Fragility and Humanity in Crow’s Theatre’s Seagull

TheSeagull

christine horne & eric peterson

“The theatre is dead… the audience is dying,” Konstantin declares in Robert Falls’ 2010 adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull, which Chris Abraham and Crow’s Theatre brings to the stage at the Canadian Stage Berkeley Street Theatre until February 8th, 2015. The young, emerging writer, Konstantin, scoffs at the Establishment, the popular melodramas that his mother stars in, calling instead for a new form of theatre, one that speaks in the contemporary voice and encourages critical thought and stirs raw emotion in the audience. He calls for a theatre that means something, a theatre that is necessary to its society, in the same way that so many theatre artists here in Toronto and across the country have abandoned the conventions of the mainstream theatres and seek to find new ways to make theatre relevant in a world that doesn’t seem conducive to theatre at all.

It is interesting, in this way, that Robert Falls and Crow’s Theatre would choose to remind those of us who do still sit in darkened theatres together, that the theatre is dying from the mouth of a character that was created over one hundred years ago. While Konstantin works within a new theatrical framework, the early Symbolist Movement, in attempt to capture what he perceives to be the human condition in his own time, Falls and Abraham instead revisit The Seagull, a play that has become part of The Establishment’s Canon, but present it in a way that seems to be speaking directly to us, in our our voices, of our own time.

In fact, from the moment Bahia Watson’s Masha exclaims, “I’m in mourning for my liiife!” with a ferocity of misery, but also a flair for the melodramatic, our century converges with hers and Abraham has us viewing 1896 and 2015 through overlapping lenses. In The Seagull Chekhov brings together a group of artists, intellectuals and aspiring artists, and places them on a Country Estate where boredom and isolation helps to fuel their insecurity, love triangles, hopelessness and desperation. Everyone is in love with the wrong person, and all this unrequited love breeds anguish and turmoil. Much of the action in this play is psychological. Each character is a unique product of his or her upbringing, environment and distinct personality, and the ways in which these characters interact with one another reveal how unhealthy psychological patterns can be inherited and can ensnare tortured people in self destructive behaviour.

The best example of this is Yanna McIntosh’s Arkadina, Konstantin’s mother, a famous actress and the lover of the illustrious writer Trigorin. She is regal and captivating, dramatic and easily bored, but as the play progresses it becomes increasingly clear that she is always playing her theatrical persona, in attempt to keep her messy, complex, insecure emotions at bay. At times she can conjure up passion, as an actor does, like when she begs Trigorin not to leave her for the young and sweet aspiring actress, Nina, but it is performative and manipulative rather than raw and vulnerable. Arkadina’s inability to truthfully connect with Konstantin ensures that she passes her own insecurities and feelings of failure, isolation and inadequacy on to him, which he internalizes until they haunt him to death. Tom Rooney’s Trigorin is quiet, aloof, discerning and lost in a mind that continually spins ideas for new stories. He is detached from Arkadina in the same way that she is detached from Konstantin. She pleads for his undivided attention and unconditional love in the same way that her son asks these things of her. Unlike Arkadina, who buries her weaknesses, Trigorin expertly uses his insecurity, self-loathing and restlessness to seduce young Nina, Konstantin’s love. The scene in which Rooney’s Trigorin, cynical, tired and frustrated with himself, masterfully opens himself up to Christine Horne’s Nina, a lovely young lady poised carefully in a brief moment where she shines with love of learning, hope for her future and belief in herself, is particularly compelling and beautiful. He will crush her, strike her down like the fallen seagull, but initially his seduction appears to buoy Nina up and provide her with the impetus she needs to leave an unhappy childhood home. Philip Riccio’s Konstantin, like Hamlet, is stuck inside his own head, where he is at the mercy of his own critical voice, one that likely sounds very much like his mother. He roams through the play, brooding, unable to find the human connection his heart and mind crave so much, either from a meaningful relationship with Nina, or with the audience for his writing.

Tony Nappo’s Shamrayev, the manager of the household, captures perfectly the unhinged ambiance of Chekhov’s world. Initially, Shamrayev is gregarious and seeks the attention and accolades of his peers, Yet, he is only self-interested, and hungry to control others and he is quick to abandon all pretence and to reveal a violent and wrathful anger whenever he feels threatened or disrespected. He is unpredictable, deceitful and his actions have consequences- like dominoes falling- on everyone else around him. His wife, Polina, played by Tara Nicodemo, tiptoes around him and behind his back in dalliance with the charming, roguish Doctor, Dorn, played by a very suave Tom McCamus. His daughter Masha creates a rough shell for herself, a rude, aggressive, rebellious facade, in which she tries desperately to hide how deeply she cares and how much she feels. She tosses her husband, the schoolteacher Medvedenko aside so brutally I almost expected Gregory Prest to start singing “Mr. Cellophane.”

