Gord Rand was the translator and enigmatic performer behind one of the most affecting pieces of theatre in 2012- Candles Are For Burning‘s workshop of The 20th of November. Playing an unhinged man about to shoot up his old highschool, he managed a mesmerizingly naturalistic and adaptable performance in a setting so intimate that he challenged every audience member face to face and dared us to stop him.
A Best Actor in a Regional Production nominee in the 2012 My Theatre Awards, Gord braved talking to us even though we made him delve back into a role darker than any we’ve seen before.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
Yes. It was Mr Dressup live. And I was king of Grade 1 for having my birthday party there.
Where did you study/develop as an actor?
I went to school at U of T, but I learned mostly at the Shaw Festival. I went there as an apprentice after performing a dirty play called Strawberry Fields in an actual field outside the theatre. Chris Newton came and saw it and offered me a job. So I went from apprentice to leading man there. Learned a lot.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
Hamlet, for sure. It was the best experience with a Scottish director by the name of Graham McLaren. I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall, and when we started working together I felt that he could be some kind of actual criminal. And the rehearsal period was dangerous, and funny, and demanding. And the show blew people away. It was wicked in every sense of the word.
Also I played a creep called Mayor Tyson in a little independent film called The Triumph of Dingus McGraw. Nobody saw it, but it was really fun. There’s a seduction scene in it where I have flecks of spittle in the corner of my mouth, and beads of sweat as I move in for an unwanted kiss. It’s online somewhere if you want to see it. It’s gross. [Editor’s Note: We found it. You are welcome].
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
Macbeth the Scottish King. And George from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I used to act that part out when I was 15 after my parents went to bed. I was weird, and old for my age.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
Christopher Newton- the awesome artistic director of The Shaw Festival, Graham McLaren- the awesome Scottish director of Hamlet, Jason Byrne who directed Cherry Orchard. And of course, the late, very great Gina Wilkinson. As for actors, I love Randy Hughson, I saw him in the remount of Crackwalker and became a major fan. Like, I would try to act like him, which is embarrassing to say. But also Simon Bradbury, a British guy who worked at the Shaw when I was there. I idolized him too.
What prompted you to start work on the translation of The 20th of November?
My friend Graham McLaren mentioned it, and we were looking for something to work on together, so I read it and did a rough translation. It didn’t work out with Graham as director, but the next best thing – Mr Steven McCarthy – did. I was interested in finding a one-man show, because I am very selfish and assume everyone who goes to the theatre is there to see me. That’s embarrassing too, especially when I’m not in the show….
Were there any roadblocks in the translation that required you to do a lot of creative interpretation?
Yeah, swear words. To get the right tenor of the swearing seemed really important. Like, where does he use the word “fuck”? Sometimes he just throws it in, like sea salt or oregano. But also, there’s a stark poetry to it, and because I’m not a native speaker of French or German I had to try to approximate how I might say it, if I was trying to achieve what he was trying to achieve. It still needs work – the translation – and I hope we get to work on it more.
How faithful would you say the English version is to the original? Was anything significant lost or added in translation?
I hope we didn’t lose anything significant. And also I think we’d be being unfaithful if we added anything. The line “Now the loser has the mike” is probably the most interpretive we got – and it’s not too far off. There’s a balance between the colloquialism that he employs and ours.
How did you approach getting into the character’s headspace when playing the role? Did the experience disturb you at all?
The experience was very disturbing. It feels very direct and naked. And – unless you want to get all metatheatrical about it (which we didn’t) – I had to embrace all that dark, nihilistic stuff. Because I’m looking right at the audience, and I had a fear that I would be doing Mr Noren [the playwright] and – weirdly – Mr Bosse [the character] a disservice by not being certain that my feelings were landing in the moment.
The workshop production was staged in a claustrophobic abandoned office space. How did that location inform what you did with the piece?
Steve and I really like the idea of rehearsed improv – to coin an oxymoron. Get as prepared as you can with stuff that is irrefutable and then let the room and the audience and the vibe shift you around on the night. That way we hope to make a real ‘live’ experience. So that space was all part of it. It was a question of necessity – we’d been ousted by Necessary Angel for reasons unknown – and needed to nail down a space pronto. But serendipity favours the bold (or something like that) and the room’s history and character and smell and dust and human leavings all spoke of a place in transition, a neutral 21st century space. A perfect space for exploring these dark cyberjournals.
One of the most affecting elements of the production was the way you would engage the audience- starring individuals down, talking with them off script. How did you maintain the laser focus required to stay deep in character through that and respond organically?
