Alex Fallis is a Toronto native who has been a part of the Canadian professional theatre for over thirty years. He is an actor, director, singer and teacher. As a performer and director, he has experience in opera, musical theatre, new Canadian work, classical works and performance art. He has performed at the Shaw Festival, Canstage, Charlottetown Festival, Young Peoples’ Theatre, the Citadel, the Belfry, VideoCabaret, and other theatres, as well as in Asia and Europe. He has acted in and directed shows in school gyms, parks, and vacant lots, as well as more usual theatre spaces. He received a Dora nomination for his performance as Feste in Twelfth Night (Dream in High Park), and toured Asia playing Monsieur Andre in the Livent/Really Useful production of Phantom of the Opera. He is highly experienced in new and collaborative work- he directed and co-created Seamless Songs with Madhouse Theatre (Doors Open Toronto 2005, and the Ottawa Fringe Festival), The Immigrant Years (U. of T.), and Johann’s Cabinet of Wonders, a one-man show (Summerworks). He has been involved in the development of pieces through Native Earth Performing Arts, nightswimming, Canadian Rep, YPT, Praxis Theatre, and the Canadian Stage Company, as well as colleges and universities. Alex was part of the directorial team (with Fides Krucker and Heidi Strauss) for Unfinished Passage at Humber College. He also recently directed The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the University of Waterloo, using a new Canadian score and translation. He is a highly respected teacher, and is at ease in both the studio and the lecture hall. He was the Theatre History instructor at George Brown College and Humber College for over 10 years, and has taught at Laurentian University, the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph, Sheridan College, Claude Watson School of the Arts, and the Charlottetown Festival. He has been a Guest Professor at Memorial University in Corner Brook, Newfoundland since 2011. In 2012, he co-direct the electro-acoustic opera Julie Sits Waiting for Good Hair Day Productions at Theatre Passe Muraille (which received 5 Dora Award nominations, including best production). He has a number of projects in development, including the electro-acoustic theatre piece Dive, and within a fortnight, a production of The Play of Daniel with The Toronto Consort, opening May 22nd .
On the occasion of Toronto Consort’s production of The Play of Daniel, I ask Fallis ten questions: five about himself and five more about the project.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
I always find this a difficult question, especially as I grow older. I have usually thought that I was more like my mother, who had a more obvious interest in the arts, really gave me my sense of social justice, and seemed more supportive of people who were finding their own way (like artists). As well, like many in my generation, my relationship with my father was sometimes fraught – with disagreements over politics, personal lifestyle choices, etc. However, as I have grown older (and have now been a father myself for more than 20 years) I have started to see more of my father’s virtues in retrospect, and hope that some of those have rubbed off on me.
2) What is the best thing about what you do?
I think that the best thing about being in the arts is variety. Sometimes that is frustrating- one takes lots of jobs just to stay in the game (and pay the bills), but it also means that you are exposed to a HUGE variety of forms (I have worked in contemporary music and musicals, classical theatre, Canadian work, commercial musicals, and on and on) with a huge variety of people. I also teach at colleges and universities which I like for the research aspect especially- I am constantly seeing new things, new ways that people think. In the arts you can really see the world unfold, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively, and it keeps you active and alert. I love that.
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
My tastes are very wide-ranging. I see a LOT of theatre, that would be my main ‘watching’ experience, but I also enjoy a sporting event from time to time, too. Because of my family ties, I also feel quite connected to music performance in Toronto and see a number of concerts in a year. Toronto is a city where there is never a night where there isn’t a real choice of interesting performance, and I try to keep up, but it is really impossible.
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Well, being from a musical family, and involved in the arts, I wish I had stuck with a keyboard instrument for longer as a kid. David (my brother who is a bit older than me) was always better at the piano, and I think I didn’t really want to compete, so I played cello and sang. But piano would be very useful (and enjoyable) for my theatre work as well as in the more musical work I do. That and having the time to REALLY learn to cook.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I have taught in Newfoundland over the last four years, and really fell in love with being in the out of doors again. I did a lot of camping when I was young (til my mid-twenties), and being in Newfoundland has really brought that back. I have made a habit of taking a lot of day hikes around Western Newfoundland, and I don’t think much could make me happier or more relaxed.
Five more about the upcoming Toronto Consort production of The Play of Daniel.
