Today we were able to sit down with Osimous Theatre's Bob Frazer to talk about his company's approach to their latest production.
tV: For Hedda Gabler you staged that at the Roedde House Museum which proved a very intimate experience for the audience. What do you have planned for Our Town?
BF: It's kind of building on what we did at the Roedde House but with a bigger audience. The audience shouldn't expect to sit in a theatre. It's going to be in an auditorium in a church. As with Hedda Gabler, the actors will be amongst the audience and have that “inches away” proximity at times. We're not performing a play. We are seven actors who are human beings, the same as any audience member, and we're in this play, in this world together. That's the concept behind this show. It's as if you're coming over to my house for dinner, and we're having a glass of wine, and I tell you think awesome story. We're not in costumes and not as formal as we were in Hedda. It's going to be an amazing experience.
tV: You kept many of the details under wraps and disclosed them only at the very last minute. Can you talk a little about that?
BF: One of the things we're trying to do effectively is deal with marketing and publicity. Giving you pieces of information keeps people interested for a longer amount of time. Most importantly, it's an ensemble based piece where I'm the lead director of the piece but everyone is kind of directing the show. Everyone puts in their opinions and when we get a whole bunch of opinions I choose the best one or we all choose the best one. More often than not the best idea just floats to the top. Everything around it: the costumes, the set, the lighting, the sound, it's all being designed by us, the seven actors in the show. There are twenty-some characters in the show and we split those up among us. I gave a base outline but we've changed things and said, “you know, I don't want to play this character. Would you play it?” so we couldn't release information because we didn't have a lot of the information.
tV: So you are acting in it as well as directing it?
BF: Yes, I am. I'm not directing. I call my the lead organizer (laughs), let's say that. Everyone's directing. It's an ensemble-based directed piece, but in any ensemble you need to have someone who's going to make the final decision based on the input from everyone else. That's kind of my job from the director's point of view.
tV: Tell me a little about what the process of putting a show like this together has been like.
BF: The process has been probably the most fun part of it. For instance, there was a section that we were working on in act two where the stage manager says, “The hero of this story isn't on stage, and we all know who that is.” The big question for us was, “Is Thornton Wilder talking about God? Is it that there is a supreme being?” If it is he says, “hero” and not “heroine” so he's defining it in a certain way. We wanted to make sure that we weren't defining anything so we started to chat about it and throw out opinions and ideas and started to come to create this moment that isn't what one person would think it is: it's what seven people think it is, and that's exciting. It's exciting because there's not a dictator out there saying. “This is the way it's got to be. No. Move over there and do that.” It's more universal. It's more ensemble, which is exactly what Thornton Wilder is saying. He's saying that we're all in this together: we're in this thing called life together. We all do the same things and we all live the same way, yet we're severely unique. We all experience happiness and sadness and anger, but each one of use experiences that differently.
tV: So with that, is there going to be an element of ad lib to the story?
BF: There's maybe one little part where Dawn Petton, the brilliance that she is, might be ad libbing a little bit, and as the audience is going to have to move around or change the direction of their seats, we may have to say things like, “you might want to turn around now” (laughs) things like that, but other than that, no, we are pretty much sticking to the script.
We're setting the structure of the play in 1903 and 1906 and 1914 but we're not wearing period costumes and we're not talking with the traditional Our Town accents. We're just us. The voice you hear right now talking to you is the voice of the stage manager, and hopefully what you see is a human being and you'll start to feel what that human being feels, as opposed to us presenting a character or a time period.
tV: So you're trying to make them as contemporarily relatable as possible.
BF: You got it. I mean he talks about a universal theme: life, and what is life. It's universal and he says that. For thousands of years people have been doing the same things and all that matters is acknowledging those small moments in our lives that we sometimes take for granted. So It's a universal message that we don't need to put a tie period to.
tV: How do you go about choosing the plays that you perform?
BF: One of the things about Osimous is that we've always thought that we'd do whatever we want (laughs). We'd just find a play that moves us and do that play, plain and simple. There are six of us, seven of us in the ensemble. We have to pick our next season of plays by December 1st so all the members of the ensemble are reading scripts right now and they're going to present the group with their top three or four plays. They're going to think of budgets, characters, and stuff like that and then we're going to weed those fourteen or fifteen plays down to two or three plays that we will eventually do. I think like anything else, the cream will rise to the top and we'll take that. It's got to be something that everyone is interested in. It's got to have a good message. It's got be something that people walk away from with something to think about and feel. And it's also got to be intriguing to us. When I presented Our Town to the ensemble some of them were like, “Well I did that in high school. I hated it” and I suggested that they revisit it in a new age, of middle age (laughs), and once they were able to do that they could see the beauty of this play.
tV: How has this experience expanded you or grown you as an artist?
BF: Let me tell you something personal. Last year I quit acting. I had stopped. I had reached a point where I couldn't do this anymore. I didn't have the generosity it took to be an actor or an artist, and I always promised myself that if I lost that generosity I would leave the business, so I did. While I was gone I didn't work for six months: I didn't take a job or do anything, I just lived and I went into debt (laughs). One of the things I did do was I started to take acting classes again and I started to rediscover acting. I realized that I had gotten into a place in my profession that I wasn't happy with, and I knew that there was something bigger and better out there for me.
I started to develop a new way of working: taking all the good things from the old times and a bunch of new things that I felt were missing, then I slowly started to get back in. I did The Great Gatsby in Calgary, a play here called Bug, the I did Whose Life is it Anyway, and it was an amazing growth in those three plays to then doing Equivocation and Cymbeline at Bard on the Beach.
I'm a different person now in my work. Whose Life is it Anyway was a great ensemble piece, then I went into Equivocation and that too, the group of people I worked with was beautiful and it was smooth. There were conflicts but they were all good conflicts. Cymbeline was the same thing: the company was fantastic. I was afraid that it would disappear and die... but it hasn't, and working with group of people, and Dawn (Petton) and Craig (Erickson), who are also from the Osimous ensemble, has just lifted my heart and allowed me to realize that this can be a constant way of working. It is going to change every once in a while, but what I've learned over this year of not working can continue on in these plays. That's a really, really positive thing. It gives me hope.
tV: How would you like to see Osimous grow over the next five or so years?
BF: It's funny that you ask that because we have been working amazingly hard over the last two years and especially hard over the last year. We've incorporated: we now have a board, we have a membership base, we have a web site, and we're applying for our first grants. I'm learning how to run a company. I have a woman, Jennifer McDonald, who helps me with the managerial side of things and we are starting to solidify what the artist ensemble is responsible for, and what I'm responsible for, and what the company is responsible for. We're applying for charity status and we're growing. We're doing two shows this season as opposed to two in four years. Ww will never do more than two in a year, it's a huge responsibility, but we are growing and we will continue to do two a year for quite a while. We're going to get charity status and we're going to get that funding and we're going to start to build shows that have a bit of money behind them. We've built a donor base and a membership base and all that is support that can't help but make this company better. I'm so confident that this is going to happen.
tV: How can we participate in making this happen?
BF: You know what you can do? You can buy tickets to the show. Here's the thing. Theatre in Vancouver exists because of people coming to see it. Our Town is going to be a fantastic show and people of all ages are going to come and see the show and enjoy it. We didn't get any government money for this show. This show is being produced simply with past revenue from other shows that we did, from fundraising, and from a launch party that we had. Basically what I'm saying is that it comes from the people. People are making this play happen, not a body of money, not a granting body: the people, and that's what this play is about. It's about life. So all the help we've gotten so far, financially and in kind, is great and the only thing I can say is you've got to come and see what you've created: not what we've created, but what everyone's created together.