The character in the play who shows the most earnestness, the most kindness and honesty toward his fellows is Sorin, Arkadina’s older and infirm brother. He is played by Eric Peterson, who seems to expose his own heart to us in every breath he takes. Yet, not only is Sorin dying, suggesting perhaps that such goodness is a relic of the past, but he sees his life as having been a disappointing failure. He was too careful, he didn’t take risks or follow his dreams. He was “the Man Who Never Did” and he is filled with regrets. Shamrayev, however, is robust and, at least outwardly, boastful of his experiences. That is the tragedy and the unfairness of life in this Chekhov play.

Chris Abraham’s production is so exquisitely well acted that the audience is able to feast on Chekhov’s rich subtext and it becomes a play about ideas as much as it is about relationships. The World of The Seagull destroys dreams and idealism and preys on those who are sensitive. The stronger learn to protect themselves with carefully constructed facades, but these prove difficult to maneuver around in manners of the heart. Julie Fox’s set is stripped down, revealing rather than concealing The Berkeley Street Theatre, and so too does Fall’s adaptation and Abraham’s direction feel like the stripping down of Chekhov’s story, and his characters, so that we can see more of their bones… of their souls. He doesn’t let them hide quite as easily, here in 2015, so it is easier for us to see ourselves and Our World in them.

The Seagull is currently closed.

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Proud Canadians. Proud Artists. Proud to Help Michael Healey.

In January 2012 Toronto-based playwright, Michael Healey, who had been a playwright in residence at the acclaimed Tarragon Theatre for the past eleven years, brought Artistic Director, Richard Rose, a draft of his newest play, Proud. Proud is the third play in a trilogy centering on “Canadian societal values” and it delves into the entrails of our current government, featuring a character modelled closely after Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In a March 2012 article in the Globe and Mail Healey spoke about his decision to dramatize the Prime Minister thus, ““My entire focus was to get as close to understanding Stephen Harper’s behaviour as possible, and to actually create a sympathetic character. Because I just don’t think it’s interesting to present a demonized version of somebody who I believe cares deeply about the job he’s doing.” Yet, when John McKellar, a retired lawyer and member of the Tarragon Board, raised concerns about the play being potentially libellous and defamatory to Stephen Harper, Rose decided not to produce the play, so Healey resigned and took to the public for help and support to get this new work produced elsewhere. The community rallied behind him.

Proud will be produced at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto from September 20-October 6, with an amazing cast including Healey as the Prime Minister, with Maev Beaty, Jeff Lillico and Tom Rooney, directed by Miles Potter. There is a campaign set up to help this production meet its costs and at the moment Proud has reached over $16,500 of its goal of $20,000. There have been readings of Proud produced across the country in solidarity for the production which have also helped to raise money to see the play mounted in the Fall.

New Kid on the Block in Halifax, Anthony Leclair is producing the Halifax reading of Proud today, Saturday July 7th, 2012 at the David Mack Murray Studio Theatre (Studio 1) in the Dalhousie Arts Centre (6101 University Avenue, Halifax) with a cast that includes Hal Tatlidil, Wayne Burns, Sarah-Kate Marsh and Duncan Griffiths. Anthony and I met at Two If By Sea on an extremely foggy Thursday afternoon eating croissants and drinking hot chocolate. Here is a bit of what was said!

Amanda Campbell (AC): So, first thing. Do you want to talk a little bit about yourself since you’re the new kid in town?

Anthony Leclair (AL): I’m from a small town called Deep River, Ontario, in the middle of nowhere. I started in theatre just before High School, but that was all Community Theatre, and I guess somewhere in there I started to focus more on the shows I was doing than the schoolwork that I should have been doing so I decided that’s what I should go to school for. I ended up in North Bay at Canador College, which was more because of the girl I was with at the time than the school itself, but even though it was a new program, all the instructors there either had been or were working professionals. You and I were talking before about working with David Fox, and that was obviously brilliant. So, that was a three year program crunched into two years.

AC:  What brings you to Halifax?

AL: A different girl. (laughs)

AC: Really? I see a pattern! A pattern is developing here.

AL: Yeah. It’s also coupled with the fact that I play music and I do theatre so I was like, “Ah! I know! I can make money doing music and then I can build up my own little theatre company!” Because I know Neptune is here, and that’s great, and it’s all the mainstream theatre stuff and then there’s 2b theatre and all the little theatres that do awesome things as well and I wanted to be a part of that and, maybe, help to build more and to present stuff that people might not ordinarily like, but to present it in a way that would make them want to go and see it. So, I figured I could make money doing music to finance theatre stuff and I thought, “Oh, that’ll be easy! Because everyone does music here!” and then I realized that I should have looked at it as, “Oh shit! Everyone does music here!” So, it’s actually not as easy as I had anticipated! (laughs)

AC: But, there’s still an avenue for that. So, for your company, are you thinking of doing plays that are written by Canadian playwrights that have been already produced elsewhere or your own original work?

