Kanata Theatre makes an early start on period plays

by Dewi Williams

Two productions in Kanata Theatre's 39th season will be "period" plays: The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz (set in New York in the 1850s) and The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, which takes place in Russia before the revolution. The Heiress opens the season on September 18th. However the directors, Eufron Williams and Dewi Williams, have chosen to select their cast before summer vacations start, so that designers, tailors and seamstresses will have all summer to create the period costumes needed for the play. Auditions for the 12 roles will take place on June 18 and June 19 though rehearsals will not start until August. The costuming crew will measure all the actors as soon as the cast is chosen.

Producing a "period" play has problems not found when presenting plays set in the present time. For the audience to believe that they are looking into a scene from the past, the scenery, the furniture, the props used by the actors, and above all the costumes, must be in keeping with the chosen era. The costumes present a special challenge as each must be made or adjusted to fit the actor, and some of the cast have up to four changes of costume.

The "Heiress" of the title lives with her widowed father, a doctor, in Washington Square, an affluent area of New York. She herself has several changes of clothing during the time-span of the play: as the seasons change, as she dresses up for a family get-together and as she returns from a stay in Europe. Creating costumes for each of these situations and for all the other actors means researching what people wore at that time, what fabrics and colours were used, and what decoration would be added. Even finding the fabrics poses a challenge: under stage lighting, the materials used must look like fabrics from the era. Brenda Parr, the costume designer, has already been busy scouring stores in the Ottawa area to find suitable materials.

Then comes the challenge of fitting the style to the actor. For contemporary clothing, a sewer can purchase a pattern for any set of measurements. For a historic costume, the tailor must first create the pattern using whatever sources are available: pictures from the past, specimens in museums, or other (but similar) patterns. This all takes time for the volunteer membership of Kanata Theatre, which is why the casting - and measurement of the chosen cast - must take place so far ahead of the production date. Anyone wishing to assist Brenda Parr in creating costumes should call her at 613-832-3296.

The Heiress will run in the Ron Maslin Playhouse, 1 Ron Maslin Way, Kanata, on Tuesday to Saturday September 18th to 29th with blackouts on Sunday and Monday. Season tickets for all five plays in the 39th season can be purchased from the box office. Please call the box office at (613) 831-4435 or visit www.kanatatheatre.com for more details.

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THEATRE SEASON OPENS WITH
TENSION FILLED DRAMA

By Jim Holmes
 
August 17, 2007

One of the most celebrated and frequently performed plays of the American Theatre opens Kanata Theatre’s 39th Season.

The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz is based on Henry James’s short novel, Washington Square. The first production of the play was one of the major hits of the 1947 Broadway season. The 1949 movie version, also written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, received eight academy award nominations and won four, including best actress for Olivia de Havilland and best musical score for Aaron Copeland.

Happenstance played a role in the development of this classic of literature, stage and film. The idea for the novel came from a story Henry James heard at a dinner party. The Goetz play was originally entitled Washington Square and almost had a different ending, forced on the playwrights by a nervous producer. It was shortly before opening that The Heiress was adopted as the play’s title and the original ending restored.

The timeless appeal of the play has resulted in frequent revivals. The Shaw Festival produced The Heiress as part of its 2006 season.

As well as the stage and film adaptations of James’s work, Washington Square formed the basis of a full-length ballet of the same name produced by the National Ballet in 1979 starring Veronica Tennant with a musical score by Vancouver composer Michael Conway Baker and choreography by James Kudelka.

The play is set in mid 19th century New York City where the spinster Catherine lives with her wealthy, successful and demanding father, Dr Sloper, a widower. Into their life comes the charming and eligible young bachelor Morris. The tension-filled story dramatically illustrates the emotional isolation and repression that may well have been the rule rather than the exception in the 1850s.

Kanata Theatre’s production will be one of the most sumptuously costumed plays in the company’s history. A small army of skilled costumers under the supervision of Brenda Parr has spared no effort to give this show an authentic feel.

Eufron and Dewi Williams direct the play. The cast features Shelley Harrison as Catherine Sloper, Gordon Walls as Morris Townsend and Bill Horsman as Dr. Austin Sloper. Other cast members are Katie Betts as Maria, Gwendy Tolley as Lavinia, Heather Walt as Elizabeth, Mark McPherson as Arthur, Katie Ryerson as Marian, Kimberly Bateman as Mrs. Montgomery, Guy Buller as a coachman and Andrea Massoud, Ursula Geisler and Ashley Ritchie as the ever busy maids of the Sloper household.

The Heiress runs in the Ron Maslin Playhouse, 1 Ron Maslin Way, Kanata, Tuesday September 18 to Saturday to 29, except Sunday and Monday. The Playhouse enjoys abundant free parking and is fully accessible. Hearing assist is available. Curtain is at 8 pm sharp. Tickets are $15. The box office number is 613 831 4435. For more information about this production and Kanata Theatre you can visit the website at www.kanatatheatre.com.

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Hard Work Really Pays Off

by Clare Flockton

On September 18th 2007 at the Ron Maslin Playhouse, Kanata Theatre is going to present The Heiress written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz. It is a story set in the 1850’s revolving around the life of an only child who lives an extremely reclusive life with her father. The arrival of a handsome young man rocks the very foundation of this family life and relationships are tested and changed dramatically.

