Dal’s Fountain School of Performing Arts ushers in its 2017-2018 season this week with a stage production of “Orlando,” Virginia Woolf’s classic novel of human transformation.
Directed by Fountain School acting alum Matthew Thomas Walker (BA’05), the Dal production is based on American playwright Sarah Ruhl’s 2003 adaptation of the 1928 book.
Reimagining “Orlando” for the stage is no small feat, considering it jumps around the world and spans five centuries. Centred on a main character that starts out as a nobleman in 16th century Elizabethan England before transforming halfway through the play into a woman, the story also explores different notions of gender and sexuality.
“It’s a wonderful piece for a university,” says Walker, who took a brief break from his work as co-artistic director at Toronto’s Litmus Theatre to return to his alma mater to direct. “It has a lot of room for play and for a class to create its own version of the story.”
Walker’s two-act production clocks in just shy of 90 minutes, with its protagonist bouncing around from place to place and into new romantic relationships — first as a man and then later as a woman.
“It’s a fascinating, fast-paced journey where you are watching just how perceptions about gender dictate the course of this person’s life,” says Walker.
Walker has spent the last few years of his career bringing non-theatrical material to the stage, including his own adaption of the famed Aldous Huxley masterpiece “Brave New World.”
With “Orlando,” the director saw a chance to follow Ruhl’s many cues to make novel choices with certain aspects of the work and really tapped into the unique talents and perspectives of his ensemble of fourth-year honours students to help shape the final production.
(L to R): Maggie Andersen, Ryan Gallant, Taylor McMillen, Megan Fenchak.
About 90 per cent of the sound design is done live, for instance, with actors using their many musical talents on trombone, trumpet and other instruments to help bring the work to life through songs and sound affects.
“At first it was a lot to juggle,” Walker says, of the actors doing double duty as musicians, “but now they’re mastering it and it’s quite fun.”
Like Ruhl, Walker has made a point of trying to channel some of the original story’s humour and whimsy onto the stage while not losing sight of the deeper meaning.
“It just kind of bounces along, but it’s got this poignant underbelly that I think speaks quite loudly amidst the whimsy,” he says.
“Orlando” opened Tuesday night and runs daily at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday with an additional matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Limited tickets are still available.
Rebecca McCauley and Ursula Calder.
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