AL: I have some of my own pieces that I’d like to do, but I would love to be able to focus on Canadian works because I think that’s important because Canada doesn’t have a strong sense of “Canadian culture” or “Canadian art” you know beyond, Oh, Stan Rogers. Oh, Shania Twain. Justin Bieber. You know? They’re “The Canadians” but the only reason that they’re “The Canadian artists” is because no one hears about David Fox or Michael Healey, you know? To a certain extent. I mean, obviously people hear about them but not in the way you would hear about Brangelina. I don’t have a delusion of making the celebrity system that they have in the States here in Canada and I wouldn’t want that…

AC: Yes. I sort of want there to be a little bit more, but not too much. I want people to know who Ted Dykstra is, but I don’t want them camping in his backyard.

AL: Yes, a way that you can respect these people as artists and what they do and recognize their contributions to the world around them without having to stalk them. So, yes, to answer your question (laughs) I have original works that I would love to produce, I am always writing, but I’d also like to do the work of people not just from the East Coast, but all across the country.

AC: That’s awesome. I do feel like there’s a hole right now, which maybe you have come to fill, in the Halifax theatre scene. It seems like everyone is very concerned with there not being enough East Coast theatre, so there’s a lot of people here writing their own plays, which is great. But, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Canadian theatre from elsewhere being produced here. Neptune will bring a few shows in from other theatres, and they’re getting far better at doing that now with George Pothitos, but mostly we’ve still got a lot of the big Broadway musicals, the classics from the United States and Britain but not a lot of the Judith Thompson or Vern Thiessen or Brad Fraser or Sky Gilbert or Michael Healey plays. Even The Drawer Boy, I don’t think most people here have seen that. Maybe they’ve read it. Maybe they’ve heard of it, but it seems like unless you leave, you don’t see most of what’s going on theatrically in the rest of the country. And most people don’t leave to go on theatre trips because it’s too expensive.

AL: And where is the funding for that?

AC: Exactly. So, what made you decide that you wanted to do Proud here?

AL: Well, when I was still in North Bay, so, I left North Bay in May, I was working with people at Canadore College, I was tutoring at the program that I went to school for. I had been in Ottawa and then I went back to North Bay to do a show there and got the tutoring job, and stuck around there for awhile and Rod Carley, the coordinator of the Candore program, knew Michael from when he was working in Toronto before he came from North Bay to start the College program. So, he heard about the Tarragon debacle and everything and asked Michael if he could do a read of it, which I was originally cast for, but ended up having to drop out because I ended up coming out here. I still wanted to be a part of it because, having gone through some of the rehearsal process before I knew I had to depart, reading through it and hearing everything that had happened, I was appalled at first at the Tarragon business and regardless of who said what and all that, the fact that a show like this can’t be put up because they’re afraid of the Prime Minister coming down saying, “No, No, No, I don’t think so, we’re shutting you down” or whatever and charging you for writing a fictionalized version of this person–

AC: And there is a lot of stuff in the play that is based on facts. There are a lot of things that you can point to in the play and say, “This is actually real, this really happened.”

AL: There’s plenty.

AC: You can’t sue people for writing real things!

AL: What drove me to do it more, not only was I appalled that our constitutional right of freedom of speech was quashed—not directly or illegally– but by the fear that the powers that be would squash everyone for doing it… so, without actually saying, “You can’t do this,” the fear of it stopped them from doing it. You know what I mean? And so then, obviously, Michael left and started doing these reads starting with the one at Theatre Passe Muraille, which is a brilliant theatre. Then also, while reading it, it made me see “Harper” or “The Prime Minister” in a different light. It makes you, in one sense, hate him for what he is doing to the country but sort of makes him human. Michael puts a human face on this permanent, creepy smiling man that Harper is. He is this awkward guy that doesn’t care what other people think; he only cares about doing what he needs to do and then leaving. Which, actually, is an admirable thing, I think, to have in a leader. Someone who actually knows what they want to do. The difference is how they go about getting what they want.

AC: And what they want.

AL: And what they want, of course. The play is just so incredibly relevant. Michael talks about the fighter jets, he talks about the long gun registry. He talks about re-opening the abortion debate and so many other issues. To me, I’m not as politically charged as some of my friends are, but it matters to me. This country matters to me and what it goes through matters to me. And the fact that someone was writing this play to discuss what is going on in our country right now and the problems that we are facing with the powers of the Harper government, and that this was pushed to the side because of the fear of that government, made me want to do it even more. So, I got Rod Carley to get me Michael Healey’s email, which took awhile, and then Sue Edworthy and Michael, both on the same day, were like, “Yes! We want you to do this! Please bring us to Atlantic Canada! No one has done anything out there yet!” And they’ve done Whitehorse and Winnipeg and Barrie and Toronto and North Bay and Thunder Bay, but they haven’t touched anywhere out here. So, I was more than happy to be able to bring that out here. And, of course, BOTH OF THEM, in the same gap of time said, “And you should look up Amanda Campbell because she’ll be able to write up and review everything and she’s a great contact to have.”

