FROM THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR: Behind the scenes at LLT

LLT Proof - TM header.jpg

Proof centres around Catherine (Anwen O’Driscoll), whose father Robert (Anthony Jackson), a brilliant mathematics professor, has recently passed away, and her struggle with math genius and mental illness. Her father’s former student, Hal (David Draper) discovers a proof that changes everything, while her sister Claire (Ellen Giddings) tries to force Catherine to move on with her life. Proof was written in 2000 by David Auburn and appeared on Broadway with stars Mary Louise Parker and Neil Patrick Harris. It was adapted for film in 2005, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

 Altaire Gural, director

Altaire Gural, director

Altaire Gural is directing Proof for the Lindsay Little Theatre as their entry for the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s Full-Length Festival, and she’s pulling out all the stops. One of her former actors, Kylie Alora, now a recording artist for Radar Love Records, is lending her new single “At My Worst” for the play’s theme song. The set will be decorated with windows from the former office of University of Toronto’s professor Marshall Mcluhan, noted for “the medium is the message.”

Gural made her directing debut in 2012 with LLT’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 2014, she directed the original play she wrote, Forgotten, which was performed at the Academy Theatre and since has been mounted world-wide from the United Kingdom to Australia. In 2015, she adapted the movie The Breakfast Club for the LLT stage. Local actors who have worked with Altaire Gural have seen success on both the big and small screen, including O’Driscoll, who can be seen on Burden of Truth (CBC/CW), and Draper, in the Discovery Channel’s See No Evil. Other former students include Ehren Kassam, who starred on Degrassi: The Next Generation and Degrassi: Next Class, and Star Slade, who also stars on Burden of Truth and Frontier with Jason Momoa.

What is Gural’s formula for success? We went to a rehearsal for Proof to find out.

 Anwen O’Driscoll as Catherine

Anwen O’Driscoll as Catherine

The rehearsal appears like any other: actors joking, consuming caffeine, complaining about the temperature. Gural advises they will be running through the first act that night, but warns she will stop them. As they move to position, they snort with derision, but only half-heartedly. Scripts clutched in hands, the actors are not entirely “off-book” yet, and three-weeks to opening night, the pressure is exponential. Typically an LLT performance has 8 to 10 weeks of rehearsals, but O’Driscoll has only just returned from wrapping up filming the second season of Burden of Truth, and while the other actors have been learning lines and working with each other, they now have to learn to work with O’Driscoll.

Gural is true to her word and immediately stops Jackson to tell him to pause after the lights come up and before entering the scene. They begin again. And so the process goes: actors run their lines and Gural sends out corrections. Don’t hide behind the chair. You’re sighing with every line, stop it. Too much eyebrow action. If the comments feel harsh, the actors don’t appear to notice. They nod and try again. Praise follows. Better. Beautiful.

 Anthony Jackson as Robert

Anthony Jackson as Robert

“Do you feel the difference?” Gural asks. They take a moment to discuss. Jackson is a 15-year veteran of LLT and also a playwright. This is his first time playing a major role for Gural. He describes her direction as “telling us what not to do.” Gural edits away the actors’ bad habits-- sighing, moving too much, looking at the wrong place-- with lightning speed, stopping the action as it’s happening. Foibles put the actors into a “comfort zone”, and the performance might be good-- hitting the emotion, nailing the lines, moving with precision timing-- but it won’t be great.

And for the EODL adjudication, the performance must be better than good.

 Ellen Giddings as Claire

Ellen Giddings as Claire

As the actors peel away their habits, an edge is revealed. The character comes more sharply into focus. This is more than bringing emotion into a facial expression; the feelings have to be truthful. Gural is no different in what she demands from the pros and stage vets than from Giddings in her first performance, and Giddings fits in comfortably with the others. The rehearsal atmosphere is without fear. Gural’s direction is not about control, but about bringing out the best of each actor. She says everyone has the potential to be a great actor, but not everyone is willing to be brave enough to go to the vulnerable places.

Gural gives homework: “Find your agenda for each scene.” She says every scene is there for a reason. Find that reason. She pushes the actors to dial into their characters’ motivations. “There’s meaning behind every word.” In early rehearsals, the actors sat knee-to-knee and ran their lines while looking into each other’s eyes. Gural went over the myriad ways to play a character-- bring out his jealousy, his charm, his loyalty?-- with each actor. They plotted an emotional course through the play, one that should provide the best experience for the audience. Jackson says a director has to know more than the actors on stage. And he’s right; the director must also know their audience and how to deliver a story to meet that audience’s expectations. It’s more than having a vision; it’s all about eliciting emotion in the audience.

 David Draper as Hal

David Draper as Hal

Not only are these actors not shy about lashing out in anger or breaking down in tears, but they are willing to come back for more. No one minds the late nights of rehearsals. No one reminds repeating a line until it’s right. “She makes acting exciting,” O’Driscoll says. Draper explains, “It’s exciting to feel yourself becoming better.” And not just as an actor, he says, but as a person.

“I think they’re awesome,” Gural says. “I absolutely love this.”

Performances takes place at Lindsay Little Theatre

55 George Street, Lindsay, ON

October 12 & 13 and 19 & 20

Tickets can be purchased at the Academy Theatre.