Our Town by Company C, the Canadian College of Performing Arts. October 20-23, 2016. Interview.

Our Town by Company C, the Canadian College of Performing Arts. October 20-23, 2016. Interview.

The Canadian College of Performing Arts’ third year collaborative theatrical collective—Company C—enables students to develop and mount three separate performances between September and February, guided by guest directors.

For the 11th Company C season of 2016-2017 the first production is Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic Our Town directed by James Fagan Tait who previously directed Zorba, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Marat/Sade for the company.  Victoria audiences will also remember his work as playwright and director for the Belfry Theatre (The Life Inside, Helen’s Necklace, 21 Ways to Save the World).

Our Town is the tale of the small town of Grover’s Corners as told through the everyday lives of its citizens. It’s a “slice of life” look at life, death and the eternal that focuses on the world of two American families; the love and tragedy that befalls them, as it does all of us. In that way, the town of Grover’s Corners becomes just like our town.


I had the opportunity to interview Fagan Tait and Ainsley Harrington, a Company C member and one of the two foley (sound) artists for the show.

It’s a big year for Our Town—Fagan Tait was himself in a production at The Caravan Farm Theatre and it was also staged at Soulpepper (Toronto) and the Shaw Festival.

Written in 1938, Our Town retains a relevance for today’s audiences—Harrington mentions that everyone knows the play since it’s taught in high school English.

Our Town features an ensemble miming the action of the play with the stage manager describing the characters—it’s a role often played by older men (as would have been the case for a real stage manager of that era) for which Fagan Tait cast a young woman, noting that in today’s theatre most of the stage managers are, in fact, women.  “It’s refreshing to make it a youthful woman’s voice—think of the authors Emily Dickinson or Willa Cather.”

Normally, sound would not be present, but Fagan Tait has always been disappointed by this fact and decided to employ two foley (sound) artists—Harrington and Will Carr–on either side of the stage facing the action.  “Foley is a way to glorify the little things in life that actually make it what it is” states Fagan Tait. Every time an action—eggs being cracked to make breakfast, sugar stirred into a cup of coffee—occurs, the foley artists create a sound, in real time.  For Harrington and Carr, this meant going through the script, line by line, and then researching how to effectively make the sound.  “We used fewer objects than we originally imagined since they can often be used for several sounds.” Together with Derry Oshust on props and sound designer Chase Sander, the team became one of the strongest on the show according to Fagan Tait (in addition to acting in the production, students perform every function necessary to its creation, from stage management to design–set, costumes, light, sound–and publicity/fundraising).

“Faculty member RJ Peters (who performed foley for the last December’s radio play It’s A Wonderful Life at Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre) was a big help.  Actors in the ensemble contributed too, learning to make chicken noises and the sound of crickets at night,” says Harrington.

For Fagan Tait, who began to direct at the college rather fortuitously in 2013 due to a connection with Michael Shamata and the Belfry Theatre, it’s “a dream job to be able to bring forward the titles I have always wanted to do—the great plays of the theatre”.  He loves working with young people who “come with a great deal of good will and enthusiasm and are often freer of the default comfort zone of older actors.”

In Our Town, “it’s important that the audience perceive the actors as truly living, as if they are meeting the moment for the first time”.

Company C’s production is a completely faithful interpretation of the original staging by director Jed Harris.  “It demands a naturalism and cinematic performances that appear as if the actors are making it up as they go along,” says Fagan Tait. Rather than depending on “bells and whistles” he believes that the ensemble must draw the audience in.  “Our Town is the perfect play for this since it’s a play of the imagination—with its lack of set”.

Both agree that the audience will recognize themselves in the action onstage.  “It’s appealing because anyone can relate to any of the characters. I like being able to see a part of myself,” says Harrington.

Our Town is “sheer poetry, going from the mundane to the sublime,” states Fagan Tait.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder, directed by James Fagan Tait
Company C, the Canadian College of Performing Arts
1701 Elgin Road, Victoria BC
October 20-23 (7:30pm October 20, 21, 22 with 2pm matinées October 21, 22, 23)
Tickets $16-25 through Eventbrite or by phone 250 595 9970 ext 222

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