AC: Well shucks. It’s interesting when you were talking, it made me think of how on Canada Day I was at my grandmother’s house and she had on the 24 Hour News Station, which is the same about ten new stories on a loop, so I had memorized all the news for the day, and I keep watching this same segment over and over “Happy Canada Day From Our Troops.” That’s so telling to me. I feel like in the media that when we’re putting our patriotic foot forward, it is always the people in the Forces they bring out to wish you a Happy Canada Day. Or, sometimes they bring out the athletes, especially since it’s almost the Olympics. It makes me wonder, where are the artists in all this?  Yet, we seem to keep getting this rap that we’re so subversive, and that somehow means we’re not patriotic. And, I know a lot of people in the Canadian theatre community, and I don’t know any people who are more patriotic and who love this country more than this community. They are terrified for the future of this country and are invested in every single thing that happens here, they are reading the newspapers and between the lines and thinking and writing and loving Canada, and they are so proud to be Canadian. And I feel like the media never grabs on to that aspect of it. We’re not given the opportunity to show that by writing a play like Proud, that shows a great respect for the Canadian people, a great concern for Canada and a desire to see us reach our great potential.

AL: It’s also so interesting because, I think the “media” to some extent, are also part of that group of “artists.” I mean, if you take the CBC for example, you can’t say that there aren’t artists who are working there, and yet it’s really surprising that it is so hard to get artists promoted and presented in any sort of way there.

AC: I emailed the Halifax division of CBC Television recently and I offered to volunteer my time to go in there, to the Halifax branch of the CBC, and to do 15 minutes- TOPS- I would take 10. I would even take 5. Free! To go in and do: Amanda Campbell Presents! 15 minutes of What’s Going on in the theatre in Halifax This Week!

AL: That would be great!

AC: And they turned me down.

AL: Wow. (pause) Well, I just sent out the press release to them and every other radio station in Halifax- so we’ll see how that goes.

AC: It’s hard. It is so hard. It is easier in Toronto.

AL: That’s the thing. Sue and Michael both were like, “Yes! CBC will get in there!” And I don’t know if that is because they’re thinking of Toronto’s CBC, which is like, “Yes! Because we will support the arts!”

AC: It’s also because of what we were saying about celebrity. If you say tell CBC Producer X in Halifax “Michael Healey’s play” and you tell CBC Producer Y in Toronto “Michael Healey’s play,” Michael Healey is going to sell that to Toronto. And Producer X in Halifax is going to be like, “I don’t know who that is.” Which, is exactly why I would like to do a segment on CBC in the first place because I feel like there is a market for people to be able to learn more about the Canadian theatre so that they will know who Michael Healey is and why he is important.

AL: It’s really not that difficult for them to find out though. That’s the sad part. You just need to put his name in Google and you will immediately get all these news articles about the recent Proud debate and the readings of it from across the country.

AC: Exactly. It is a bandwagon that they should want to get on. But, I don’t think they know that the bandwagon exists. I feel like there is this prevalent attitude here that there is this big divide between the artistic community and the general public. This makes me really sad because it’s not true. We are artists and we are also part of the general public. We are the public. We are the people.

AL: We are the people who are basically in every single facet of your everyday life in some way or another. We’re just trying to do what we love also.

AC: Exactly. We are normal Canadians living ordinary lives. We are the voters, the tax payers and the public. Speaking of artists doing what they love, you have a great cast assembled for your reading of Proud.

AL: I have. Thank you!

AC: I love that you have Hal (Tatlidil) as the Prime Minister.

AL: Me too.

AC: Because he is just a completely different physical… experience than Stephen Harper…

AL: Yes. He was saying after the initial read through, that the way that Michael writes this character… Jisbella says that the Prime Minister is like a thing of mashed potatoes in a suit and Hal said, “I feel that confined just in the way Michael has written it.” Even in the beginning when he’s talking to the riding saying, “This is the way it is, we’ll do this, we’ll do this, we’ll do this.” Hal was like, “I feel I can’t express myself because I am not allowed to express myself because I have to be this way and I can’t be any other way.” But then the expression comes out behind closed doors. There’s that beautiful scene where Jisbella has just presented the anti-abortion bill and they’re having a fake fight in the office and they’re having a riot, they’re having a blast. It’s one of the most human parts for Hal to play. And he loves it too. Those are the moments where Hal can come out. And I feel like that must be how Harper must feel. That disconnect between him as the Prime Minister and him as himself. There’s a great line in the play, and obviously there’s a disconnect between this and the real person, where he says, “Oh, I have tons of integrity; I just keep it as far away from the office as possible.” And there’s all the stuff with his family, the part where he tells Jisbella, “Sorry, I can’t do this because I have a wife and a family.” He has all these human things-

AC: But then, do you remember that photo from five or six years ago of Harper sending his son off to school shaking his hand? It’s such a weird moment. It makes me think, “I don’t know if real Stephen Harper would be able to have a riot fake fight in his office.” Maybe Michael Healey is giving him more leniency than he would allow himself. … If he can’t even hug his own kid goodbye.

