Posted on: Friday, March 1st, 2013
This week I sat down to talk with Meg Coles and Shannon Hawes of Poverty Cove Theatre Company. We were at The Ship. Amelia Curran’s album War Brides was playing. We were told by the powers that be (at The Ship) that we didn’t have long to chat, as Fred Eaglesmith was going to be playing soon. So, we sat down with our respective drinks and had a turbo talk about Poverty Cove’s newest hit show, Our Eliza, the idea of theatre itself, and why Joel Hynes is Nan Bait.
Em: So, you had a sold out show this past weekend.
Em: So, explain to me now – you’ve changed venues?
S: Meg and I are both co-founders of Poverty Cove Theatre Company and our mandate, among many other things, is to do theatre in found spaces, and challenge peoples’ perceptions of what theatre is and where theatre can happen. And part of that is taking theatre outside of conventional venues – where you wouldn’t necessarily see theatre happen. Because of the production with the Arts and Culture Centre, we’ve been able to incubate and manifest this play within the safety of what is an existing theatre, you know, with the ACC staff, and a more senior producer, and with all of that safety net, we’ve been able to find what Our Eliza is – what the constants are, what the necessities are. And what will be malleable when we want to take it out of the Barbara Barrett Theatre.
E: And now you’re taking it to the library.
S: Yeah, the AC Hunter Library.
E: What’s your reason for that?
S: Doing a show in a found space is not just an arbitrary (idea); we like to use the environment and the atmosphere of the place to add as an extra to the setting, or support for the setting. For example with The Battery (Poverty Cove’s last production), our show was at The Republic. The Republic is a bar; The Battery takes place in a bar.
M: Thematically, you connect it to subject matter of the play, right? The intent is in making that connection, however subtle, there’s an additional ambiance created within the room. So if you’re watching a play that’s very much concentrated on education and books, it’s interesting to convey that through space – for example, Eliza always talks about how much of a book lover she is – and we’ll actually be surrounded by books, and hopefully that’ll resonate with the audience members.
E: Cool! And you’ve been writing this since you’ve been in school (National Theatre School)?
M: It started off as my first year project…And after I graduated I worked on it with the RCAT Write On program…(and years later) I decided to pick it up and work on it again…and since then it’s become what you see now. But this is the first professional production.
E: How did you come to decide to have Lois Brown as director?
S: She was my mentor when I first decided to pursue theatre, (and continued to be) right through National Theatre School. And we were talking about it with (co-producer) Aidan Flynn and he suggested bringing Lois in from Montreal… and so it was a great opportunity for us to work with her.
E: I thought the performances were really strong. I was particularly struck by Joel – he was so different.
E: Did you always have him in mind for that role?
S: He was definitely on our list.
M: Joel is really conformable with that rural Newfoundland role. He understands the speech rhythms; it’s very inherent… so it really came natural to him – that language. And for Joel, I know he said in other interviews, that he kind of wanted to perform against the persona he normally plays – rather than that tough guy character. He kind of plays a gentle softer sweetheart character. Which he does very wonderfully.
M: I think a lot of audience members will go away having a crush on Joel. Hank is…I mean, Eliza is remembering her husband after death, so in a lot of ways…she’s romanticizing him. He is the ideal bay husband.
E: And in the writing of it – I think there’s an obvious passion behind the entire play and I was wondering — that must come from you in some way, but you didn’t actually live that sort of life. How do you connect so strongly with the play?
M: I mean, I spent a lot of time with older rural Newfoundland men and women as a child, just because I’m from that world and when I started writing that play, I was living in Montreal, and I was feeling very far away from that world and I was trying to reconcile how my life in Savage Cove was related to my life in Montreal. And I feel like being able to spend that time writing that play and accessing that part of myself was a way of dealing with my homesickness. So I got to spend time with those characters which are very much a part of my childhood – that sense of humour, and that sense of family, that sense of community. Which is something, when you’re living in a foreign city – not to say that Montreal is foreign, but it’s not Newfoundland. It’s just nice to be able to return to that world for a couple of hours every day.
E: Do you find it easier to write about places that you aren’t currently living in?
M: It’s a different experience, certainly. There’s a clarity that comes with not being right in the middle of it. You can see things for what they are, rather than become bogged down in the tediousness of everyday life. I love Savage Cove. But I can even become frustrated with the isolation, and the lack of proper internet connection and things like this. Distance is a wonderful tool.
S: And remember that you’re also renovating a house in Savage Cove.
E: You’re renovating a house out there?
M: This house I inherited from my grandmother…I was thinking about this house a lot (while I wrote)…and this house… Our Eliza’s house unintentionally became my grandmother’s house. It’s very small. These homes, too…I’ve walked through the house again, to try to figure out what the renovations will be…as a child I thought the house was really large…now I know, as an adult…you’re cognisant of the fact that more that 10 people lived in this tiny house… I have friends that couldn’t stand up straight in this house.
E: So for people who saw the show at the Barbara Barrett Theatre, would you say this is a different show now that it’s in the library?
S: Yes, definitely. I mean, this is an opportunity to see the actors with four shows under their belt. And we really are passionate about having the show in a found space, because we do think the atmosphere of a location adds to the production. And hopefully people will feel that when they see the show amongst the stacks.
M: And I think it’s really interesting for people to see a play more than once. So often, people only attend a performance that one time. And they think this is what it is and what it will always be, but theatre – a play – is something that changes every night, a little bit – the energy in the room, the audience –
E: — Well people will see a movie more than once, but I guess it makes more sense to see a play more than once.
M: Because it’s living, right? It changes…and Renee, Greg, and Joel are wonderful. They are wonderful. We were so lucky to have such a wonderful, seasoned cast. Greg is a treasure – his comedic timing is… awe-inspiring. And Renee – Renee’s the emotional heart of the show, she truly loves and respects her Eliza.
E: The chemistry between everyone was amazing. And I loved how the chemistry kind of adapted, depending on where they were in time.
S: Yeah, totally.
E: So what’s next for the show?
M: We are hoping to take this show on the road to rural Newfoundland. It’s really important to Poverty Cove, because this play, it lives in the world of rural Newfoundland, so we’d like to take it to them.
E: I was thinking I wanted to take my Nan to the show
M: You know what? Nanny’s love the show. They love it – they are very taken with Joel. Want to talk about him with me afterwards, in fact.
Our EIiza, directed by Lois Brown and starring Greg Malone, Renee Hackett and Joel Hynes, will be at the AC Hunter Library this Saturday and Sunday night at 8:30 pm (March 2 & 3). I’ve just received word that the Saturday evening show is sold out. If I were you, I’d scramble to pick up a ticket for the Sunday night show.