Windsor Theatre Vets Kick Off New Theatre Company With Marjorie Prime

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Bloomsbury House Cast for Marjorie PrimeIt’s not often a new theatre company emerges, so when Martin Ouellette and Carly Morrison-Hart announced that they were opening a new company, Bloomsbury House, the excitement was obvious.

Both are well versed in the local scene and Martin is a popular choice for many local theatre groups.

Theatre fans got a brief intro into their collective minds when they staged Curious George: The Golden Meatball at the Chrysler Theatre in January, but they’ve now got their own space at Sho Studios on Monmouth and a full season ahead of them with shows like Proof, Red, The Mousetrap, Constellations, Detroit and Amadeus. But they kick off their inaugural season with Joran Harrison’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist “Marjorie Prime. We sat Martin and Carly down for some questions.

Why did you decide to start a new theatre company?
Carly Morrison-Hart: Ever since I stepped onto a stage, I knew it was home. When I took a hiatus in my mid-20s, I felt the ghost of theatre haunting my thoughts. After getting back into acting, I started to get big ideas that could only be conceived if we controlled my own space. Opening this theatre is a way for us to give back to community, and create art for (hopefully) the masses.

Martin Ouellette: It’s been a goal since my teens to establish a professional theatre in my hometown. For now it’s a very small cast and crew, on a revenue share, but it’s a start. We moved our photography studio, Churchwood Pictures, into Sho and that lease gave us the opportunity to develop and use their performance spaces.

What makes Bloomsbury House different from the other local theatre companies?
Martin: We have an unironic Pop sensibility. We don’t have a “mission” other than that we want to explore clever and entertaining scripts and make popular, accessible theatre. Pleasure and escape and horror and excitement have value, especially these days, and musicals don’t have to be the only vehicles for those things.

Carly: Society today is all about buying something, and throwing it away. With theatre, you can’t throw away that experience. We made a season of small cast plays that offer a digestible way to take in intelligent theatre.

Why the name Bloomsbury House?
Carly: That’s all Martin!

Martin: The Bloomsbury group of artists was active in London, England, in the 1920s and 30s. Jaded by World War One, they were pacifist socialists and included Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and the economist John Maynard Keynes, a future architect of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Germany. Also, “blooms” and “bury” neatly encapsulate the natural cycle, and “house” was added for warmth.

Before we dive in Marjorie Prime more specifically, let’s briefly go over your premiere season and why these shows were selected.
Martin: After looking at the season, I suppose we have a theme of liminality; transitions, borders, and spaces between states of being. We open with Marjorie Prime, which is about the transition between human and artificial intelligence, and we close with Amadeus, which is about the frustratingly vast distance between a person of skill and talent and one of true genius. All the other plays contain similar considerations of spaces between.

There is/can be a risk when producing shows that are not big or recognizable by the title. There are a couple in your season, but you’ve balanced it with some name shows. Risk is part of the game, isn’t it?
Carly: The artist side in me just wants to say that the plays have their own gravitational pull, and they pulled us in, rather us choosing them per se. The business side says the optics are good, and the writing is excellent. I’m also very excited to see the actors who audition, and play this crazy season of characters. The wealth of talent is something I am in awe of.
Martin: The shows that seem unknown to Windsor audiences are Marjorie Prime, Constellations, and Detroit. Marjorie was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2015 and then made into a well-received film with Jon Hamm. The New York Times called the epic romance Constellations “Broadway’s most sophisticated date play yet,” and we think there will be a market for that as a Valentine’s night out – especially with the immersive light and sound show we have planned. Detroit won an Obie Award for Lisa D’Amour in 2013, also a Pulitzer nomination, and we think the title alone will drive interest. Plus it’s a harsh, wild, hard-R dark comedy. We’ll have to work harder to sell these shows, but they aren’t total unknowns and come with lots of built-in marketing possibilities.

Out of the entire season, which show are you looking forward to the most?
Carly: I don’t have the privilege of looking forward to any one play. They are all my children, and I think of each of them often. Some plays are more formed in my mind, and I get excited how the details are etched out, while others are more abstract, still in colour form in my mind.

Martin: Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus is my favourite play – it’s beautiful, ambitious, vicious, dark as hell, hilarious, blasphemous, and essentially, intentionally musical. Runner up is Detroit, which has some truly grotesque moments of physical and prop comedy and zany bacchanalian surprises that we look forward to springing on audiences.

Now onto Marjorie Prime. Why was this one selected as the very first production?
Martin: It’s fairly simple to stage but Marjorie is unlike anything I’ve seen in Windsor, or anywhere, really; it’s deep, modern science fiction, not camp like Little Shop or Rocky Horror (which are great). It’s like an emotionally moving episode of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, with a brilliant final scene that will leave your head spinning.
Carly: It’s a cool play, and we want to be cool.

How does the story resonate with you?
Carly: I’m a science nerd, and follow AI. I love the debates that arise from it, and have always been fascinated by the uncanny valley. The true love story between this family is deep and thoughtful. All families have their secrets and struggles, and this play gives us hope in a modern world.

Martin: The family at the center of the drama has a core of mental illness, secrecy, and sadness that is very affecting, but I am most fascinated by its ideas about how we build family myths around white lies, and how those myths would be interpreted by a friendly machine intelligence and, even more provocatively, how those strange loops of myth could eventually invoke a machine version of emotion.

It seems like a great expose on technology. How will you incorporate the technology into the show?
Carly: As I watch tech grow into our daily lives, I notice how seamless it all seems to go. The tech will be small and simple, though the AI will be 3D!

Martin: This is a very traditionally-engineered show. Even though it takes place in the future, the characters themselves, like many people today, are not particularly tech-savvy. Though it involves AI holograms as onstage characters, we rely only on lighting and performances, like in the original US production and as described in the script.

Aside from the robots and technology, on a deeper level, this show dives into family dynamics. This must be the part that really resonates with audiences.
Martin: No matter how fantastic the ideas get about myth-building and emotional trans-humanism, the relatable, tragic, and smartly-written family drama is what pulls the audience into the world of the show; that relatable drama becomes the safety bar on your roller coaster as the writing swoops out to big ideas.

Carly: They’ll laugh, they’ll cry, it’ll be better than CGI Cats.

I’m assuming this is the Windsor premiere of the show?
Martin: So far as we know, yes! We’ll have a catered reception after opening night on August 8th at Sho, 628 Monmouth Road, open to all patrons. Curtain is at 8pm.

Why did you select Allison, Kim and Joey for their roles and what do you think each will bring to the show?
Martin: First we must shout out Alexandra Hristoff, our co-producer, assistant director, scripty, PR, stage manager, Zen master. Regarding the actors, Allison Still in the title role, and in person, has the charm and gravity of a Hollywood icon. We use wig and makeup to age her up considerably for the role, which pays off in a way I won’t spoil here. Joey Ouellette is a thoughtful writer and an immensely skilled and experienced actor, and he does a lot of the heavy lifting as Jon, the son-in-law who holds this fractured family together. Finally, Kim Babb as Marjorie’s bitter daughter Tess is a sea of complex emotions that will hold audiences spellbound. There is a fourth actor trying to keep up in a smaller role but he isn’t worth mentioning here.

Carly: Each actor has a type of magic, and when you get them all on stage, it is something to behold. I love wowing a crowd, and with these very talented actors, who have given so much of themselves, the audience will leave full up on the magic of theatre. It was truly a natural selection, though we had a lovely bunch of people come out for auditions. When each actor read their sides, it was obvious who would be who.

Links to tickets and season passes can be found at bloomsburyhouse.wordpress.com

Photo: Dan Savoie
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