty parodies, but instead create carefully crafted plays of creative and emotional depth in their own right. Ron is exceptionally smart, his knowledge of the Canadian theatre is extensive and thorough and he is meticulous in his ability to capture not only a playwright’s writing style, but also the way these plays would be staged and to look deeper into the guts of narrative and into the heart of the words, so that he is able to play with things like metaphor, irony and subtext. Ron is also an idea machine, always dreaming up new ways to make Improvisation an integral part of the Toronto theatre community and for fun and unique new projects for The National Theatre of the World to embark on. Ron inspires me constantly in his ability to jump into everything and anything the Universe throws at him, whether it be a new play by Catalyst Theatre, a One Man Catch 23 Night, a musical at CanadianStage, a one-man play where he plays a seven year old, a revival of a StewartLemoine play, an Improvised Soap Opera or an Impromptu Splendor and to really be brilliant in each one. He works hard and he loves what he does and the results of that, he proves time and again, are tremendous.
Happy National Theatre of the World Day, Everyone. Be brave, Follow your heart and Read a Play.
If you are in Charleston, South Carolina, and I know some of you fine folks are, check out Impromptu Splendor at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival this week!
Here is the schedule
Tuesday, May 31 at 8:30 p.m. David Mamet
Wednesday, June 1 at 8:30 p.m. Tennessee Williams
Friday, June 3 at 9:00 p.m Oscar Wilde
Saturday, June 4 at 5:30 p.m. Sam Shepard
Sunday, June 5 at 7:00 p.m. Anton Chekhov