Hedda Gabler is Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen's first play. Set in early 20th century Kristiania (now Oslo) the story follows Hedda Gabler and her husband George Tesman on their lacklustre honeymoon as their lives are thrown into disarray with the reappearance of Tesman’s academic rival, Eilert Lovborg.
It is a story of desperation, deception, and despair. Throw a loaded pistol into the mix and you have an exciting night of entertainment.
Today we sat with director Bob Frazer, Anna Cummer (Hedda Gabler), Derek Metz (Judge Brack), and Dawn Petten (Thea) to talk about Osimous Theatre, their new show and what it's like to create something so grand in such an intimate setting.
BF: Osimous Theatre is a company that the four of us here, as well as Craig Erickson and Parnelli Parnes, initially formed based on the principles of working and learning how to work together as an ensemble. A large part of it is the growth as an artist so continually striving to get better as an artist as well as striving to push each other to be better. A huge influence to me was the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago which was formed from an acting ensemble. All those people go back to work for Steppenwolf any time they want and they do whatever they want. If they're interested in directing or designing then they do it.
AC: What we're doing is a script based idea specific production so we're using an adaptation of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler which Bob has written. Certain scenes have been reduced and some scenes have a slightly different presentation. It's taking place at the Roedde House Museum downtown Vancouver so the audience will be in the appropriate setting for the show: it's going to be in a Victorian manor house. It'll be semi-promenade so there will be some movement through the various rooms and the audience will be able to, in a very intimate setting, witness the events.
tV: The character Hedda Gabler has been interpreted many different ways. How have you approached her?
AC: I think often she can come off as a raving lunatic: this beast woman who is full of spite and anger. Bob and I have had long discussions about making sure that she appears very human. All of her foibles are those of a regular woman who's just trying to deal with the society that she lives in and the situation in which she's found herself. Maybe dealing with some poor choices on her part: she's just not very good at controlling her anger or her impulses.
The audience is going to be very close to us so because of that we have to make sure that all her motivations are real and truthful. I don't want people leaving fearful, or sitting there giggling because she's rolling her eyes. It's going to be very realistic and understandable. Essentially she's a very sad person and sad people do amazing things.
tV: Can you tell us why you chose this play?
BF: One of the things we did early on with Osimous was talk about what shows we wanted to do and write down a huge list. Anna had said that she wanted to do Hedda Gabler because she’d always wanted to play Hedda. I’d just seen a production in Edmonton, directed by Kate Weiss, where they performed it in a house. I said, “that’s exactly what I want to do too, how coincidental.” I talked to Kate and told her I wanted to steal her idea for performing in a house and she said sure and sent me her script. She works in a different method than we do so Fannina Waubert de Puiseau and I sat down and adapted the script for us: everyone was on board.
Dawn’s a huge Ibsen fan, she just finished doing A Doll’s House in Chemainus, and if you look at our group, with Craig Erickson (George Tesman) and our newest company member Aslam Husain (Eilert Lovborg), everyone seems to fit perfectly in the parts.
The crazy thing about this show is we’re only allowed twenty audience members per night so it’s not going to be a huge money making venture, though I’d love to make our money back. Early on in our career as a company it’s important to do those shows and get great exposure, great work done, but not worry about having to make back all the money that we’ve put into it, which can be huge once you’re totally formed and paying actor wages.
DM: I think that’s the key right now. It’s art for art’s sake. It’s not like we’re losing our shirts. We’re not financially dependent on the results at the very end so much as the results we’re getting in the rehearsal room and on stage.
It really is what all these people that are involved in this company are about. We’ve all had a chance to work with each other at different times in our careers at different venues around the city, and outside the city as well, and I think that we all have a similar vision of what this beast of a career and theatrical realm is that we live in. Each person here has the right heart for the business: they think about the play as a whole before the play as a character, if that makes any sense.
DP: The great thing about this collective is that so far, this being our second production, we have all been equally on board with passion for the show. So it’s not like any of us are slumming with a show that favours one person’s excitement about theatre, for either last year’s production of Pavilion, or this one. We all just love the show are so behind it. It’s a unique experience to have a play where each of us feel we play an integral role in the ensemble and are equally excited to be in the room.
tV: Can you talk a little about the process of putting this all together.
BF: It’s a lot of sitting around the table right now. It’s such an intimate show that we don’t have to do pictures on the stage, we don’t have to learn how to turn our bodies and place the scene just right so that the audience can see it, nor do we really have to worry about hearing it because the audience is going to be inches away from us. The audience is going to hear it: their going to get some peoples’ faces while looking at other peoples’ backs constantly throughout the show and that’s part of the enjoyment of it all.
A lot of it right now is breaking down what the show is about and how we’re going to do it. Next week we’ll start getting up on our feet and taking that intimacy and just playing it for real life. As Anna said, “realistically.”
DM: If you were to see the show four times and stand in four different areas or sit in a different place, you would see fours different versions of the show. I was trying to describe it to somebody the other day and I almost described it as a “choose your own adventure” book, because you can go there and follow one character all the way through and see different reactions each time.
You’re going to see Hedda gesture or turn her back, which says so much, but when she turns her back and she’s got that person who’s standing right in front of her, that person gets their own one-woman-show for that moment. I think that’s unique and exciting and challenging because I’ve never really acted with an audience up that close. I think that’s going to be part of the enjoyment: getting around that. We’re used to having an audience at least ten feet away and usually in the dark, where we’re lit. This way it’s going to be everybody in the same room.
DP: And in terms of process too what I think is unique is, given the fact that we’re doing this on our own time and fitting it in around people being in other plays, is that we have a bit of a longer arc. Normally you would have a three-week rehearsal period of eight hours a day: very compressed and very intense. We’re doing shorter rehearsals over a longer period of time, which does allow things to sink in and settle. We found that with our last show as well, that it gave a depth to the show because things had a chance to settle and find their place.
tV: You’re the main character in this show so how do you feel about this intimate spacing?
AC: I think it’s great. We have to do most of the work with the story telling and the text because the audience is going to be another variable, like Derek said, that we don’t normally have to deal with. The audience is going to be wherever they’re going to want to be so the blocking is going to have to be very fluid, which is exceedingly exciting because we’re not going to be able to establish patterns. We’ve been charting the journey in the text but some of the other stuff we’re going to have to do in the moment. It’s going to be almost filmic in a way. Every night is going to be a one-off and then we get to come back the following evening and try it all over again. It’s very exciting to work like this.
For tickets and times go online to firehall arts centre
or call (cheaper) 604 689 0926
Hedda Gabler runs March 13 - 31, Monday to Saturday.