What do you get when you combine a complex script, a play condensed to half its length, puppets and a bevy of other visual effects? All those elements compose an ambitious upcoming performance at next week’s Winter Short Works Festival in Concordia’s theatre department.
Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker is a difficult play, featuring a lot of wordplay and dense themes and imagery. Despite its challenges, theatre development student Jenn Kearney and the rest of her ensemble decided to work on The Skriker as their Student-Initiated Production Assignment. The Short Works Festival is a chance for students to run their own shows, and let their creativity go wild in their SIPA project.
The choice of The Skriker was mostly coincidence; Kearney was studying the script for a voice class at the same time as ensemble member Claire Hogan discovered the play. “It was kind of fated, meant to be,” said Kearney. With the script cut down from two acts to about 40 minutes, Hogan and Kearney set out to find anyone who had an interest in puppetry or Caryl Churchill to join them. “It was like, ‘does anyone want to come on this crazy undertaking?’” stated Kearney.
Eventually, they made the decision to work as an ensemble with Rhea Nelken and Morgan Nerenberg. “It was like four different interpretations of it that we were trying to put together in something cool, like a transformer, instead of something really awful, like, I don’t know, a pile of garbage,” shared Kearney. She said that although working in an ensemble can be difficult, it’s worth it in the end. “It’s much easier when a director can just be like, do this, do that, but in this case it’ like, well, what does everyone think?” explained Kearney. “The creativity takes twice as long, but I think in the end it’s twice as rich, because you get so much more input.”
The Skriker’s central character is a “nature spirit, death omen, shapeshifter, and she has come up into the human world out of the underworld to get revenge on humans for destroying nature and generally ignoring magical creatures everywhere,” summarized Kearney. The Skriker’s attention is especially focused on two women; the mentally-disturbed Josie and the pregnant Lily, who are played by “just plain, straight-up actors.”
However, due to the shapeshifting nature of the Skriker, all four remaining cast members are the nature spirit at some point in the production. When they are not busy being the Skriker, the rest of the cast are operating one of about 10 puppets. “There’s a lot of puppetry and masks and we have projections that we’re working on,” said Kearney. “It was really huge and very ambitious with our cast of four people.”
The Concordia Theatre Department’s Short Works Festival allows students to think outside the box by allowing them to produce and often write their own short plays. For Kearney, this was the first time she used puppets. “I had a chance to actually learn to make puppets and learn to operate them, and how to interact with them as a puppeteer and then also as an actor,” she said.
With less than a week of rehearsals left before the Friday opening, Kearney said things are on track, if a little chaotic. “It’s the theatre, everything seems like a horrible disaster until you get there on opening night, and you’re like, ‘wow, we have a show!’”
The Skriker opens at the Winter Short Works Festival on March 11. The festival runs from March 10 to 13 at the F.C. Smith Auditorium at the Loyola campus. Tickets are $2 for students. For the complete schedule, check out theatre.concordia.ca