Wow, what a nice compliment. I’m just going to sit for a minute and make a mental note to remember that someone actually asked me that wonderful question…
I guess it was focus. Steve and I spent a lot of time talking about the big things that Sebastien [Bosse] wanted from the people in this room. And I just tried to empathize with that and help the audience to empathize with it. It was a great challenge, and I was petrified every night. It’s in the script – and it’s a big dare on Noren’s part.
The night I saw the play, the audience was wary or responding to your questions. How was the experience changed for you with each new audience that came in?
The performance developed so much over the 4 days that we did it. And it was such a charge to improvise with each different person through the night, and just try to talk with them, and challenge myself by inviting them – in a real way – to engage with me. It was very intimate, and personal, and beautiful, and I felt bad – in a really good way – that I had to stay faithful to Sebastien’s nihilism. Because there are some passages in there that are really nasty. I sometimes wonder how it would go down in certain areas of the United States – and would love to find out.
What was one of the most interesting moments to emerge from audience interaction?
One great thing, was that Sebastien always has the answer. Noren’s kind of written it in a foolproof way. The feeling of wandering off the script was charged though, and the most interesting thing to me were the people who knew I was an actor, but wanted to engage with the arguments because the subject was important to them. They related to what Sebastien was saying from beyond the grave, and started to fight that feeling, and fight for what they felt was valuable about life. Which is very exciting to me. That Sebastien is a nasty piece of work, but there’s something about him that wants to be wrong.
Did anyone ever try and stop you from going through with your plan at the end of the play? Were you prepared for interference at all? Is there any circumstances in which anyone could have changed the ending?
I was very prepared for interference. Steve and Crystal [Salverda, stage manager and assistant director] and I would improvise possible reactions in rehearsal so that I could get used to being on my toes. People did try to stop me, but it’s very difficult after all those circular, nihilistic arguments to come up with an argument that I couldn’t just bat down. Certainly sentiment didn’t work. The best argument was from Paul Thomson who said that it wasn’t going to go down the way I planned it, and I was going to fuck it up. Which got me very angry, because it meant that I had been a fuck up all my life and I was going to fuck this up too. So I let him have it, and said that I had everything I needed. A gun and people to kill. I think when we do it more, the vibe will be different, and people will enter the game more. I look forward to that immensely.
Having workshopped The 20th of November so recently, how did the events in Newtown Connecticut affect your views on the play; or did they?
They did. Because Sebastien says that he is the first among many and of course he’s right. Now, I don’t think the play is a template for all school shootings at all, I think people have all sorts of reasons for doing it, some just purely psychopathic. But the idea that there is such an intense adherence to the idea of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ affected me personally about the piece. Why are people labelled ‘winners’ or ‘losers’? I watch the TV shows that my kid watches and the word ‘loser’ is brought up so much without any recognition of it’s negative effects. It’s like the way we used to yell out ‘you’re gay’ or ‘fag’ when I was a kid. And after Newtown there seemed to be much more talk about not only gun control but also mental health issues. And that seems key to me – figuring out why people do this kind of stuff. Because for every ‘loser’ school shooter, there must be tons of kids who just feel rotten, that feel that they can’t do anything right, that keep it bottled up and express it in other destructive ways. And that is terrible to me. No kid should feel that they can’t do anything right. How does that help us to progress as a society? Anyway, rant over. It was awful.
What was it like working with Steve McCarthy as a director?
It was great. He’s very methodical, very demanding and fun. And our dogs would play together. Also we argued like crazy, which I always like. And when we argued, our dogs would fight! Hilarious.
Do you have a favourite moment in the production?
Yeah, there was a girl who was watching from the back and she was fully engaged, nodding her head, agreeing with me. Then afterwards she came up to me in tears, talking about how she had been bullied and how she had felt like Sebastien had felt, and that affected me. But my favourite moment was the entire 3rd show. I managed to be almost completely off book and we got an idea of what this play could be if we had a full run at it. Steve was watching from the back with his scarf over his face, he couldn’t stand the tension! It was awesome.
Are there any plans to give the play a full run?
Yes, we are actively looking for engagers. If anyone reading this has any money or wants to produce it – we are open to suggestions! In all seriousness (although that was serious) you can plan to see it again sometime in the next year.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
I’m writing a play as part of the Tarragon writer’s unit. And actually procrastinating right now! [Laughs]. Also, I’m just about to finish a documentary that I made about a tour I did to Rwanda with Volcano Theatre’s play Goodness. And I’m auditioning, planning film projects, and basically keeping as many irons as hot as I can.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Yeah, this was nice. Thanks for the nomination. And it’s always a pleasure to talk about this piece. It’s a dark one, but a good one.