The very first play we saw in 2014 was Rarely Pure’s winterized As You Like It at the Storefront Theatre. 200+ productions later, it remains one of our favourites, for lots of reasons (including the Best Ensemble-nominated cast). Christina Bryson’s wonderful Rosalind formed the thoughtful, guarded, caring, stubborn heart of the piece, earning her a Best Actress nomination.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
Not specifically, but I remember it always being something I was exposed to. As a kid, our family had a subscription to a children’s theatre series at The Museum of Nature in Ottawa, which was probably some of the first live performance I saw and got to be a part of. I also remember coming to visit Toronto and being blown away by The Lion King!
Tell us about the creation of Rarely Pure Theatre.
Rarely Pure essentially started as a one woman force of nature, when founder Monique Renaud decided to write, produce, and direct her very own production (while she was pregnant, no less!). Shortly after that, Spencer [Robson] and I got on board and wanted Rarely Pure to be an open company, a hub for emerging artists – a place where people could come if they had an idea of something they wanted to produce. Slowly but surely, we’ve solidified the small core company, and then we bring on other artists as necessary depending on the production. We feel that this fluid type of mandate allows us to continue to expand our network, expand our knowledge by working with both emerging and veteran artists, and continue to solidify the strength of the independent theatre community in Toronto.
Where did the idea come from to do As You Like It in the middle of January?
Ha, good question! It sort of just came about organically. A few fellow UWindsor grads had always wanted to continue working on Shakespeare, and January just happened to be the time when people were in between jobs, when not much was happening, when we thought maybe people could use a little comedy in their life. Once we knew our timeline, we had the idea to work within the season we had chosen, as opposed to against it. If we’re doing it in January, let’s not ignore that, what if this story happened in winter?! And then it all just sort of fell in place. Upon re-reading the text, we were surprised (and delighted!) to find that there were actually quite a few references to winter. Especially in the songs that Amiens sings, for example:
“Here shall he see no enemy
But winter and rough weather” (Act 2, Scene 5)
“Blow, blow, thou winter wind […]
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky” (Act 2, Scene 7)
How did the winterization of the classic summer text affect the play as a whole and Rosalind’s journey specifically?
I think the winter aspect helped to bring out some of the darker tones within the play, and as a result, the comedy then comes out of necessity, rather than out of frivolity. Specifically, for Rosalind, the banishment and resulting isolation she feels becomes that much more harsh. And subsequently her decision to trek through the Forest of Arden to find her father is an extraordinarily brave one. Then, of course, upon finding Orlando and being overcome with love, suddenly perhaps the winter doesn’t seem so harsh. Even the way she goes about testing him could be seen as a parallel to the weather – as opposed to just giving in as summer lovers would, she tests his boundaries, like a winter wind, and makes him prove his love is true and lasting, like a fire that burns through a cold night.
(sooo many metaphors! Haha ☺ )
How did your Rosalind differ from other interpretations? Is there a certain quality to the character that you found particularly important or wanted to focus on?
I have always been in love with the character Rosalind, so what I’m about to say is riddled with bias, but I think Rosalind is one of the strongest and smartest female characters in Shakespeare’s canon. This is reflected not only in her actions (particularly how she deals with situations on the fly, using gut instinct and intellect) but in the text as well. Where most romances/comedies often employ verse and rhyme, most of As You Like It is in prose. This allows for quick, witty banter between the characters, which is particularly evident in her scenes with Orlando (where, of course, she is disguised as Ganymede). Not only does she have the ware withal to test his love before revealing herself (true, perhaps she goes a bit far with it, but us cheeky girls like that about her), but it is clear that these two have a chemistry that is reflected in their back and forth text, riddled with wordplay. What is also such a joy about Rosalind is the power and freedom she finds once she is in pants, rather than a skirt. All of a sudden, she can say and do things she never would have been able to before – she can speak to Orlando “on his level”, she can put Phoebe in her place – I think the discovery of this, and how she uses her newfound power is essential to how one approaches the character.
Tell us about the crucial relationship you developed with your Celia, Katie Ribout.
I was very fortunate in that I had an existing history and rapport with many people in the cast. Having known Katie for years, but never getting to actually share the stage with her before, I think we were equally excited to go forth together. The love between these two has to be so strong that they are willing to go out into the cold winter forest, just so that they won’t have to be separated. I remember having discussions with Rosanna [Saracino, the director] and Katie about how their relationship spans between Sister/Lover/Friend. They are almost all of these to each other at once. Of course, there comes a point where Rosalind is a little drunk with Ganymede power, and begins to ignore Celia’s wants and warnings, and their playful challenges turn to more serious tiffs. This pushing back and forth on each other I think was well suited to the pairing of Katie and myself. Actors who are able to challenge each other, play off each other, and push each other forward in the story are a blessing to work with.
What about Spencer Robson’s Orlando?
