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Richard Greenblatt on Directing Wrecked

For this week’s post we decided to ask the Director of Wrecked, Richard Greenblatt, to share his thoughts about coming back to direct Wrecked in our 29th season. Here’s what he had to say:

Richard Greenblatt is the Director for the 2012 Production of Wrecked.

Wrecked was a successful show before Roseneath produced it. It had been done in Alberta to great acclaim. And yet, when David Craig, then Artistic Director of Roseneath, asked me to work on it, we both agreed to ask Chris Craddock if he would be willing to revisit the text and make it even stronger. Amazingly, he agreed, and we held several workshops in Toronto, where I found a fabulous new artistic collaborator in Chris. He is supremely unprecious about his words. He is constantly looking to improve his plays, which I believe is the true benchmark of a great writer.

The first production in 2006 was one of those near perfect experiences that are all too rare (I guess that’s what makes them special). I had always had this image in my head of four “towers”, or home bases, created with a sense of post-industrial metal, which could house each actor’s props, costume pieces, and have fold-out structural components that could quickly transform the space to different locations in simple, iconic ways.

Joanne Dente took this germ of an image and created an amazing environment – that could be put together and taken apart quickly, and transported in a small touring vehicle. Four stools were the only furniture. Props were minimal and symbolic. Costume changes had to be fast, easy and effective. Rick Sacks, my frequent musical collaborator, created his usual hard-hitting percussive score that literally drove the action forward. And the actors had the joy of creating both three dimensional, “naturalistic” people in the story of Lyle and his family, as well as the fun, metaphoric characters in the more theatrical teen scenes, who act as almost a Greek chorus possessed with an amazing lack of awareness.

The show received awards and accolades, which is all very gratifying, but not the thing of which I was most proud. Including the remount in ’08, it was the feedback that we received from the students who saw the show that warmed my soul. Their overwhelming reaction was how much they appreciated the play’s lack of condescension. They had assumed when they were told they were going to watch a show about alcoholism, that they were in for a lesson (shudder!) on the dangers of the demon drink. What they said they got was a funny, moving and engaging piece which made them think. No higher praise is possible for a theatre artist.

It’s been 4 years since I last worked on this fabulous script. As with all my pieces for Roseneath, I have trouble letting anyone else direct a remount of a show I originated. For instance, I’ve directed Danny, King of the Basement 13 or 14 times now (I’ve lost count). These shows are too important to me to let others caretake my production, and possibly miss what I think are their most important aspects. Or maybe I’m just a control freak.

In a show like Wrecked, it’s too easy to let the comedy and theatricality of the teen scenes overtake the emotional impact of the story. On the other hand, you need the comic and theatrical relief the teen scenes provide. If you take the story too seriously, and wallow in its emotional waters, the audience will stop caring. Take yourself too seriously, and the audience will feel like all the feeling is being done for them by the actors. There’s no room for them to feel. It’s a delicate balance.

Wrecked 2012. L to R: Kimwun Perehinec, Jajube Mandiela, Kevin Jake Walker. Photo by Mark Seow.

The show needs an edge, fueled, I think, by Lyle’s anger at his situation. This guy doesn’t possess an ounce of self-pity. He’s an extraordinarily responsible 16 year old who’s being robbed of his adolescence by his mother’s dependency. He simply gets on with his strategies for protecting his little sister and himself despite all the obstacles in his way. But his strength has a corresponding cost, which I believe is his rage, as well as his insistence that he doesn’t need any help from anyone. It’s a complex syndrome, and his gradual realization that there are people who are willing to help him, and his acceptance of that help, is central to the play’s emotional impact.

Coming back to a show with a (mostly) new group of actors is also a delicate balance. You want to refresh the piece, and yet not fix what ain’t broke. Change for the sake of change is not interesting. Doing the same things, just because they were done successfully the first time that way, is also boring. The key is to somehow inspire the actors to find their own choices that may or may not be just like the original. There may be new discoveries. Judging which of these choices augment, as opposed to detract from the original production is critical, and where the real skill is in directing a remounted production. The new actors must feel a sense of ownership just as much as the original cast did. No actor likes to hear, “Do it this way. It works. It worked last time and the audience loved it.”

2012 Cast of Wrecked. L to R: Kevin Jake Walker, Jajube Mandiela, Kimwun Perehinec and Justin Goodhand. Photo by Mark Seow.

On the other hand, it’s good to have that first interpretation in reserve, to help the actor if they’re lost and/or confused. Sometimes, there is only one way of doing a section, especially in the context of a specific production style. In the first stage of a frequently way too short rehearsal period, many actors like to have the structure of the original production (the movement, the shape, the ideas behind why things were done the way they were) from which they can later place their own stamp once they know what they’re doing and why.

I’m looking forward to reentering this world. I love the story, the characters, and the devices used to communicate the narrative. I hope those of you who will see it will as well.

If you’d like to know more about Richard Greenblatt, check out the cast and crew page for Wrecked. Wrecked will be touring in Ontario schools from October 29th – December 7th, 2012.


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