On Oct. 23, Mnemonic will be the first ticketed event to come to the new Marilyn I. Walker School. This new production in particular is unlike most productions, as this one is being put on entirely by students.
“We are one of the first shows to be put on in the new Performing Arts Centre which adds to that feeling that we are putting on a real show that we want the community to see,” said Mary Askwith, one of the students in the Advanced Studies in Theatre course who is involved in the production this year. “It’s daunting but it’s really great that we get this opportunity.”
The play follows two characters grappling with very different issues as the play progresses.
“Mnemonic is about a lot of things, but amongst the myriad of characters are two main characters, Virgil and Alistair,” said Mark Harrigan, the front-of-house coordinator for the production. “Virgil is grappling with the immense chaos happening in the world. Meanwhile, Alistair is on a quest of identity in order to find his origins through his father… I don’t think there is any one thing we want people to come away with after watching the show, because there is just so much in the play. We do want the audience to be open. We want the audience to be able to see the many themes and find something that they can latch onto in it.”
Katelyn Landers, a student in the course who is acting in the production explained it as being more about the themes it holds than the plot itself.
“There are two major themes, one is memory, how we remember things and the fragmented nature of it. The second is origins, where we come from,” said Landers.
Like the themes it incorporates, Mnemonic is not your typical play. It was originally created by the British theatre company, Complicite, in 1999 as a devised play, which means it was created by the company as a whole rather than a single person.
“A devised piece is one in which actors as a collective have to come together and contribute to different parts of the story,” said Harrigan. “So while we are working with a script, we don’t have the same technical abilities as the original company, so we have to devise solutions to do the same things as the previous company but within our means.”
The work being done by the students is described as “re-devising Mnemonic” by the Brock University website.
“It’s like memory and like memory it can be random, it can be fractured and can jump from place to place. Memory is never too linear,” said Mary Askwith, who is also involved in the production. “[Dart 4F56] is normally a devised course for select fourth year dramatic arts students from Brock University and normally you devise a play from scratch but this year we are working with an actual text that we are devising. It’s actually a devised piece that we are working with so we are devising a devised piece.”
The course, “DART 4F56: Advanced Studies in Theatre”, has a reputation for complexity and difficulty in the Dramatic Arts Department.
“It’s very complex just like the play,” said Landers. “[Dart 4F56] is infamous in the Dramatic Arts department.”
This is no surprise to the students taking the course now though. The class’ reputation is common knowledge to students in the Dramatic Arts Department.
“I remember having fourth year friends last year, and when I would ask them how they were doing they would just reply, ‘456’,” said Askwith, explaining her early insights into the course.
The course is a full-scale dramatic production, which leaves much, if not all of the work to the students in the course.
“It’s a big deal,” said Askwith. “We have so much control over what happens. It’s scary ,but it’s exciting as well, and we are figuring out what would happen if later on we decided to get some friends together and start a company.”
This independence is contingent on the fact that, as a team, the students in the course will be ready to use their combined skills to make the show a success.
“It consumes a lot of the department,” said Harrigan. “Every part of the department comes together to make something happen. One of the beautiful parts about it is that we ultimately do have support from every facet of the department, but we are in a way something independent as well, in that we are receiving advice from professors but we are also the ones doing everything. We build the sets, we put the wardrobes together, we self-direct, and we’re the ones acting.”
The course forces students to rely on one another’s skills to succeed. As Harrigan puts it, they “are all in the same boat.”
“It all comes down to us recognizing that each of us has a level of professionalism and we have support from one another’s skills,” said Harrigan. “We are each professionals and we are each equally valuable.
We all understand that the less stress we put on each other, the more easy it becomes for us to work as a team.”
The complexity of the course and the scale of the play is seen as a good thing by those involved. They see it as a learning opportunity which they will take advantage of.
“Everyone gets to do multiple things and everyone gets to do different things, which I think speaks to the program,” said Askwith. “Brock is about ‘Both Sides of the Brain’ and this department is really about having skills in a lot of different areas in theatre. It changes the dynamic of these people who you have been in classes with. It’s not a class project, it’s a show.”
The idea that the course has brought the students closer together as a unit is something supported by Landers as well, who said, “One of the first things we were told on our first day of the class was that we are not individual students in this class, but that we are a theatre company and we should treat each other as such. That really made a big difference to me and made me look around the room and realize that I have a lot of respect for everyone there.”
This year, however, the stress of putting on a full show has been doubled due to changes in the course requiring the student to put on two plays this year instead of one.
“It used to be that in October they would present stage one of the show, with what they had at that point,” said Askwith. “Then they would present the show again in second semester when they would have the whole show finished. This time it’s two different shows.”
The company of students in the course have found ways to manage the stress of putting on the two plays though, some suggesting caffeine, others suggesting movies, and others suggesting scheduling as the secret to managing stress. One thing is certain though; they are excited for people to see their hard work pay off.
“One sign of really good theatre is when you walk away from a show and you are thinking about it for a while,” said Landers. “I hope that this is one of those shows.”
This sentiment was seconded by Askwith, who said, “I think that if we do our jobs, people will walk away from it and they’ll have a lot of things to think about. It will leave them asking questions.”
The new Performing Arts Centre has been one of the greatest assets to the production this year by providing the various tools required to make the show a success.
“We’re really happy that this new facility has allowed much more capacity to work,” said Harrigan. “We can accomplish a lot more. Having an actual theatre that we can work in is fantastic.”
Aside from being a demonstration of the abilities of the Dramatic Arts students and the usefulness of the new Performing Arts Centre, the play is also being used as a social commentary on current events and the Syrian refugee crisis in particular.
“The original play focused on the Balkan War with its refugee crisis,” said Harrigan. “We saw a parallel between that and the contemporary Syrian refugee crisis. When the Balkan War refugee crisis was happening and the play was being produced, the issue was on the minds of people so it was referenced but not really focussed on, but we felt responsible to at least give it its due… while keeping the integrity of the other themes in the show. As a cast, the responsibility to represent these refugees has been a cast concern.”
This is not the only focus the play has on the global community though, they will also be collecting donations for Doctors Without Borders at the door.
Mnemonic runs October 23 & 24, at 7:00 p.m., and will be held in the Dramatic Arts Theatre on the second floor of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, 15 Artists’ Common, in downtown St. Catharines. Tickets are $5 and are available at the door, or online at firstontariopac.ca/Online/