Questions about process and form can be among the most profound even if they seem to be never-ending. I’m happily immersed in such considerations this week, having seen Humans by Circa (what is their idiom after all?) and Ken Gass’s intriguing adaptation of Helen’s Necklace.
Now I will inflict the questions on someone else, namely Rose Plotek, in my hope to learn something. Let me begin by sharing Rose’s bio from National Theatre School.
Rose Plotek (Directing 2007) is a director and theatre maker. The inquiry of Rose’s work investigates form and aesthetic, with experiment being a driving force of both development and presentation. Her work is often developed through inter-disciplinary collaboration and workshop, most frequently with Philip McKee (Directing 2009). Recent credits: Like Mother, Like Daughter, created with Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre, Toronto) and Complicite (London, UK); Bloody Family (Theatre Centre); LEAR (World Stage/Magnetic North); Performance About A Woman (Summerworks Performance Festival). She was Intern Director at the Shaw Festival (Neil Munro Intern Director Project, 2013).
Rose’s co-creation Like Mother, Like Daughter is back, and was the occasion for this interview.
Rose Plotek, director & maker of theatre
Are you more like your father or your mother?
My mother. My mother is a force of nature. She is a community organizer, activist, educator, writer, filmmaker and farmer. She cares deeply for the land and for her community. I try in all I do to carry the work she does forward.
I am emotional, at times volatile, but deeply caring, all of which I share with my mother.
I’m grateful if I’m even just a little bit like her.
What is the best or worst thing about what you do?
I travel a lot for work, which is the best, except it means I’m away from my kid, which is the worst.
Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I listen to CBC radio all the time. I work from home when I’m not in rehearsal and I often have it on in the background. This is something I have inherited from my parents, they both do this as well.
What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I could speak more languages. I am fluent in French, but I would love to also speak Italian, Spanish, German and Arabic.
When you’re just relaxing and not working, what is your favourite thing to do?
Hang out with my kid. Cook. Read. Spend time at my mother’s farm. Go to the movies.
More questions about Like Mother, Like Daughter
Speaking of questions, Like Mother, Like Daughter consists of a framework of questions being posed on a stage to the real-life women, taking the questions. What are some of the best questions you’ve heard?
What things should mothers teach their children and what things are better for children to discover for themselves?
What makes a house a home?
Do you think you would survive alone in the wilderness?
What’s one question you would ask a psychic about your future?
Do you rehearse or somehow get them ready for real questions before a real audience? What is the nature of your preparation, and are some people too shy or nervous to do this, and back out?
We do a series of workshops with the participants in the weeks leading up to the performances. The primary focus of those workshops is for the group to spend time together, and get to know each other a little bit. Essentially, we spend that time in conversation. We also lead the mothers and daughters through a series of writing exercises that help generate the questions that are then used in the performances themselves. They generate the questions, which are then curated by me for the performances.
We’ve never had people back out of the process. We’ve certainly had participants who are shyer than others. We try to create an environment that is warm and convivial, that makes people feel comfortable and allows them to be themselves. If they are shy or feel discomfort in front of a group of people, then they’re welcome to be just that in front of an audience. Because participants are coming to this with their mother or daughter, I think that there’s a familiar element, there’s a little bit of your life and your self there that’s always present. That creates an environment where I believe people feel quite comfortable. We do have a microphone for people who are little more soft-spoken, so they don’t have to try and amplify their voices or be performative in any way. We allow them to be themselves.
There’s a great quote from The Guardian that I saw in the press release: “It works on the premise that other people’s lives are completely fascinating.” Do people need any help to be “completely fascinating”, or is that Guardian quote completely accurate?
I think it’s completely accurate. I think everyone has a story to tell that has value, and everyone’s experience matters. The way that we understand each other as human beings is by coming together and having a conversation. What we’re trying to do in creating the circumstances of the piece is to allow people to come together and share their stories and experiences; something that can feel perhaps small or insignificant can be very telling and can connect people on a pretty profound level.
Talk about the communal meal that’s such a big part of this, how & why that’s included in the piece.
The meal was an element that was part of it right from the initial impulse of the piece. I think its value is that that regardless of your background or the culture that you come from, people get together over food. They come together around the dinner table – it’s the thing that brings us together. Breaking bread together crosses all borders, so for us it was an integral part of a way to open up the possibility for a group of strangers to come together and have a conversation.
For me, the performance event witnessed by the audience in the first half of the evening is a warm up to the meal in the second half. The meal is shared between the mothers and daughters and the audience. For me, that meal is really the main event of Like Mother, Like Daughter. What we’re doing in the first half of the evening is getting the conversation started. That conversation then continues with the audience over some extremely delicious food made by Newcomer Kitchen. It really is a special experience and something that I think is unique. A lot of people who go to the theatre are used to sitting in the dark amongst a group of strangers and sharing a kind of communal experience in that way. But sitting down at a dinner table with strangers is not something that we get the opportunity to do very often, if ever.
This work seems very intimate. What’s the range, from the biggest and smallest audiences you’ve had for this work, and what do you think is the ideal size of audience?
The audience capacity is 70. It’s been between 50 and 70 each time we’ve done the show. The piece hinges on the fact that it is quite intimate and that you’re sitting down at a table with the mothers and daughters, so if you had an audience that was too large it would be very difficult to have any kind of further conversation at the dinner table.
60 to 70 people is really the perfect size for the piece – it is very intimate the way the audience surrounds a big dinner table. In the first part of the evening the audience gets a bird’s eye view of a dinner table where the mothers and daughters have a conversation, and then the audience moves to a series of tables that mimics that shape in the other half of the space. The piece hinges on the fact that it is an intimate experience, but it also has to have a large enough audience to fuel a good conversation.
Do you have any influences / teachers you would want to mention, especially as they are relevant to what we see in Like Mother, Like Daughter.
There are people whose work has influenced the shape of this piece. Lois Weaver’s Long Table is one of those. Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola! is another one. The show that Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre) created with his mother, Brimful of Asha, is obviously a piece that influenced the beginnings of this one. Also the previous work of Complicité, which is the company in the UK that co-created Like Mother, Like Daughter. The stream of their company called “Creative Learning” had made other works that incorporated non-performers and audiences coming together over food. There’s one piece that they made called Tea, and there are some structural elements that are shared between the two pieces. I’d say that those four things had some influence on the shape that the piece eventually took.
Like Mother, Like Daughter returns for Eight Shows Nov 15 – 24, 2018
918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education, Toronto
PAY WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD: $50 | $35 | $20
Tickets available through kofflerarts.org | theatrewhynot.org
Original Concept and Direction by Ravi Jain, Rose Plotek, and Poppy Keeling
Co-Created by Why Not Theatre and Complicité Creative Learning
Directed by Rose Plotek
Associate Directed by Lisa Karen Cox
Directing Assistance by Darwin Lyons
Produced by Why Not Theatre and Koffler Centre of the Arts
Producing for Why Not Theatre by Kevin Matthew Wong
Producing for Koffler Centre by Jessica Dargo Caplan
Thursday, November 15, 8 PM – OPENING NIGHT
Friday, November 16, 8 PM
Saturday, November 17, 11 AM – BRUNCH PERFORMANCE
Sunday, November 18, 6 PM
Thursday November 22, 8 PM
Friday November 23, 8 PM
Saturday, November 24, 11 AM – BRUNCH PERFORMANCE
Saturday, November 24, 8 PM