Students at The National Theatre School of Canada get to work on one-of-a-kind projects. At this unique school, the students collaborate to experience the various areas of theatre- acting, writing, directing, design and technical production. At the school, the hundreds of years of theatre traditions and techniques continue to evolve as the students learn to master every skill, from classical theatre to contemporary pieces.
They are fortunate to have the chance to learn from professionals. Peter Hinton, one of Canada’s most respected directors, playwrights, and dramaturges, is directing their next production, The Honest Whore.
Toronto-born Hinton has been Dramaturge in Residence at Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, and is presently Artist in Residence at the Stratford Festival of Canada. He has directed over 70 plays in various cities across Canada. Trained as an actor, he soon moved to directing because he was interested in the rehearsal process. Directing, he said, gives him the chance to make discoveries from performance to text. He sees directing as the most creative aspect of theatre, which allows him to envision everything from the technical to the visuals.
For the last three years, he’s been directing The Swan, a play he wrote himself at the Stratford festival. This winter, he will return to Stratford to direct a play called Into the Woods.
His latest production, The Honest Whore, written by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, is a rare comedy of the Jacobean era (1604-1636). The play, described as “Kill Bill meets Coronation Street”, takes place in Elizabethan Milan (London). It tells the tale of a prostitute who decides to change, and discovers there are as many impediments to virtue as vice. It is play that questions the moralities and commoditizations of love. A lady seeks the love of a man who proves to be her mother’s greatest foe.
A young wife goes to outrageous lengths to have her husband satisfy her longing. In other words, how does love work? Can we really have it without money?
For Hinton, directing his first play with the National Theatre School is an honor. “It’s very challenging because they are students and the play is very difficult,” he said. I’m accustomed to working with professionals. That’s part of what the training is, and my job is to work between directing and teaching. I have to make judgment calls everyday about when to take the time to do the coaching and teaching and when they just learn by doing. They are very talented students, but it’s different. With professionals, my job is to help them get there- they come in prepared to do that. Here, my job is also to teach them about how to get there; it’s a different level of responsibility.”
Hinton also jumped the chance to direct The Honest Whore because Jacobean plays are not that common. “They are very violent,” he explained. “They’re not reassuring and not for the family to come and see and they don’t make you feel good about jolly old England. They are very specific to time and place. A lot of theatre companies and producers are frightened of the work because they think it is too idiosyncratic to place and time- they go ‘who’s going understand that or care about these scenes’. Theatre is so expensive now, when a classical play is chosen people choose the well known ones like Twelfth Night. I don’t have a huge contribution to make by directing plays that are done all the time. I love Shakespeare and I would love to do it. But I take more value in this opportunity because it’s so rare.”
Hinton likes to approach an old play as if it were a new one. A lot of work was put into working on The Honest Whore. Last year, the cast did a period study of class for over a six-week period. They ran through the original two-part play- a 7.5-hour play- line by line. Over summer Hinton did adaptation where he edited the two original plays. The play was originally done with 26 actors; since there are 12 actors, he had to strengthen the casting.
He also tried to articulate some of the themes to a contemporary audience.
His students enjoy working with him. “Peter is a very passionate and a very open person, and really invites you into the process,” said production manager, Laura Baxter. “It’s fantastic- he really cares about the piece, and that helps you to care about it.”
For the past month, the cast has been rehearsing everyday. Hinton says that he tries to teach his students “To be curious. That what they do is important. Theatre is a forum to really investigate the society we live in, hopefully make a contribution to make the world saner, that makes the confusion of our lives a bit clearer.”
The Honest Whore is a play for those who are interested in art history, and the history of English culture and languages. It is for the curious, as it is not an easy play to understand. “My objective is to do a play that people want to see again because they didn’t understand it,” explains Hinton. “I don’t mean in a vague way like ‘I didn’t get it.’ I want them to say ‘that was so compelling; it moved me so much, and it totally changed how I thought about things. I have to see it again’.”
Hinton also had a message for Concordia Students. “They should come and check it out. It would be interesting for students at Concordia to come see this work. People might be scared by it and think they won’t understand it because it’s Elizabethan. But it a very rare chance to see this play, it wont be done again in a very long time. Its another side of understanding what that time was about, which is enormously important.”
The Honest Whore runs Tuesday, Dec. 7 to Saturday, Dec. 11 nightly at 8 p.m., in the Ludger-Duvernay Theatre of the Monument-National, 1182 St.Laurent Boulevard.
Tickets are $7 and are available at the Monument-National Box Office. Call (514) 871-2224. A $3 handling fee applies to tickets reserved by phone.