The first show of the year for Dalhousie’s Fountain School of Performing Arts runs this week (Oct. 17-21), bringing an ensemble of final-year acting students together for a performance that scratches at the surface of everyday life in a small rural town.
DalTheatre’s production of Will Eno’s Middletown, directed by Dora Award-winner Cherissa Richards, zeroes in on the mundane to shine light on just how spectacular day-to-day life truly is — and how that unites us as people.
“It’s a play that deals with the everyday,” says Richards, who, by the end of this year, will have directed shows in every major city across Canada. “The middle parts of life . . . hence the name, Middletown.”
The play draws on the idea that everybody on Earth is born and will one day die, and that all anyone has control over is the middle parts of their lives — the stuff that happen between those two massive events. By the play’s conclusion, we find there’s truly nothing ordinary about ordinary ol’ Middletown — and, really, nothing ordinary about any of our lives.
“I think that the play has a lot to say about living. I would say that the message of the play is, ‘You’re a bit more normal than you think you are,’” says Thunder Defayette, assistant stage manager on the production.
“What’s special about Middletown is that it’s all about the ordinary lives of people,” adds Emma Lamont, stage manager. “And I love stories like that because that’s the life that 99 per cent of people experience. Being able to see the profoundness in ordinary stories is really nice.”
Eric Eyers, Emily Lux, Daisy Rayne.
By students, for students
Middletown came together as a complete team effort, says Richards.
“The source material is always the beginning, and then what ends up on the stage is a collaboration between director, designers, actors, stage managers, and the team,” she says. “In the end, it becomes a thing that you all created together.”
“DalTheatre is kind of unique, since most of the work in rehearsal is done by students,” says Lamont. “There’s a director who’s either a faculty member or hired outside, and each section, like props and sets, are overseen by a faculty member, but the rest of the work is done solely by students. The shows, once they get on their feet, are run only by students.”
August Van Meekeren and Ben Burchell
Dalhousie’s entire production of Middletown, down to the smallest of details, is made by students, for students.
“It’s a big job. It’s a lot that falls on our shoulders,” Lamont continues, “And you grow as an artist so fast because of that responsibility. I have a lot of respect for everybody in the team, and really getting to be artists together is special.”
Actor Emily Lux, who plays Mary Swanson, says this effort has been a true coming-of-age.
“We have [source material] that’s written for us, but we have free-range of figuring out our characters’ backstories, why they’re here, finding what kind of similarities we have to our characters. It’s like, the big leagues, you know?”
Daniel Nwobi feels that his role has been particularly special for his growth as an actor. The complicated character of John Dodge has really pushed him to find his emotional core.
“I’d say John is a very awkward man,” says Nwobi.“He’s living in Middletown right now, he’s been here a while, and he’s, as easily as I can say, depressed. He realizes he doesn’t really have any emotional connections with anyone around him and that’s what he strives for most of his life. And then he finds that, with Mary.”
Emily Lux and Hal Rotman
An immersive experience
From the detailed characters to the special effects and staging, no stone has been left unturned in Middletown’s production.
For example, the show is performed on a round set, with audience members seated in a circular fashion. This grants actors a unique space to work from as activity is happening on all sides, from all angles.
This unconventional form of staging also lends itself to the show’s plot. As Lamont explains, “There’s a circular narrative to Middletown. It’s about the cycle of life, and everything between birth and death — specifically, everything that happens in-between is the important part. It’s supposed to represent the life cycle in that way.”
Audiences can also look forward to being directly spoken to by a variety of characters, making for an immersive, and often hilarious, experience.
“It’s an interesting show to see because it’s kind of trying to encapsulate a lot of different milestones in life,” says Defayette, “It’s a fun way to spend your evening if you want to experience a lot of different emotions.”
Richards urges audiences to “Come see these students shine. They’re doing really beautiful work — where they started from, and now where they’re coming to, is such a huge journey. It’s such a transformation. Everybody in this class has really stepped up and jumped in with both feet.”
Middletown runs from October 17 through October 21 at 7:30pm, with an additional 2:00pm matinee on October 21.
While all shows are sold out, some select seating may become available after 4 p.m. on the day of performances. Call the Dal Arts Centre box office at (902) 494-3820 or visit the box office online to check availability.
Cast and crew of Middletown.
Sarah Jackson and Daniel Nwobi
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