The makings of a play

In the lead up to the U of T Drama Festival, we tracked a UC Follies production
What She Said rehearsal. Reut Cohen/THE VARSITY
What She Said rehearsal. Reut Cohen/THE VARSITY

The logistics of a theatrical production can be complicated. Finding a performance venue, or even just rehearsal space can be an arduous process. Fortunately, Twenty-Two Troubles Theatre Company — founded by three U of T drama students — found out about a UC Follies initiative that would provide them with administrative and creative support. They were taken on as the Follies’ incubator project, which came with a conditional spot in the annual U of T Drama Festival.

The company is curated by Madeleine Heaven, Sophie Munden, and Carmen Kruk. It will soon premiere What She Said, an experimental piece that uses the real words of real women to create a story.

The journey from inception to performance has been a long one. Munden has always wanted to work ‘in verbatim,’ but was daunted by the prospect of gathering enough raw material for an entire play. Once she, Heaven, and Kruk began working together, they started to discuss what they “wanted to say with the work that [they] were doing in theatre.” They decided to collect true stories of women, hoping that “sharing these stories [would] expand the cultural understanding of what it means to be a woman.”

The support of the Follies has been helpful, says Kruk. “They were very clear with us [that] if we ever needed anything, we could go to them for support, whether for administrative reasons or artistic reasons.”

They began by interviewing different women. The process was difficult at first, as the directors found it hard for the women involved to open up in such an intensely personal setting. Eventually, the team decided that the best way to move forward would be to approach the interviews as conversations, by gathering groups of about six or seven women, and participating in the interviews themselves.

“We never asked anybody to speak about something that we didn’t feel comfortable doing ourselves,” Kruk says. The questions became more specific, but the atmosphere was more conducive to personal connection. What they learned from this process, says Munden, was that “you can ask people anything and they’ll talk about the things they want to talk about. They’ll find a way to get there. People often found a way to talk about what they needed to talk about, regardless of the format of the question.”

The participation of the directors themselves in the interview process also created a deeply personal connection with the material. When the three started combining the stories of their interview subjects into composite characters, something felt off. “It felt like we weren’t doing their stories justice if we started putting them together to make characters out of them,” says Kruk. They agreed that “if we wanted to tell narratives, the best way to do that was to use the words of the females to whom the narratives belonged,” says Heaven.

Though the production has been in progress for about a year, it wasn’t until the winter holidays that the script was finally written. Even now, Kruk says, “We’ve been making little changes here and there.” The script has a conversational, but deeply intimate tone. It deals with themes of miscommunication, self-perception, and belonging. It’s about how people can isolate themselves in their own worlds, but have more in common than they think. “When you’re doing a show that’s about women’s narratives, you’re going to get things that are difficult to talk about,” Heaven says.

Rehearsal for What She Said is an exercise in organized chaos. There are seemingly endless questions to be asked and answered, about everything from the arrangement of the boxes that comprise the sparse set, to the precise number of seconds an actor will need to bounce her leg nervously. Everything is complicated by the busy schedules of everyone involved and sometimes the actors even have to rehearse around another’s absence.

There is no central message, though, and the directors make a point of saying so. Kruk says, “the heart of it has always been to try to do justice to the stories, and to the girls who shared with us.” Munden adds, “The important thing is that [the viewers] listen. I think that’s pretty much what it is for me, is that they just take a moment to listen to other people.”

Twenty-Two Troubles Theatre Company’s What She Said will debut on Thursday, February 11

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