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Director Discussions: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Monday, February 1, 2016

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Written by Noel Mano

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is a Governor General’s Award winning play by Ann-Marie MacDonald. A new production of the play, directed by Peter Busby and produced by Lynne McIntee, is being put on by the Guelph Little Theatre. This production is also an In-Festival entry to the 2016 Western Ontario Drama League Festival. We sat down with Mr. Busby to talk about the play, the production and the importance of community theatre.

 

CAN: Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Busby. To start, why did you select this play in particular, and what was your inspiration in seeking to direct it?

Peter B: My kids, when they were in high school, were involved in a production of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. I was unfortunately on the road, on business, so I didn’t actually get to see it, but they reported that it was an excellent script. So when Guelph Little Theatre was looking for play submissions, I found this script in a bookstore, and thought ‘Huh, this is going to be pretty challenging.’ I submitted it, and they accepted it, and here we are, it’s going to be the Festival play that they’re producing this year.

CAN:  I’m not familiar with the play, and I imagine I’m not the only one. Can you describe the setup and the characters?

PB: Sure. The premise is that a university associate professor who’s trying to get her doctorate has come across a weird manuscript that she thinks shows that Shakespeare’s plays Othello and Romeo & Juliet were originally supposed to be comedies. They only fall into the tragic area through very slight mishaps: Othello by Desdemona not defending the loss of her handkerchief, and Romeo and Juliet by not advising their families that they’ve gotten married. So this magical manuscript, at a very stressful point in her life, transports her back into the Shakespearan world, of, first, Othello, at the citadel in Cyprus. There she meets Desdemona and saves her life, and things progress from there. She goes from there to Verona, at the time of Romeo and Juliet, and stops the killing of Mercutio, saving Romeo and Juliet’s life. The characters develop from there, and it’s extremely funny. At the end, she straightens the whole thing out and comes back to reality.

CAN: So, in light of that, this particular play is set up to be a comedy?

PB: Oh yes, its uproariously funny. I’ve to say that I’ve got an amazing cast. Technically, there are four female roles. When I was auditioning, I had 24 women come out, all of whom I could easily work with. I was able to pick the cream of the crop. I’m also working with a larger cast; the play was originally written for five performers, four of whom quadruple up their roles. I got permission to go to as large a cast as I want. Because of that, we’re able to spread the load around a lot. This is community theatre after all, and so each performer can concentrate on their particular roles. We’re having such a good time with this.

CAN: You’ve clearly had a good experience directing the actors, and I’m wondering, what do these actors bring to their parts? Do they significantly change what you had intended to manage with this script?

PB: I love this question; it speaks so much to the core of what I believe in theatre. When I’m directing a play, I lay out the playground, an imagination of a universe, and I invite other artists to come and play. I let them do their thing within that, and that means that they’re bringing their own imaginations to creating the whole thing. So we end up with 30 or more imaginations involved in creating the production. This is a scary way to direct, because you don’t know what you’re going to end up with. But every time I’ve done it- and I’ve been doing this for 30 years now- I’ve ended up with amazing productions. I’m one of the few directors I know who enjoys going to every performance of my play; I really enjoy what I see on stage because it’s not me. If I’ve done my job correctly, I’m actually invisible, because what you’re seeing is the work of other artists, and all I’ve done is integrated all that art together into a whole.

I need to mention a few people. The lead is Caitlyn Popek. She has more lines than Hamlet, the longest of the Shakespearean plays. She’s supported by Evelyn Barber (Desdemona), and Jess Myers (Juliet). Quite a few people from the University of Guelph are involved, as well.

CAN: When you describe the size of your cast, and their breadth of experience, it sounds to me like there’s a tremendous diversity of experience. Can that be challenging to manage?

PB: That’s the integration portion. One of the nice things about directing this way is that eventually the inner child within each artist starts figuring out what is smoothly working in their particular area with everyone else. So they’re helping with that integration, and I have to tweak it and make sure everyone’s moving in the same direction. I have to watch for the different approaches to performing, to get everyone to arrive at opening night on the same page.

The other partner in a play, besides the playwright and performers, is the audience. Everytime the audience is a little different, the play changes, because we react to the audience. That’s what makes live theatre so magical.

CAN: I hate to move on from the play itself, because it sounds so exciting, but the play is also an entrant in the Western Ontario Drama League and Festival. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

PB: The WODL is a collection of theatres- I think there are 27- in Southwestern Ontario, that’s affiliated with Theatre Ontario. The idea of the league is to encourage local theatre. They have resources and workshops, and the major thing they produce is this festival, once a year. For the festival, they have an out of festival adjudication, in which professional judges provide feedback, and in festival adjudication. Of these ten in festival submissions, five will get selected for the WODL Festival in Woodstock, between March 14-19. One of those gets selected to the Theatre Ontario festival, in North Bay, May 18. Four plays show at that festival, which tries to select the best community theatre in Ontario. The festivals build up on each other, supporting the community theatres’ efforts to bring culture to their communities. Having an active theatre scene is a great enhancement to quality of life in a community.

CAN: What’s the importance of community theatre in terms of the people who actually participate in creating plays?

PB: Community theatre is different from sport, in that in sports you have winners and losers, but in community theatre you have winners and winners. Everyone who becomes involves in community theatre learns to respect each other, to think about what people are doing as characters and backstage.

You can get involved at any level, and the nice thing about community theatre is that there’s no serious mistakes that you can possibly make. It’s an organization oriented in one direction, and highly considerate of each other. We all become fast friends, and have a great time.

The Guelph Little Theatre’s production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) opens Friday, the 5th of February and runs Thursdays to Sundays until the 20th of the month. Shows are at 8pm, with the exception of the Sunday matinees, at 2 pm. Call the box office at 519-821-0270, or visit guelphlittletheatre.com for tickets or more information. If you are interested in volunteering in future Guelph Little Theatre productions, follow the link to the volunteers page.

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