My interview with Electric Company Theatre's Kim Collier is in this week's WE.
Credit: Michael Julian Berz photo
STAGE: Electric Company’s new show hits ‘Home’For most people, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a sleepy stretch of holiday recovery. Not so inside the Strathcona gymnasium of the Russian Hall where Electric Company Theatre, arguably Vancouver’s most exciting, innovative company, is approaching its third week of rehearsal for Tad Mosel’s All the Way Home. Director Kim Collier moves around the sprawling set, adjusting her vantage point as her actors, Meg Roe and Jonathon Young (who also happens to be her husband and Electric Company co-founder), take multiple stabs at an emotionally charged scene in Act One.
Collier sits on a low bench in front of the stage, a chair at the dining table, a pillow on the floor next to a beautiful old divan with large rolled arms. These are all places where the audience will sit, in and amongst the set, sentient ghosts for the actors to navigate while also conveying one of the most emotionally resonant texts of modern literature about a family coping with unexpected loss of a father and a grandfather. And, as those few familiar with Collier’s life story know, it’s a theme that resonates off stage as well.
A former Studio 58 grad, Collier began her career as an actor, but shifted to directing, writing and producing since co-founding Electric Company Theatre 13 years ago. In 2010, she was awarded the prestigious $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre for directing, but this professional triumph came in the wake of huge personal tragedy. In 2009, an accidental fire claimed the lives of Young and Collier’s 14-year-old daughter, Azra, and her two little cousins, Phoebe and Fergus. Collier doesn’t discuss this, but concedes that she’s asked herself where she sits as an artist in relationship to the context of All the Way Home, as well as trying to understand the boundaries between her personal life and her work as an artist.
“I think that life has prepared me for my directing role and I’ve felt that for many years,” Collier says. “I’ve done things like paddling down the Congo. I found myself in jail in Nigeria. I’ve had an extraordinary life, both in a sense of adventure and risk, and loss and tragedy. I lost my friend that I grew up with my entire life and who I adored when I was 19. I lost my father by my early 20s. I’ve always looked at the immensity of my life experience and known that part of the gift of that is to recognize and direct moments of truth on stage… So what I have to say about this material is that this is a good play for me in this time. It’s something at the ground floor of all our lives, these ideas around who we are and how we survive and endure.”
During rehearsal, Roe and Young work out the mechanics of timing — making a cup of coffee, lighting a candle, where best to stash a pipe — with the rhythms and intention of their deliveries. Collier interrupts minimally, but this is a pivotal scene. Young’s tasked with delivering a gut-wrenching monologue repeatedly, about holding his baby, singing and feeling whole again.
“Remember, we get to relive our youth through our children,” Collier advises her husband. “Remember curiosity, delight, presence.” Finally he and Roe nail it. Like, really nail it. Their performances have been great the entire time, but that moment when it really clicks, when something transcends great and becomes wonderful? It happens right here, and one can’t help but feel this is a rare moment: recognizing, first-hand, the architecture of genius. Collier is observing moments between Young and Roe that don’t even exist yet, and guiding them to manifest.
Technically, this is the show she’s wanted to do for six years — immersive, intimate and lo-fi, a complete departure from Electric Company’s multimedia, tech-heavy canon. But it was never her intention to tell this story. Just one hour into reading a stack of Ibsen and Chekov plays, she came across All the Way Home, which had snuck its way into her pile of classics. She says the universe put it into her hands; but what Collier’s done with it is all her own.
“The show is really testing me,” she admits. “I’m being brave in allowing a piece of theatre to behave in a very different way compared to how I normally shape them. Instead of pulling the audience with a series of questions or dynamics, I’m allowing this show to live in relationship to the audience in a different way... It’s a simple idea, there’s nothing really extraordinary about it.”
We’re prepared to argue otherwise.
All the Way Home runs Jan. 10-14 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 8pm. $20-$30 from ElectricCompanyTheatre.com.