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Saturday, 30 May 2009

On the Job With... Trent Pardy

(as appeared in the May, 2009 Friends of the Festival Newsletter)

The Basics:
Name: “Trent Pardy.”
Hails from: “Calgary, Alberta.”
Been with the Festival: “Two years. This is my second term in the
Title: “Actor – but I’d like to branch out into singing!”
Working on which shows: “Three Sisters, Ph├Ędre, and Bartholomew
Works with how many people: “Hundreds! The company, directors,
stage managers, voice coaches, movement coaches, wardrobe attendants
etc. – that’s what it feels like!”
Basic job description: “To honour the words of the playwright, to respect the vision of the director and to creatively fulfill that vision.”

I met Trent in early January, which still is pre-season for most other people at the Festival. Trent, however, was deep in his second term with the Birmingham Conservatory. “Earlier, we studied Restoration works with Stephen Russell; and now we’re rehearsing a comedy with Stephen Oiumette, The Provoked Wife by John VanBrugh.” He explains the rehearsal development. “It is an organic process at the start, beginning with activities to focus us, then moving into blocking the scenes, and exploring the piece by playing with choices and possibilities.” While the director’s vision is key, Trent feels that part of an actor’s job is to give the director choices within that vision as to how parts can be played. “It’s a safety zone, with no wrong answers – like brainstorming how best to articulate and bring the text alive.”

“The challenge with an actor’s job in rehearsal is to be present in the room, in the moment, so you can be available to the possibilities that open up.” He smiles broadly. “I like focusing on that challenge, but another is being able to put aside creative and personal challenges with each other. It is far more exciting to think of them as unique opportunities to explore because that’s where growth can happen.”

After a show opens, the challenge is slightly different. “For the two to three hours an actor is on the stage, it’s like an eight-hour shift in other jobs – your mental and physical engagement has to be heightened at all times in order to tell the story. It’s draining.” He prepares for this challenge mentally with voice and breathing exercises, and other techniques. Another thing that helps? “The costume,” he grins. “It’s a ritual in and of itself.”

What about blanking or “corpsing” on stage? “Well, those are exciting moments,” he laughs, but turns serious. “Not being able to improvise in the moment that something goes wrong – that’s worse.” He grins again. “I don’t plan on doing that, ever!”

I asked him what keeps his job running smoothly and his answer was prompt. “The people I work with. Administration, the directors, the entire theatre community. And my own confidence in my work – which all of them help me to build.”

While the rest of us get job evaluations, how does an actor know – or feel – when he has done a good job? Trent thinks about that for a moment before answering. “I think comments from my fellow actors – those with whom I work and those whom I watch. It’s gruelling to expose our vulnerabilities daily. If we don’t have their support, it can be traumatic. ‘It’s a pleasure to play with you’ or ‘I admire your energy and outlook – it’s infectious’, or even ‘Nice work!’ Those types of comments are always welcome, as well as the constructive criticism that comes with the job.”

Trent’s eyes light up as he relates an anecdote about Sir Laurence Olivier giving an outstanding performance as Hamlet, and coming off stage as mad as hell because he couldn’t remember how he did it. “It’s thrilling to be so in the moment of a piece that you can’t remember. The body just takes over and you just know; there’s this spark, this joy, this moment of completely being outside of yourself.” He doesn’t need to say it – it’s obvious he can’t wait for his next such moment.

I was curious if there was anything Trent wished audiences knew about his job. Another prompt answer, with a laugh. “We can hear everything they say in the audience, the funny, the good and the bad! Everything!” He grows thoughtful again. “Also, I wish they would talk to their politicians. Arts and culture forms our nation, our story, our history. To take away from that is detrimental. We are storytellers, and we all learn our past though our stories.” He paused. “That’s what I wish they knew.”

Monday, 4 May 2009

Blonde Ambition at the Shaw Festival

(Deborah Hay as Billie Dawn, with Gray Powell as Paul Verall in the background. Photo by David Cooper, courtesy of the Shaw Festival.)

This past weekend I travelled down to Niagara-on-the-Lake and took in the invited dress rehearsal of Born Yesterday, a 1940's play by Garson Kanin about the power that a little knowledge can wield. It's starring Stratford alums Deborah Hay and Thom Marriott as Billie Dawn and Harry Brock, and while I can't officially review it (being a dress rehearsal), I'd say it's going to be as golden as Billie's curls for the Shaw Festival.

Anyone wanting their own preview can try tracking down the George Cuckor movie by the same name, starring William Holden and the Betty-Boop-voiced Judy Holliday. (The Stratford Public Library has it on DVD).

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