All of this can be said for working with Spencer as well. Again, having a personal history was enormously helpful in starting off in a place where we trusted each other (and both being members of the company, were equally committed to the execution of the production). Spencer is an incredibly dedicated actor, who is always eager to do his homework on a character, and ask the important questions in rehearsals. This was crucial for the relationship between Rosalind and Orlando, particularly in the long scenes with Rosalind as Ganymede. Rosanna would often just let us play out the scenes, and then encourage us to go further when our instincts had struck on something worthwhile (poor Spencer was a great sport about letting me f**k with him as Ganymede!). At the end of the day though, through all the over the top comedy, or goofy games, their love has to be true and deeply rooted. I can’t really explain how this developed, but hopefully it came across at the end of the day. I think we were extremely lucky to be evenly matched, both in commitment to character, and in openness to each other.
Rosanna Saracino is also nominated this year for directing As You Like It. What would you say is the most important conversation you two had in developing your interpretation of Rosalind?
I feel as though a lot of As You Like It came about as an organic team effort, where actors were free to follow their gut instincts, as Rosanna asked us integral questions, and guided us in the right direction. I think a lot of our important conversations about Rosalind revolved around the gender-bending power of her, which I touched on previously. Rosanna really encouraged me to explore the differences, both physically and mentally, between Rosalind and Ganymede, and how these two forces at play created an interesting conflict within her.
The play ends with Rosalind reunited with her father and living happily ever after with Orlando. Write us a two-sentence sequel.
Orlando and Rosalind are beginning to live their happily ever after, when Celia and Oliver have a huge fight, and both disappear from the castle. When the two set out to find them, aided along the way by cameos from our favourite characters, quibbles and misunderstandings force them to question who really wears the pants in this relationship. (Hilarity ensues. Everyone dances at the end.)
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
As a producer, I was proud of a lot of moments in our production, particularly the musicality – including original songs, which I loved listening to every night from off stage, as well as the final dance number. I also had fun with a lot of the physical comedy (which I don’t often get to play), including the wrestling scene, the whirlwind of Celia and Ganymede telling Orlando what a man in love ‘ought’ to look like, and getting to faint at the sight of blood.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
It’s hard to narrow it down – there have been so many important influences in my career, particularly in the various training I have been lucky enough to be exposed to. For example, I spent a month studying at the Moscow Art Theatre School in Russia, which really pushed me into having more confidence in myself and daring to take risks in the here and now. Particularly, for Shakespeare training, I have to give a lot of credit to Brian Rintoul, former director at Stratford and a professor of ours at UWindsor. He was instrumental in my understanding of working with Shakespeare, of finding important clues within the text, and stripping away unnecessary embellishing in order to simply portray what is given to us on the page and find the most honest way to bring it to life.
Do you have any favourite people to work with?
Again, an extremely difficult question to answer. I won’t continue to go on and on about how fortunate I’ve been in developing relationships through various training and workshops, but just say that I hope I can get to work with some of these people again, now that we’re all fending for ourselves out in ‘the real world’. Having been focused on developing Rarely Pure, I unfortunately haven’t done a ton of work on my own in the Toronto scene, so I am striving to be more involved in general, and get to work with new people. I would love to work with Jim Warren or Liza Balkan again.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
I was extremely lucky at Windsor to get to play roles that I had always admired, many in full productions with University Players. The two that are highlighted in my mind were Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by The SITI Company’s J.Ed Araiza (like, talk about living the dream!), and Meg Magrath in Crimes of the Heart, directed by Liza Balkan. Both were roles I’d dreamed of, both in extremely different styles of production, both fun and challenging in very different ways, and both working with directors I admire greatly.
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
I get asked this a lot, and I really should start coming up with a solid answer. Within the Shakespeare canon, I am looking forward to the day down the road when I can play roles like Lady M, or Paulina from The Winter’s Tale (another favourite of mine). Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire is also something to look forward to. Until then, I’ll devour any role I can sink my teeth into. Let’s hope that more and more strong female characters continue to be developed – I’d love any sort of leading lady that could totally still kick your ass (Game of Thrones style!)
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
We have a couple things lined up for Rarely Pure Theatre in the coming months. First will be a month-long run of Scott Garland’s Half a League as part of the inaugural Indie Theatre Season at Fraser Studios. We actually met Scott Garland during As You Like It (he played my dad/uncle) and are excited to delve into this new endeavour with him – he’s a very interesting artist and it’s a supremely original script. Following that will be a partnership with the Inspired Acting Lab headed by Lionel Walsh from University of Windsor. He has a grant for the work he’s been experimenting within the Michael Chekhov Technique, and has chosen Rarely Pure as the production company to bring his research in rehearsal exercises to life with a full scale production.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for this! It really means a lot to us that As You Like It had such a lasting impression on you, and hopefully others. This is just the beginning for myself, and for Rarely Pure, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!