Set in a polygamist community located in British Columbia, The Belfrey Theatre and Alberta Theatre Projects production of Gracie is a one-woman show depicting the maturation of a young girl within the community. Gracie is at the same time as disturbing as it is fascinating. Although I had a vague understanding of what to expect prior to attending, I cannot undermine the impact the production had on me. I can attribute my enjoyment of the production in most part to the impressive acting, however, I cannot attenuate the impression the directorial details had on me as well. I will define distinct choices made by the director of Gracie, Vanessa Porteous, and how they influenced my decisions as the director of Everyman.
The central role in Gracie is played by Lili Beaudoin, who, in addition to Gracie, acts out the roles of 13 supplementary characters throughout. Having never seen a play in which one actor depicts all characters I was surprised to find that with Beaudoin’s exceptional performance, I soon forgot there was only one performer on the stage. Throughout Gracie when Beaudoin was switching from one character to another she would step from facing one direction to the opposite in order to depict the position of separate roles. Additionally, Beaudoin would change her tone of voice for the character she was portraying. These purposeful decisions generated a fluidity between roles that was undeviating from the performance yet distinct to each portrayal.
Porteous chose to have the entire production of Gracie performed on an unchanging set consisting of three separate platforms all of which were highly utilized by Beaudoin throughout her performance. Situated directly behind the three platforms is a background depicting a contemporary outline of the Rocky Mountains. The set choice as well as the decision to use only one prop (a doll gifted to Gracie) allows the audience to follow Beaudoin closely and diminishes the chances of confusion as she switches from one character to another. Beaudoin, who is 27 years old, plays Gracie at the age of 8, 12 and 15 respectively. She does an impressive job depicting the role of a child: innocent, well-behaved and impressionable. As would be expected from most adolescents, we see Gracie grows and begin to question herself and her role in the community. We quickly learn from Beaudoin’s childlike expressions and tone that Gracie is no omniscient narrator.
An important element of Gracie is the use of dark, conscious lighting as well as a delicate spotlight selectively used throughout. In one scene, after Gracie’s brother has been forcibly banished from the community, we watch Gracie in a state of grief and disorientation; she lies down on the top platform of the stage, all is dark with the exception of a soft blue light shining precisely down on her. The lighting reflects the somber reality of Gracie’s situation as well as focuses the audience’s attention. As gentle piano music begins to play, a light sprinkling of snow falls directly and delicately down on Gracie. The impression of loneliness and hopelessness at both Gracie and her brother’s situation is reinforced.
Although the play is focused on a serious subject there is an emphasized humor throughout which temporarily lightens the somber mood of the play. One example is Gracie’s reaction to receiving a new bicycle from Mister Shelby, the community leader: “Thank you Jesus, thank you Mister Shelby, thank you… Canadian Tire”. The choice to have extra emphasis on the latter part of these lines exaggerates the isolation of this young girl and although the business name would likely be common knowledge to the audience, there is a feeling of heartache for Gracie’s ignorance.
Finally, the music selection for Gracie cannot go without mention. Porteous made a favorable decision in the appropriately easy piano music played throughout; the recognizable melody created a uniformity for the play which remained from beginning to end. I found however, that the intermittent use of standard sound effects such as truck engines and bicycle bells brought an artificial feel to what was an essentially authentic production.
In my production of Everyman, I feel it would be a captivating choice to perform this play as a one-man show. Instead of having the actor change positions as dramatically as done in Gracie, I would instead have him only slightly shift his body and change his tone of voice; my intention with this directorial choice is that the audience would be aware the actor is portraying separate characters, however, this will encourage the thought that conceivably it is all happening in Everyman’s head. As with Gracie, I would also choose to use a consistent set throughout the entire production. Using separate levels with a dramatic difference in height between tiers would depict the separation between heaven and earth. In the background of the set I would have the backdrop of a sand colored desert, illustrating the hopelessness of Everyman’s life and his current situation.
With regard to music, I would use acoustic guitar music playing a simple melody unique to the performance, which would become familiar to the audience as it is played throughout. I would not use sound effect as they were used in Gracie, this would take away from the simplicity and intimate nature of the music theme which I plan to achieve.
Although the lighting choices worked well for Gracie, I feel the consistent darkness would not work for my direction of Everyman. I would begin the production, in which the Messenger and God speak, with warm white lights which would represent heaven. When Everyman’s part begins I would have the lighting become much darker and focused specifically on Everyman. This would draw the audience’s attention and provide an impression of the dimness of Everyman’s current situation as he stands alone preparing for his reckoning. As the play progresses and Everyman’s situation improves, the lighting will increase in brightness resulting in the ending when we would see Everyman pass into a bright light as he is conclusively welcomed into heaven.
While my production of Everyman would be similar to Gracie in the sense of being a one-man show with an unchanging set, my choice of music and lighting would be quite different. I trust that by keeping the music simple and the lighting gradual I shall be able to fascinate the audience with a sense of both enchantment and understanding.