Photo Credit: Brock DART
When Brock’s DART company first began thinking about the spring MainStage, they thought that in-person rehearsal was on the table.
Director Gyllian Raby’s vision for Fever/Dream initially started off as a slapstick comedy with scenes of stage intimacy, fighting, slamming of doors, quick entrances and exits and a madman running around the stage in literal chains. Raby cast the show with this in mind. However, with the pandemic only ramping up over the winter, this had to be scrapped.
As it got closer to January, when rehearsals were set to start, Raby thought that the show could be done live with short video segments and actors rehearsing in-person, but from a distance in the studios at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA). That plan, too, had to be scrapped when they realized that students would not be allowed in the building for the winter semester.
Raby had to rethink the play once again in a process that she compared to having to “wrestle Zoom into being able to create this show.”
Fever/Dream will go on as a pre-recorded broadcast from April 7 to 11, with broadcasts starting at 7:30 on the MIWSFPA YouTube channel. The production was entirely rehearsed and recorded on Zoom, something that Raby recognizes the strangeness of.
“This is not a play that anyone in their right mind would have selected for Zoom,” said Raby.
The rehearsal and recording process was challenging, particularly as logistics around props, lighting, costumes, schedules and so much more had to be coordinated. David Vivian, the show’s scenographer, gives a lot of credit to Jordine De Guzman, the production coordinator, for creating schedules that kept everything on track.
Some students were able to obtain permission to rehearse and record in the studios at the MIWSFPA, where they set up green screen studios with portable lighting kits. These kits were also sent out to all of the students in the field, with Production Manager Brian Cumberland driving around with a full car, delivering lighting kits to people’s houses.
The same thing happened with props, costumes and everything else that the actors would need to complete their scenes.
“We backed the car, literally into the scene shop here and filled it high,” said Vivian, “We had situations where the same prop had to be in two different towns or cities for different scenes and we were actually sort of ferrying them between addresses.”
Raby called it “a comedy show in itself,” as they rushed around the region to get props, many of which included lifesize cardboard cutouts, to where they needed to be for the show. There were some situations where props could be doubled up and duplicated, but in many circumstances, the cost was prohibitive.
“The whole thing was only possible because of the great sense of humour and the commitment that the company had,” said Raby.
Fever/Dream is a play written by Sheila Callaghan which debuted in 2009. It is a reinvention of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play Life is a Dream which was published in 1636. Callaghan’s reinvention is about Segis Basil, the son of the powerful CEO of Basil Enterprises. Segis is literally chained to his desk in “customer service hell” after his father locked him away. It’s a fast moving play about dreams and relationships. In 2009, the play had references to the Occupy Wall Street movement. These themes are relevant, but Raby has made adjustments to bring the play into the current moment.
“It’s got a lot of very contemporary tropes; women who own their sexuality, abandoned children is one of [Callaghan’s] favourite themes and what to do in a world where money matters more than love when you know the opposite is true. These are the kind of themes we’ve zeroed in on to make it a really 2021 production,” said Raby.
Raby says that although they are not mentioned in the production, the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer really inspired some of the conversations that she and the company had in the early stages of the dramaturgy.
“The biggest thing is that a sidekick role has become a major role, played by Joanna Tran, who is one of our strongest actors and is also very much an antiracist activist. The dialogue with her was really important as we approached making the play,” said Raby. “There’s a wonderful scene where she talks about having been made invisible and she does a bizarre dance where she requires that everyone thank her for the work that she’s done.”
This is one of the moments, according to Raby, where the show straddles the line between comedy and surrealism.
“All of this was reengineered through careful work, inviting diverse members of the DART company to figure out who they were and how they could be in this script,” said Vivian.
There are many important elements of this play, but of the most important to all members of the company is its dedication. Shortly after the final recording of Fever/Dream, the company was saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected passing of dawn e crysler, Theatre Technician in the Department of Dramatic Arts and beloved member of the community. Present at every rehearsal and recording moment, dawn was an integral and committed member of the team that brought Fever/Dream to life.
Fever/Dream is imbued with her fun-loving spirit and inventive sense of comedy. As core tech support, she worked closely with every member of the company and it is a shared opinion spoken by many members of the company that her contagious laughter lifted the spirits of all and that she was a true and powerful role model.
Fever/Dream is available to watch for free, though interested individuals do have to go through the Brock University Ticketing Website to reserve a virtual seat. There are limited numbers due to licensing rights for the show. The show will be streamed from April 7 through to the 11 and all streams will be at 7:30 p.m, tickets can be ordered here. Additionally, a memorial to dawn e crysler can be found on the Department of Dramatic Arts’ webpage by clicking here.