I don’t want to be the 40-year old guy sitting at the back of the room looking at 21 year olds.
Upstage and Charlebois Post contributor Sarah Deshaies spoke with Director Graham McLaren about the National Theatre School presentation of THREE SIXTY. Below is an abridged version edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-chief.
This play, being presented by the graduating class, is a radical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde by Toronto poet Evie Christie. The original play created a major scandal after opening in 1921. Tell us about the scandal associated with this play, and how it’s been adapted to modernize it.
I wasn’t really around when the first scandal happened in 1921! All kinds of things are potentially scandalous. The interesting thing is that over the years people have used this play in an effort to explore themes about sex. There was an all male version around the time of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a play that’s used for people exploring themes about sex and why people have sex.
...these people range from city stockbrokers to hustlers and lap dancers.
It pushed the boundaries then; is it still pushing boundaries?
Well that depends where your boundaries are! I still think it’s often shocking to see how frank the portrayal of these blunt sexual encounters are. We’ve made no effort to keep it in its early 20th century. Those characters are soldiers, counts, gentlemen. That really doesn’t make much sense to us.
But pop stars, screen writers, pimps, and hustlers are part of our life. We do have a kind of contemporary reference to that so these people range from city stockbrokers to hustlers and lap dancers.
In the original play there was a kind of social comment but as we go through the play basically one sexual partner encounters another kind of like a daisy chain. By the time we get to the top of the tree that person goes to a prostitute and the whole circle begins again. We’ve created a contemporary version of Evie’s adaptation.
There are a lot more plays and movies these days where sex has become a greater theme; we’re much more open about it. Is it shocking?
What’s interesting about this is that Evie is 20-something as is the cast. There’s something about that generation growing up with a great deal of information, therefore an awareness of themselves as sexual beings and comfortable with the value of their sex. That seems to be a unique phenomenon.
The way I work is influenced by movement and dance so there’s a lot of physicality in the work.
It’s a changing topic for our generation. You talked about the age of the performers. They’re students so it’s a learning experience for them. How much space did you give them to explore the sexuality in the relationships their characters are experiencing?
I thought it was crucial they take the lead. I don’t want to be the 40-year old guy sitting at the back of the room looking at 21 year olds. So it’s been about them.
The way I work is influenced by movement and dance so there’s a lot of physicality in the work. They’re comfortable with each other physically and that comes across.
I let them go as far as they want to go. I’m there to support and advise them and push them in certain directions so that we’re really always clear about the story of that scene. What’s at stake between a married couple and how is that different between the married couple and his mistress for instance.
Do you think that’s the most overtly sexual piece for this class?
I think it’s the most overtly sexual piece the school has done.