Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Acting Out the Paper Production Process

Last summer, I was excited to discover that in 1995 a theatre class at Grenfell had worked on a production called When the Whistle Blows. After some digging, I got in touch with the director of the masterclass, Tessa Mendel, who very kindly sent me a VHS of one of the rehearsals. Chris Jones at the Centre for Cape Breton Studies digitized the recording and burned a DVD for me, and last night I watched it for the first time with one of the performers.

Now, it's important to note that it is a recording of a rehearsal -- parts weren't memorized, staging was still in flux, and even the order of scenes wasn't yet set in stone -- but the two-hour video provided a very good understanding of the content of the production. Of course, watching it with one of the performers was a great help -- she explained the background of the project (students were involved in research, writing, and staging), described the dress of actors in performance, and pointed out where scene order was changed. She also managed to identify all of the performers!

Two parts stood out for me. First, there was an absolutely hilarious scene that demonstrated the paper-making process. Actors mimicked machinery -- both in sound and movement -- and one even played the part of a log going through the chipper. Then there was a great scene where an elderly man reflecting on life says, "I listen for when the whistle blows and then I know I'm home." It's during this scene that we hear an original song with the refrain "When the whistle blows." It's sung by the cast and accompanied by guitar, and it's a very pretty and poignant song.

I can only imagine what the final production looked like and how it might have been received both here in Corner Brook and in other towns like Grand Falls (which at the time of the performance still had an operating mill). Fortunately, it looks like I may actually get to see one of the performances. I've been in touch with an instructor at Grenfell who has located a video of the performance and is working on having it digitized for me. I can't wait to see it!


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