1-The upcoming production of The Play of Daniel is in a new translation by your brother David Fallis, the Artistic Director of Toronto Consort. Please talk about this new translation, what David told you about the challenges this entailed, and what you can tell us about what we should expect when we come to see/hear the production.
The Play of Daniel was written in medieval Latin (with some medieval French thrown in), in a very rhymy, sing-song rhythm. As part of the aim of this project was to create a piece that had more immediate appeal to a 21st century audience, it was decided to do the show in English (which is actually very rare in the period music world). All the translations we found were very literal and seemed to lose the fun of rhyme and rhythm, which I wasn’t very pleased about. So David undertook to translate it, and I think he has done a great job. It has a certain elegance (words like ’laud’ and ‘proffer’ appear), but includes a lot of close rhyme. I think this makes the language more fun and really gives it a strong pulse and forward motion. We are also including bits of Latin (and also the shreds of medieval French) to keep a bit of a medieval and other worldly quality.
2- Please talk about what you understand by historically informed performance styles, and your objectives with Toronto Consort.
As I said above, one of David’s main aims for the project was to bring the play into the 21st century. For me, that meant maintaining the spirit of celebration and community fun that is in the original (it is thought that the play was originally performed during the Christmas season and is associated with the Feast of Fools). So we are not aiming for ‘historical accuracy’ in any strict way. I continue to be inspired by the ‘medievalness’ of the dramaturgy, music and characters, but I hope that we are also doing the show in a way that delights and engages the audience in Toronto, today.
3- Please talk about the joys of working with your brother David (have you collaborated before?), and what he brings to the process of making music and creating theatre.
David and I have only worked together a few times over the years. He has helped me choose music for a show, I have sung in his choirs, but this is the largest piece we have worked on together, and this one is intended to be more collaborative. I can say that he knows his stuff! I certainly can’t ask for a more informed collaborator on Medieval Music. As the Artistic Director of the Consort, he has made very clear his aims for the show, but has allowed me to find designers and performers I trust and think will bring great work to this project. He has a very open mind about the possible ways to achieve his goals for the project, and has been very encouraging about finding interesting ways to bring the piece to life.
4- Please talk about the religious aspect of a work like The Play of Daniel, and your own perspective presenting this in a church where you have a direct family history.
As you note, I have had a relationship with the building of Trinity- St. Paul’s since before my birth. My grandfather was the minister there in the 30s and it was (and still is for some) our family church. So it feels extremely familiar in one way, but I am also trying to use the building in new ways. I definitely have a strong, clear relationship to the space, and I feel very much at home there. It is a beautiful space, and especially after the recent renovations, music sounds fantastic there. Much like an old piece of wood furniture (or a musical instrument) that has been worn smooth by being used, loved and touched by many hands, there is a real sensual pleasure to working in the space.
While I have a lot of issues with organizational religion (especially when groups decide that religion is really about rules, and deciding what is right or wrong), I have never had a problem with the celebratory, community side that I think is really at the heart of most religious music. There is something extremely wonderful and powerful about people getting together and singing (which can be seen in the current craze for amateur choirs that do non-religious material). So in The Play of Daniel we have one of the earliest examples of that in the European tradition. We go all the way back to the 12th or 13th century, when people were just figuring out how to write music down, and what do we find? People creating a piece that is full of humour, bad jokes, celebration, fun storytelling, and great music. I find the piece full of the simple pleasure of getting together, creating something, and having musical fun. And that is what I hope the project brings to 2015. We have approximately 40 performers, ranging in age from about 10- 65- it is a community event, and that is very close to what the spiritual means to me.
5) Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Certainly for my family and music, the choir director Lloyd Bradshaw was an enormously powerful and positive influence. I started singing with him when I was about 8, and sang almost continually under his direction until I was in my thirties. Again, while he was very concerned about making excellent music, he was even more concerned with making sure everyone in the choir felt a part of the whole. As a result, his choirs were great communities as much as great music-makers. Many of the things I learned in his choirs are equally applicable to theatre, and teaching.
As well, because this a Medieval piece, I would like to give a little recognition to the organization and man who taught me that Medieval theatre was a living form, and could be just as much fun as contemporary work. The Poculi Ludique Societas at U of T is the organization, and its director at the time I was involved there was David Parry (who has unfortunately passed away). He was another embodiment of community art making/play, and a constant pleasure to work with.
Toronto Consort present the play of Daniel at 8 pm May 22nd and 23rd, and at 3:30 pm May 24th, at Trinity –St Paul’s Centre.