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Spotlight On...

Lynda Hill, Alphonse and Theatre Direct

AlphonseLynda Hill is co-directing Theatre Direct's latest production, Alphonse, in a new English-language translation. TheatreBooks sat down with Lynda to talk about the play, frontier theatre, and staying away from plays that smell like health-class.
Rachel Bokhout: Tell me about your history with Theatre Direct.
Lynda Hill: I'm starting my second year as Artistic Director. ... It's my first year doing all the programming. But I've always been involved with the company -- my first professional acting contract was with Theatre Direct. So was my first directing job.

When I came on board (as AD), half my orientation was done -- I knew this company; I knew it's focus. And I had worked in feminist theatre (and other minority theatre work) so I also knew what it was to do frontier theatre.

Theatre Direct is about authentic interaction with their audience to create theatre for young audiences, not theatre that smells like TYA. And I'm interested in exploring the full possibilities of this form; to find out what's different about TYA. That's what Buncha (Buncha Young Artists' New Play Festival in March) does.

RB: What drew you to Alphonse?

LH: It's a big idea play -- it's rooted in the decision that young people think deeply about things. And the world that's cracking open in the play is as appropriate for young people as for anyone.

Strong issues are at the core of what we (Theatre Direct) do, though theatremaking is primary.

RB: You're not here to do health-class theatre.

LH: No! But this play is about the power of the word, and it is an arts education exercise -- to sit in the power of the word. Theatre can do that. Film spells it all out for young people.

For me it was extremely important to find a play that was highly literate, that honoured the intelligence and imagination of its audience.

RB: And it's in translation.

LH: Using a Quebecois theatre form -- a storytelling form -- is a great way to expand the Theatre Direct style.

RB: How did you find the script?

LH: The translator (Shelley Tepperman) called me up, and then Alon Nashman (performer and co-director) called me. I read the script and I loved what it was proposing, but I had an instinct that the cuts and edits of the script meant it was promising more than it was delivering. So I called (Tepperman) and asked if it was the full script -- and it wasn't.

Theatre Direct has a strong history of play development, and we rarely just do a script that we're handed. So I commissioned a full translation of the original full-length text.

The narrator function in the old piece was purely functional -- this version gives us a much more complete journey, of the old man meeting the child.

RB: Was there anything about directing this play that was a new experience, or that was work you hadn't encountered before?

LH: It's not new work as much as a return to fundamentals. We're used to starting from the text and augmenting -- designing to illuminate.

In this play, everything gets bounced up against "appropriate use of technology." We started big and got smaller and smaller, so now there's only one prop in the play.

RB: What is it?

LH: Ha ha -- I'm not telling.

When you're in the fantasy world -- the world of Pierre-Paul Rene, it's a kaleidoscope. The designers are having great fun. The other world is much more sombre, and that's difficult. You have to go back to the fundamental tenets of theatre and storytelling. And avoid funny voices.

RB: You're opening really soon. How is rehearsal going? Do you feel that the play is gelling?

LH: Everyday it's like 'Oh my God, this is exactly what I imagined." It's completely in sync with what I was thinking when I programmed the show.

RB: That doesn't happen very often.

LH: No. No, it doesn't. And I'm thrilled to introduce Wajdi Mouawad to young people here. He's a big star in Quebec, and it's great to be able to introduce him to Toronto TYA.

RB: I felt this show really fit in with other Theatre Direct pieces I'd seen and read.

LH: I'm so glad to hear you say that. Everything that Theatre Direct does has an element of danger, and it honors the audience's capacity for thought and discussion. Alphonse is part of that mandate.

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