AL: Maybe so. That’s priceless. I have never seen that photo. But still, there’s a picture of that, it was taken out in the world or whatever. That’s not in his home. I’m fascinated by this idea of what goes on behind closed doors. It’s like he has this moral code that only applies to him when he’s at home with his family. But then, when he’s in his office, nothing matters. It’s “this is what I have to do and this is how I have to do it and that’s it.” Each of the characters in the play are wonderful. Sarah Kate is playing Jisbella and we were playing around a lot with how much of this character is actually dense and how much is actually knowing full well what’s happening. Everything is explained at the end when her son, Jake, talks about what happened. And you realize, “oh, maybe she wasn’t just this flighty, oversexed character that she seemed to be.” It seemed like all she wanted to do was get in the Prime Minister’s pants, but it had nothing to do with that, she was just trying to get what she wanted and to be able to do what she thinks is best for her and her son. It’s interesting to see how much, in each moment, she is manipulating the situation and how much is the Prime Minister catching on to that and allowing it so that he can get what he wants. It’s a constant, really touchy game of who is willing to go where to get what they want.

AC: Yes. Exactly. So, the reading is happening on Saturday? At the Dalhousie Studio 1 space.

AL: Yes. On Saturday at 7:00pm. Doors open at 6:30pm. Besides the fact that I’m proud to do it, I know that sounds corny as Hell, but I am, I hope that the people come out, it’s a read-through of the second draft of the play, I hope that it stirs up enough commotion out here that people get interested, and maybe look up some more information about what’s happening in Ottawa right now. This is a way to engage people politically again. There’s a line from the Prime Minister in the piece that says, “If we lower the debt to GDP ratio to 22% from 30%, or whatever it is, and that’s the crux of the play, that is what he is searching for, that’s his ultimate goal-

AC: His grail! The holy grail!

AL: Exactly. And if they get to that, decisions must be made. Fund this thing over that. Do this thing over that. “Debate becomes important again,” he says. I think that we don’t need a tyrant to put us there to get debate important again. I think that debate should be important now so that we don’t continue to have the problems we have now. I’m so happy that Michael wrote that and it’s ironic that it’s a line from the Prime Minister in it. But it’s so true to now. So, I hope that for this read, we fill as many seats as possible. I hope that the play gets them to think and realize that debate is important and that we should be thinking about these things and talking about them. I’m going to be doing a second read of the third draft here, I want to do it at the Bus Stop Theatre, but it’s also brilliant to be doing this read on the Dalhousie University campus because it shows that the University is not afraid to have people thinking and that they will still allow works that are controversial to be produced here. Although, this play shouldn’t be controversial. The fact that it is seen as being controversial is sad. I mean, it will get acclaim because people think it is controversial and so it should be promoted that way, because people will come to see it because it’s controversial. But, the notion of guessing what our government is up to based on fact and guessing how that works on the inside shouldn’t be controversial, that should be regular thought and things that should be asked and probed.

AC: The money that is raised goes directly to Michael Healey to help the Toronto production of Proud get produced at the Berkeley Street Theatre.

AL: Yes. I am so thankful to Michael Healey for allowing me to do this read and when I asked him if I could do a second one he wrote me back the very next day saying, “In about ten days I will have the third draft finished. I will send it to you. Please do it.” It’s so wonderful because now I don’t feel the burden of, “Oh, shit! I have to get X number of people out to make the money to send to him.” He said, send the money, whatever you can make, but it’s also understood that it’s not just about the money, it’s about raising awareness about these issues so that people think and discuss and debate and this country needs that. So badly it does.

The Reading of Michael Healey’s Proud plays at the David Mack Murray Theatre in Halifax (6101 University Avenue) Saturday July 7th, 2012 at 7:00pm. Tickets are $5.00. For more information, please visit this Facebook Page.