Being that this play is a period piece, it has created quite a few challenges for Eufron and Dewi Williams who have the formidable job of directing The Heiress. They both wanted to make sure that the play was believable so it was very important to them both to have authentic costumes. As you can imagine Kanata Theatre does not have a dozen or so period costumes at the ready, so they had to take on the gargantuan task of making these costumes themselves with as many volunteers as they could gather. Before they could even contemplate making these garments, they needed to first buy the material and kits and educate themselves on know how indeed to make the corsets.

After doing some research and realizing that the material and corset making kits would be too expensive to buy in Canada, Eufron and Dewi headed over the border into Philadelphia on a mission to procure the needed material. They ended up in a “naughty shop” as described by Eufron where they were able to buy the corset kits, which included the boning and the bask (two pieces of heavy metal with hook closures) for a fraction of the Canadian cost. The salesman put the Williams’ purchase into a big bright red carrier bag with the word “DELICIOUS” scrawled across the front. The Williams hit the streets of Philly with their big red “naughty shop” bag and affordable corset kits safely stowed inside.

With the kits in hand and no less than 14 seamstresses (usually only one or two are needed for most Kanata Theatre plays) at the ready, a schedule of volunteer workshops were set up for corset and bonnet making; the costumes began to take shape and breathe life and authenticity into the play.

The actresses have become very aware of their costumes and have taken to wearing the corsets quite well. The staircase did need to be made a foot wider to accommodate the girth of the crinolines. It is as if the costumes have become characters themselves.

These wonderful costumes will be on stage at the Ron Maslin Playhouse, 1 Ron Maslin Way, Kanata, Tuesday September 18th 2007 to Saturday September 29th 2007, with blackout days on Sunday and Monday. Curtain is at 8pm sharp and tickets for the show are only $15.00 each. For more information concerning this and other Kanata Theatre productions, please call the box office at 613-831-4435, or visit the website at www.kanatatheatre.com

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Does he love her or her money?

by Tania Carriere

Kanata, Ontario – August 31, 2007 - Kanata Theatre presents The Heiress - Tuesday to Saturday September 18-29, 2007

One of the most celebrated and frequently performed plays of the American Theatre opens Kanata Theatre’s 39th Season.

Background: The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz is based on Henry James’s short novel, Washington Square. The first production of the play was one of the major hits of the 1947 Broadway season. The 1949 movie version, also written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, received eight academy award nominations and won four, including best actress for Olivia de Havilland and best musical score for Aaron Copeland.

The timeless appeal of the play has resulted in frequent revivals. The Shaw Festival produced The Heiress as part of its 2006 season.

The Plot: The play is set in mid 19th century New York City where the spinster Catherine lives with her wealthy, successful and demanding father, Dr Sloper, a widower. Her father, still idolizing his lost bride, never misses an opportunity to compare his daughter to her - a comparison the daughter can never win. When Morris Townsend, a handsome but penniless young man, comes along, and woos and wins his daughter's heart, Dr. Sloper is sure that he is after her considerable inheritance, and opposes their marriage. After all, Catherine is plain and boring. What could she possibly offer to this young man - other than her money? When she refuses to give up her new beau her father threatens to disinherit her.

Will her father eventually convince her to give him up and wait for a suitable husband? Will Catherine and Morris elope and live on the money left to her by her mother? Or could it be that Catherine finally finds all the grace and charm of her mother only to use it against the men in her life?

The tension-filled story dramatically illustrates the emotional isolation and repression that may well have been the rule rather than the exception in the 1850s.

The Cast and Production: Kanata Theatre’s production will be one of the most sumptuously costumed plays in the company’s history. A small army of skilled costumers under the supervision of Brenda Parr has spared no effort to give this show an authentic feel.

Eufron and Dewi Williams direct the play. The cast features Shelley Harrison as Catherine Sloper, Gordon Walls as Morris Townsend and Bill Horsman as Dr. Austin Sloper. Other cast members are Katie Betts as Maria, Gwendy Tolley as Lavinia, Heather Walt as Elizabeth, Mark McPherson as Arthur, Katie Ryerson as Marian, Karen Boese as Mrs. Montgomery, Guy Buller as a coachman and Andrea Massoud, Ursula Geisler and Ashley Ritchie as the ever busy maids of the Sloper household.

The Heiress runs in the Ron Maslin Playhouse, 1 Ron Maslin Way, Kanata, Tuesday to Saturday September 18-29, 2007, 8 pm. Tickets are $15. The box office number is 613 831 4435. The Playhouse enjoys abundant free parking and is fully accessible. Hearing assist is available. You can visit the website at www.kanatatheatre.com

Things to watch for:

  • Outstanding costuming will bring the 1850s to life. Attention to detail includes custom made corsets for all the actors.

  • Producing a successful "period" play calls for the audience to believe that they are looking into a scene from the past, the scenery, the furniture, the props used by the actors, and above all the costumes, must be in keeping with the chosen era.

  • The twist of the plot gives the audience a chance to decide for themselves: does Morris have true feelings for Catherine, or is it her money that he is really after?

  • Does Catherine have “nothing to offer” as her father sees, or is she simply a strong woman who doesn’t fit into the stereotype of a 1850’s lady?

Insert picture here
(photo caption: Gordon Wall and Shelley Harrison, photo credit: Ann Williams)

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