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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Person: Joel Ivany on Against The Grain Theatre's La Bohème

Lindsay Sutherland Boal and Justin Welsh
(Photo: Gene Wu)

Dreams Greater than One
A collective observes all the rules of opera by breaking them
by Joel Ivany

Against the Grain Theatre is a collective of renegade artists looking to present raw, bare-bones art in the city of Toronto. Last season we presented a production of La Bohème, and it took the scene by storm as a surprise hit. The opera is a timeless work of art; not only does it have incredibly moving music, but the story of young artists struggling through their art and love will move any heart. 

We’ve inserted local references, not as a gimmick, but simply to make this story more accessible and local. 

La Bohème is about going after one’s dreams and believing in something greater than the individual. Against the Grain was looking to make an impact on the Toronto Theatre scene and wanted to present a piece that was recognizable. However, to tell the story of La Bohème as it’s set in the 1830s was not financially possible for a company of our size, or that interesting either. So I went about crafting my own English libretto that would modernize the story and update it to Toronto in 2011. There are always comparisons to the Broadway musical Rent, and those aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The major difference between Against the Grain Theatre’s La Bohème and Rent is the music. Puccini’s score is one of the best loved in opera. AtG is presenting the entire opera with full chorus with only minor cuts. We’ve inserted local references, not as a gimmick, but simply to make this story more accessible and local. 

Part of Against the Grain Theatre’s mandate is to find unique venues to present our work. The Tranzac Club is the perfect venue for this story. It positively oozes Bohemian presence. With paint chipping off the walls, cables hanging from the roof and torn curtains, there wasn’t much more for our designer, Camellia Koo, to do to make it more boho-appropriate. However, she added the perfect nuances to create an atmosphere of comfort, familiarity and family.  Our show audience members can feel completely at ease with going up to the bar and ordering another beer as the story unfolds in front of them. 

L-R Justin Welsh, Adam Luther, Gregory Finney, Keith Lam, and Stephen Hegedus (Photo: Gene Wu)

Our production doesn’t use the stage at the Tranzac Club; rather, it sets the entire story amongst the people and audience. They are us and we are them. The lighting, by Jason Hand, is both visceral and economical. He has used the bare-bones essentials to tell this story through lighting and the effect is poignant. 

Our chorus is full of young music students and recent grads from the University of Toronto.

Our orchestra is a one man orchestra - an incredibly talented pianist named Christopher Mokrzewski, also our Music Director for our company. He sits at a piano in the centre of the room and is part of the audience, playing a difficult score and connecting with both the singers and audience members around him. 

Our chorus is full of young music students and recent grads from the University of Toronto. They are able to interact with our professional singers and also gain valuable singing and stage experience. 

We are an in-your-face company that is striving for a continued sense of intimacy, accessibility and high artistry.

We remount this production because we were completely and utterly blown away by the response and reaction from the audience the first time around. A big part of that had to do with the cast, and we once again present a group of singers that is pure dynamite. Miriam Khalil, as Mimi, is a young soprano who recently made her debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the UK. Our Rodolfo, Ryan Harper, is a former member of the Atelier Lyrique program at Opéra de Montréal and our Marcello, Justin Welsh is a former member of the Ensemble Studio at the Canadian Opera Company. Our cast is rounded out by cabaret singer Lindsay Sutherland Boal as Musetta, current COC Ensemble Studio member Neil Craighead as Colline, baritone Keith Lam as Schaunard and Gregory Finney as Benoit/Alcindoro. There are so many incredibly talented singers in this city and we’re looking to give them experience in a different way by placing them right in front of the audience. There are no apologies. We are an in-your-face company that is striving for a continued sense of intimacy, accessibility and high artistry. 

...we are just beginning to understand the scope of what an audience means to the experience.

This is AtG’s second season, and we are just beginning to understand the scope of what an audience means to the experience. They are why we do this. We are striving to find venues that are as equally appealing as the content that we are producing – a task that requires persistence, financial sacrifice at times, and pure imagination.

Against the Grain Theatre has no employees. Our General Manager, Nancy Hitzig, and Media Advisor, Caitlin Coull, both have full-time jobs outside of AtG.  We’re a team of young professionals and friends, who believe in art simply for art's sake…and that makes it all worthwhile.

I hope you’re all able to come out to La Bohème – I guarantee it will change the way you experience opera.

Joel Ivany, Artistic Director

A modern love story
The Tranzac Club
292 Brunswick Ave, TO 
December 1, 2 & 3 (3 shows only) @ 8PM. 
Tickets available online or at the door. 

1 comment:

  1. Wish this was playing in Montreal.
    BRING IT TO MONTREAL in 2012!

    ReplyDelete

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