The Woman in Black, which will open the eighth season for Blue Canoe productions on October 23rd, will be a unique viewing experience for even the most frequent theatre-goer in Kingston. According to director Devon Dafoe and artistic producer Mike Sheppard, this piece in particular is an exercise in “found space,” which is to say that it won’t traditionally staged in any way, “It’s interesting and different,” says Sheppard, who also founded Blue Canoe.
Dafoe, a fourth year student at Queen’s, approached Sheppard some unusual ideas when he was considering directing the play. “I said to Mike when I first pitched it that I didn’t want to do it in a theatre,” Dafoe explains. The suggestion was considerably astray from Blue Canoe’s usual repertoire. “We’re used to doing musicals,” Sheppard says. In the past, they’ve staged well-received productions of Aida, Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, and many others. “But they’re never really dramatic and in your face,” Sheppard laments. Both he and Dafoe agreed that The Woman in Black would be the perfect piece with which to experiment.
Having sat in on a rehearsal, I can vouch that the play is quite unique. It features just three actors in continuous action. No intermission. Even more compelling is the “found space” that Dafoe and Sheppard chose: it’s a tiny room in the basement of City Hall, which happens to be the original police station holding area complete with three barred cells. “I’ve always been keen on a director coming to me passionate about an idea,” says Sheppard of Dafoe’s desire to use an unusual space. He approached the City and was pleased when Cultural Services representative Paul Robertson offered his full support. The eerie historical location fits with the play’s plot of being haunted by demons of the past, both Dafoe and Sheppard believe.
The smallness of the space means that each show will be staged in front of just ten people, and they will be seated in the centre of the room. Sheppard says, “You can’t escape the action. The action takes place all around you.” The actors make use of the entire room, and so Dafoe explains that the experience of viewing makes the audience much more vulnerable. “There isn’t that wall to hide behind,” he says. The intimacy between the audience and the actors, along with the themes of haunting and spectres, are sure to leave a lasting impression on the viewers.
As for whether there will be more “found spaces” making their way into Blue Canoe’s future? “We’ll see how this one goes first,” Sheppard laughs.
To reserve tickets in advance (recommended), visit www.kingstongrand.ca or call 613-530-2050. For a list of Blue Canoe’s upcoming productions, visit bluecanoeproductions.ca.