Gina Wilkinson: I Can Feel Her Glimmer

gina wilkinson
As I said in my earlier article, I saw Gina Wilkinson speak at the intimate Soulpepper cabaret, Friday Night at the Young, just one time, just briefly, back in November 2010. Then, after it was over, I did what I so often do when I feel overwhelmed by the exceptionally talented, legendary members of this community, when I have nothing overtly obvious to say, while I’m still gathering my wits about me after having been knocked off balance while basking in the glow of loveliness, of genius, having the seeds of my future sowed by invisible, inspirational hands that I can feel reaching inside of me and pushing and opening up my heart and pouring expertise and knowledge and humanity in through my ears: I milled around awkwardly for a time, waiting to see if the universe would somehow thrust Gina Wilkinson into my path and then, when it didn’t, feeling all the awkward and all the shy take me over, I left. I left, of course, saying to myself the words I say to myself all the time when the awkward and the shy and my Maritime inability to interrupt anyone overpowers me: “It’s okay. You’ll see her again; you can talk to her then.” Well, apparently that’s “not my story.”
It feels selfish to even talk about this because this is not about me, this is about Gina and Tom and Martin and Ann-Marie, about David and Jennifer and Beverley and Susan and Jordan and Lindsey and Lee and Macy and Ryan and Atom and Marie and Adam and Dylan and Mathew and Sarah. Yet, then I think about how Gina was such an integral part of our community and how that binds us all together. Regardless of everything, the Canadian theatre community is a place of belonging and a place of acceptance, warmth and inclusion, we are all irrevocably connected to one another. Gina, I learned yesterday, had a power and a talent for collecting people. I could see why in the short evening I spent being fascinated by her. I felt a draw toward her, I wanted to be collected. The people who were touched by her and loved her poured in and the Jane Mallet Theatre was packed to capacity, people were even watching yesterday’s memorial from the lobby via television monitors. We all feel her loss because she spread her love and her light so thickly over all of us, this is our loss to mourn and she is ours to celebrate.
The memorial was deeply beautiful, richly, earnestly, overwhelmingly sad, vividly poetic and heartfelt, heart warming and funny. I was being continually moved from steady tears to bursts of laughter and by the end I was laugh-crying, feeling what I’m certain must have been every single one of my emotions pounding and surging inside me as though I had somehow swallowed the Atlantic Ocean. It began with Dan Chameroy, Juan Chioran, Randy Ganne, Ken MacDonald, George Masswohl, Mike Nadajewski, Stephen Patterson, Geoffrey Tyler and Shawn Wright singing, with beautiful choral luminary, “The Water is Wide” accompanied by Marek Norman at the piano and Sharon Prater on cello. Anne-Marie MacDonald’s eloquence, especially under such sombre occasions, always leaves me in absolute awe, and her speech about her love for Gina and their friendship, which began at the National Theatre School of Canada, was infused with so much pure emotion to create something of such artful poetry, I was left breathless.
Gina’s brother, Martin, who I had the great fortune of meeting after the service, read the favourite memories of Gina from her niece and nephews. Hearing these stories, along with those of Jordan Sperdakos Muszynski, who met Gina when she was in grade six, and Macy Smart, Gina’s goddaughter who is almost ten, painted Gina as the most magical and mischievous sort of grownup, someone whose inner child bursts forth with wild abandon and who children flock to in part because they know that she would really listen and connect with them and that they would be so special to her. The loss of time is one that is most profound for me when I think of these children, of course, of her niece and nephews in Victoria, little Lucas Storch, who is only four, how they deserved to have more time with their crazy Aunt Gina, and how, of course, she deserved to be there while they grew up, while they all grew old, ancient even, all together. Yet, of course, the other side of that is, how blessed she was to have had such rich relationships with so many beautiful young people, so full of love and life and infectious exuberance (I was so glad that Lucas was at the memorial because every time I looked at him, I couldn’t help but smile) and of course, how lucky they were to have had her, even if far too briefly, I am sure that her influence on them will carry on infinitely. And what a gift that is!
Beverley Cooper and Susan Stackhouse spoke about Gina, their “best friend” (she had so many best friends, and each of them so willing and happy to share her- how inspiring and lovely that is), Brendan Gall talked about how Gina was fearless, but equally generous and loving in the direction of his play Wide Awake Hearts, how she made every room she was in a better one for being there. Deborah Hay, who was directed by Gina in Born Yesterday at the Shaw Festival gave a very funny anecdote about Gina’s perpetual exuberance for giving notes, intellectual nuggets of wisdom that needed to be taken away and cracked like a nut or ruminated on like a Buddhist philosophy. Jackie Maxwell read emails that perfectly captured Gina’s exuberance, zest for life, intelligence and her own distinct, quirky personality. David Storch told us about Gina’s Opening Night ritual of sitting (at least bare-bottomed, we are told) on a perfectly well decorated cake she had bought especially for the occasion. He spoke about luck, about love, as poignant and captivating as David Storch always is, and about friendship, deep, best friendship. Atom Egoyan sheepishly told about how as a boy his love for Gina prompted him to first immerse himself in the world of theatre, and to write plays, because he knew that was what Gina was interested in and he wanted to impress her. Ergo, it seems, Atom Egoyan’s illustrious career was first sparked out of Gina Wilkinson’s bright light. Tom Rooney wore his blue fuzzy coat, one that does make him look a bit like the Cookie Monster, but beautifully and so dapperly so. He spoke a lot about their wedding and how even in the midst of what Anne-Marie MacDonald called “the indignities of illness” how Gina’s sense of what was the most important, love, her people, love, happiness, blessings, love, never faltered. She even shared her joy with the doctors; cutting through their routine of seeing only patients and inspiring them to all see HER: vivid, lovely, uniquely her own GINA.
