Memory Lane

I posted a few pictures to Facebook at the opening of SOLT’s all-Canadian program of two operas at the Robert Gill Theatre, one by John Beckwith who turned 90 earlier this year, one by a later generation in the person of Michael Rose.


Kathleen McMorrow and John Beckwith

At times I get all tenderized. I choose that word because I am like a hunk of meat that’s been smacked with a hammer, all soft and mushy from the feelings & memories stirred by experiences in the theatre. It occurs to me the morning after, as I let the emotions and recollections have their way with me, that theatre really is memory lane. It’s been called a temple, a sacred space. And every time you revisit any theatre you’re being invited both to discover the new while being reminded of the old.

In the case of the Robert Gill Theatre,  it’s certainly true for me. Coincidentally, the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies (formerly the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama) have had their 50th anniversary this past year, leading them to offer displays showing off their past. There in the lobby I saw a display case that included at least five projects with which I was intimately connected, including a couple of posters that I designed, and a few festivals in which I participated as a composer and/or performer.


A small part of a display in the lobby

In my brief chat with Kathleen McMorrow, who was standing quietly beside the display case that I photographed, I mentioned my memories of Lu Massey, who was so diligent in many roles, including as the institutional memory of the DC.  I joked to Kathleen that just outside the window is the catwalk where we used to go outside to smoke.  I had thought of Lu last week when I wrote about the DC’s 1977 Dog Beneath the Skin directed by Michael Sidnell (Lu stage-managed for Michael), mentioning her work and her recent passing to Kathleen McMorrow as I stood there, perhaps a bit hyper in the presence of so many memories. Kathleen rightly reminded me that this is librarian-ship, maintaining such a collection and an archive. I do not know who is currently doing this important work and to whom I owe my thanks for creating this display.

I only had time for the one quick shot above during intermission that shows two items (and excuse me as I digress for a moment to explain my strong reactions):
1)That first FOOT, (Festival of Original Theatre), with the theme “The Body Dismembered”. You can see the poster that shows butchers at their work. The first Artistic Directors were Marlene Moser & Rebecca Harries. I performed twice: once, in an experimental performance called “The Singer Actor Divided”, offering up the first scene of Pelléas et Mélisande, but using a singer plus a human ubermarionette to portray each of the two characters in that scene. I played the piano. Kristina Bendikas would write her doctoral dissertation on what was probed in this performance, the notion that opera singers are a mixture of the singer and the actor. And the second thing was really my biggest undertaking, staging something I composed in the 1980s, called The Compleat Shakespeare. I’d heard of a piece someone did called something like “The Complete works of William Shakespeare” in one night. I went further –again thinking of a body dismembered—and atomized the Compleat Shakespeare into a series of famous lines, to make a Prologue from all the prologues (including from plays-within-plays), an exposition from all the expositions, an interlude for clowns from all the clownish lines, a soliloquy from all the soliloguys, taking us to a catastrophe/denouement from all the denouements, followed by an epilogue from all the epilogues.  Do it again? Hmm.
2) In 2005 I was co-AD, which was much more of a vicarious academic thing without the chances to be a practitioner (eg composer / playwright/ pianist / singer), but closer to the sort of thing I regularly do on this blog, when I’m watching rather than doing.

Each of those mementos conjures up a complex set of associations to a time. In 1993 I went off to Chicago to see the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Siegfried and to present a paper at the MATC conference and did music for Daniel Moses’ Kyotopolis, for example. In 2005 it was a blur of so many tasks at the same time to make that brief festival happen. A reverie about the past, strolling down memory lane, is just an extension of what’s in the theatre where we experience something in the present while connecting it to what we’ve felt & seen and what we expect that we will see and hear.

I also remember the Robert Gill as a forbidding place for at least two reasons. Its acoustic is unkind to opera, a very dry space that sucks up the subtleties of a voice, and dryer the further back that you sing. If you can sound good in there, you will sound good anywhere. I was very lucky last night to be sitting up close. The space is also a design challenge with a very low ceiling: on the 3rd floor of a beautiful old building.


Baritone Bruce Kelly and SOLT Artistic Director Guillermo Silva-Marin.

The summer is a great time for reflection, looking back while considering what lies ahead. We encounter promising new voices with SOLT, while meeting up with old friends.

Recreate yourself and then in the fall we begin again.

This entry was posted in Opera, Personal ruminations & essays, University life. Bookmark the permalink.

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