Daniel Brooks Enters the Lab

Published: June 22nd 2010
in Culture » Stage

L-R: Ken MacKenzie, Daniel Brooks, and Jason Patrick Rothery
Pic: Bruce Zinger

It’s been described as a “boot camp” for actors: under the guidance of a seasoned director, the artists of the Soulpepper Academy delved into an exploration of theatrical storytelling through the company’s brand-new Lab Series. The Lab Series was established to help artists explore creative processes – without the pressure of putting on a full-fledged production – and the Academy’s year-long journey culminates July 1st with their production of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. This version, however, is condensed to a cast of six instead of the usual 10 (or more) and contains a few innovative twists.


Taking the helm as director and an instructor of the Academy is Daniel Brooks, a Soulpepper resident who helped launch the Lab Series in March with The Aleph. Shalom Life spoke to the veteran actor, writer, and director about leading the Lab, introducing Chekhov to his actors and what “experimental” theatre really means.


What were your goals as director?


I’m working with actors who are somewhat early in their careers, and really my goal is to further the scope, clarity, and rigour of their work as actors and present them with questions and challenges for the stage. I’m hoping that the questions we ask are potentially very interesting questions for an audience and their answers as performers are compelling. But the first goal is instructional.


Why did you choose The Cherry Orchard as the text to do this?


It’s a play that has everything. It has very precise, very smart and endlessly interesting dramaturgy, its psychological acuity is exciting for a performer to engage with, and you have to engage with it with intelligence and sensitivity. Theatrically, it offers different styles and challenges you to be decisive about your approach. It’s of tremendous recurrent historical interest. It’s about a family who is mortgaged beyond their means – that’s a very easy one to relate to today [laughs]. And they’re in denial. So it’s a great play and Chekhov is a great teacher. He works on many levels at the same time.


I understand this is a more experimental version, and you pared it down to six actors.


Experimental is a very tricky word in the theatre. It comes with it an image of a kind of performance. Experimental only means the result is not planned. In other words, it’s very likely to be very accessible and I don’t know to what degree of abstraction we’ll go – not yet.


What was your method in guiding the students?


Well, working on the play in performance, trading parts, talking about the play, doing workshops outside the play that explore different performance styles and then going back to the play and seeing how that might inform it. And at key points posing the appropriate questions to the cast and coming to decisions collectively. So, for instance, one decision was do we want to hire any more actors, because Soulpepper offered us that possibility? Do we want to portray the servants in the play or do we want to cut it down to the six essential characters? My job wasn’t necessarily to decide, but to frame the questions clearly.


What did you enjoy about participating in the Lab Series?


Related articles: (stage, soulpepper, daniel brooks, lab series, anton chekhov, the cherry orchard)

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