Jennifer Wigmore sang “I’ll Be Seeing You” a capella, accompanied only by her own pure passion for every word, Barbara Barsky sang “Infinite Joy” offering it up to the universe, Louise Pitre sang a hauntingly gorgeous “Hymne á l’amour,” in French with a ferocity of spirit that made me feel like she was grabbing life ardently by the horns and holding it out for all of us to see. Mike Ross sang a rendition of “Broke the Mould” so beautiful and sweet, laden with emotion and Marek Norman put gorgeous music to lyrics from Gina’s play My Mother’s Feet, in a song called “Into the Light,” as he noted, a very aptly title for her song because she was such a stunning and luminous light.
From all that was said yesterday and all that didn’t need to be said, I was struck by how clear it was that because of Gina’s generosity of spirit, the big love that she felt for people and her desire to accumulate this beautiful, wonderful tribe around her, that she made such a huge impact, theatrically, professionally, personally, emotionally on everyone else. Her zest for life was infectious and out of it bloomed a huge garden’s worth of triumph and passion, friendship and love, children and art.
For those of you who know me, you probably know that the love I feel for this community is also unbridled. The people who I know well, or even people who I don’t know well enough, but with whom I feel an immediate connection or affinity, or even, one could say, a fatal attraction for, I fall, often head over heels, in love with people in this community nearly every day. I am a bit of a hippie, I guess, in the way I see love, as something that keeps multiplying, but never dividing, and the love I have, pure love, it wants nothing, but is open to the possibility of everything, and with it comes care and comes fascination out of which I always hope for friendship and shared experience… I am a perpetual seeker of adventures. I guess I, like Gina, like collecting people too. I like being a part, feeling connected, belonging, being included and I think that is a desire that most of us in the theatre community share and that it actually ends up binding us all together.
Sometimes the big emotions I feel get me in trouble. Sometimes my urge to be generous with my time and my desire to help everyone and my natural inclination to be curious about other people’s lives and to burrow a little place for myself in their lives ends up with me getting my heart a little battered and a little bruised or taken advantage of. I’m sure everyone who lives and loves like this experiences the colder side of it. Gina probably did too. Maybe I haven’t figured out the best way of managing how I feel, how I express myself… I wish even more fervently now that I had known Gina, I feel like she could have taught me so much, that she would have inspired me every moment that I was with her. Morris Panych spoke about the first time that he met Gina, how she waltzed up to him, introduced herself with, “You’re Morris, I’m Gina, let’s leg wrestle!” I fall in love, fall in awe, fall in admiration, within moments of seeing someone light up a room once, but the shyness in me, the fear I’ve always had of rejection… the lack of my own sense of myself and my lack of my own confidence in me keeps me at a respectful distance until someone opens a window (even just a crack, I’ll wiggle through it) but I need the window of your life to open to me before I can hop through and hope to keep you in my heart as one of my special people for always. Recently, I’ve had a bit of a rough time, personally, in dealing with rapidly shutting windows, and I actually considered maybe the way I feel about people, and my choice (my compulsion really) to love so big and so much was wrong, or inappropriate or at the very least… problematic… and maybe I should try to stop, maybe I should make myself smaller, maybe I wasn’t worthy of loving such brilliant, illustrious people…
In the past two months the Canadian theatre community has lost a handful of brilliant, illustrious people and we have all been continually reminded that we need to seize today now because we have it and it is all we have, and not wait until an ambiguous tomorrow. Really, we should all be living the way Gina did, we should all be allowing ourselves to bloom into being as our heart’s desire us to be, to tell the people in our lives how we really, honestly feel about them and to celebrate people and their brilliance and their light while it still shines, rather than coming out of the shadows after it’s been snuffed out. It was small Amanda who lost her chance to meet Gina Wilkinson when I shied away from her, letting my own self consciousness cloud my pounding heartbeat.
I want to leg wrestle with Morris Panych. I want to find the adventure inherent to every day. I want to write emails and letters and notes and cards to all the people who I have fallen in love with, and to keep falling in love, to keep being fascinated, to keep seeing the bliss and the happiness even when the world looks scary and full of despair and unfairness. I want to see us all, this whole community, as friends working side by side, helping and supporting one another, and to not get sucked into the dark and competitive aspects of the business. I don’t want to be small; I don’t want to be ashamed of my own light. Gina, above all, has reminded me of that. She has reminded me of the big picture. In the immediate, there will always be stumbling blocks, there will always be windows that get slammed or doors that get locked, and your heart has to keep getting broken if it ever will get the chance to grow strong, but, beyond that, the big picture, is that love begets love and that the more you open your heart, the more you share your emotions, share your gifts, the bigger you are in how much passion you have and how much you care, the less you let other people make you feel small, the more all of it will grow and spread, in Gina’s case, to hundreds of people.
So, I guess that’s all my way of saying that even in death, she continues to inspire, she continues to shine her light on those, I bet, those who need it most. Gina Wilkinson, you undoubtedly made the world a brighter place, and I am so grateful to know that because of your beloveds, and the beloved of your beloveds, that the light will never go out, it will shine on, evermore, in all of them, and in me. Thank you, Gina Wilkinson, with love from Amanda.

