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Filling in the blanks

by Amanda L. Shore February 14, 2012

Close your eyes and picture a business student and a theatre student side by side. What do you see? A guy in a well-pressed suit, briefcase in hand, not a hair out of place? A girl with dyed scraggly hair, leotards and a laid-back manner? This would be stereotyping, but would it bethat far off from the truth? Concordia’s 498 theatre class, under the direction of Annabel Soutar, takes on this question in their original play, Theatre ___ Business: Fill Us In.

Two years ago, theatre students were transplanted from Loyola to SGW and placed in the MB building. The resulting interactions between the business students, who call the MB home, and the immigrant theatre students, was the play’s source of conception. “Every single day we’re living in this environment that isn’t 100 per cent theatre, it’s 95 per cent something else. So that created this interest in finding out ‘What are we doing here?’ and furthermore, ‘What can we be doing to make this a great environment, that harbours collaboration, friendship, community and a sense that this is a university and that we are all here and we’re all students together?’” explained assistant director Manon Manavit.

Soutar, whose theatre company Projet Porte Parole specializes in documentary theatre, thought the circumstances of having a group of theatre students in a business building would be ideal material for a documentary play. ”She came in and said ‘We want to write a play, let’s write our play about the fact that you guys are here, in this building.’ She came in with that suggestion, but because it related to all of us, that was something that we could all use as a starting point to fulfill our own individual questions,” said Manavit.

The 498 theatre course runs year-long. In the first semester, students interviewed a number of business students, asking questions such as: What motivates business students, what motivates theatre students? Are there any similarities? Is there hostility, is there prejudice? What can we do to combat it? Interviews were recorded, transcribed and then edited for relevance. Following this, the theatre students selected the interviews and people who had the most dramatic potential and which fit the overall consensus of the story. These then became scenes, with actors taking on the physical characteristics of the people they’d interviewed, trying to re-create it as accurately as possible while also including a bit of a dramatic flair.

Manavit was clear that they were not caricaturing anybody. “This is a documentary; it comes from real life, from real words,” she said. “We don’t change the words that people use, we honour their language. But we do edit it, we don’t change the context, but we took out some of what was unnecessary.” The scenes were then arranged in a sequential order, to create a successive narrative.

A verbatim play is a risk in any circumstance, but given the proximity of the actors/writers to their subject matter, the risk is much higher. The play is intended to open up communication between business and theatre students, but there is a strong possibility that someone will get offended. Nonetheless, Manavit insisted their intentions are good, but they are willing to take responsibility for any fallout the play may incur. “We’re prepared to go forward, whatever happens. We will all collectively take responsibility for what we’ve done,” she said. Despite potential negative reactions, Manavit and company are eager to have business students in the audience. “We want to change this environment or at least bring an awareness or a reconciliation between these two departments,” she said.

Theatre ___ Business: Fill Us In runs from Feb. 16 to Feb. 19 at the F. C. Smith Auditorium, and Feb. 28 and 29 at the D. B. Clarke Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students. For more information, visit theatre.concordia.ca.

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