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gina wilkinson

I only had the opportunity to encounter Gina Wilkinson once, when she was interviewed by Derek Boyes at Friday Night at the Young, just before the Opening of Wide Awake Hearts, which she directed, at Tarragon Theatre. At that time, she was on the move, making jokes about how she and her partner, Tom Rooney, supposedly had a home in Stratford, as apparently that is where they lived, but that she hadn’t had the time to live there yet. She was leaving the city for Winnipeg, before Wide Awake Hearts even opened, she said, to begin on her next project, The Seafarer at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. It was there that she fell ill and was diagnosed with Stage Four Cervical Cancer. She fought valiantly, but sadly she passed away on December 30th, 2010. She was only fifty years old.

In the remarkably brief time that we sat in the same room I was utterly mesmerized by Gina. As I said, Derek Boyes was interviewing her, or attempting to, but she kept turning the question on its heels or giving the most unsuspecting answer that the conversation completely derailed for a tantalizing moment before she seamlessly manoeuvred her way onto another topic, or segued back into her former thought. She struck me as being remarkably honest, so honest that I almost felt that it was a revelation to listen to her because she had absolutely no pretence. She wasn’t trying to butter you up, or to endear herself, to make the room feel comfortable or even to sell to you the play that she was working on, she was simply going to impart an opinion, with wit and razor sharp candour, and the room could take it for all it was worth. I found Gina utterly unique in this brief moment and refreshing. She wasn’t going to pussyfoot around the story; she was going to delve right in. Immediately I saw bravery, integrity and intelligence shining in her eyes. I wanted to listen to her speak far more than she did, I was on the edge of my seat, cursing myself for not transcribing the whole conversation, while trying to hold on to her every last syllable. There was a slight sardonic edge to her stories about the past, but one that was softened by how obvious it was that she loved her life and the work that she was getting to do in theatres across the country. She was also completely devoid of ego. In the briefest of time that I sat in her presence she made me laugh heartily and she made me want to get to know her better. Tragically, I won’t get that chance.
Gina Clare Wilkinson was born in Victoria, British Columbia the daughter of Marie, who ran a ballet school and Jack, a painter with an art studio. Like many young girls, Gina started her theatrical life in ballet, but switched to theatre when she was twelve years old. She began to take drama classes at the Norfolk House School and went on to graduate from the National Theatre School of Canada in 1979. She made her debut as an actor at the Stratford Festival in 1983. Throughout the years she worked steadfastly in theatres across the country including Tarragon Theatre, Canadian Stage, Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, The National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Neptune Theatre (Halifax), Citadel Theatre (Edmonton), Theatre Calgary, Manitoba Theatre Centre (Winnipeg), The Globe (Regina), Vancouver Playhouse and The Belfry Theatre (Victoria).
Gina was also a playwright; she wrote and directed her first play My Mother’s Feet at Canadian Stage in 2005 and also directed it in Germany in 2008. Her other plays include Whistle Me Home (Summerworks) and Andersen’s Inkwell (Geordie Theatre, created with Micheline Chevrier.)
She began directing in 1997 in the Toronto Fringe Festival and went on to direct plays at the Belfry Theatre, The Grand, Theatre Aquarius, The Blyth Festival, Alberta Theatre Projects and even directed a production of Ann-Marie Macdonald’s Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet in Munich, Germany. Her breakout production is largely considered to be the 2009 smash-hit and critically acclaimed Born Yesterday at the Shaw Festival, which she stepped into to replace an ailing Neil Munro. It was this production that made Wilkinson a most exciting and sought-after director for the last two years of her life. She returned to Shaw in 2010, directing J.M. Barrie’s Half an Hour and made her debut at Soulpepper, directing Faith Healer by Brian Friel.
The only production of Gina’s that I saw was Brendan Gall’s play Wide Awake Hearts, which she directed for the Tarragon Theatre last November. I found her direction to be, like her, richly distinctive, bright, and compelling, with unexpected twists. I remember feeling like I had happened upon an auteur as I left the Tarragon that night, and hers was a career that I looked forward to seeing continue to bloom. She was supposed to direct Shaw’s Candida for the Festival this coming summer, instead Tadeusz Bradecki will direct the show in memory of her. It makes my heart ache to see such a bright candle snuffed out far, far, far too soon.
Gina leaves behind her great love of eleven years, Tom Rooney, whom she married on December 19th, 2010 at the hospital, as well as her mother, Marie Wilkinson, brothers, Adam and Martin, and their children Dylan, Ryan, Sarah and Mathew.
Donations to help establish the Gina Wilkinson Award for Emerging Female Directors can be made payable to “Ontario Arts Foundation In memory of Gina Wilkinson ” and sent to the Ontario Arts Foundation, 151 Bloor St W, 5th floor, Toronto, ON, M5S 1T6, Attention: Alan Walker, Executive Director. 614824. There will also be a celebration of Gina’s life on Monday January 24th, 2011 at 3:00pm at the Jane Mallet Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front Street E). All are welcome to attend.
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