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Victims of violence given voice in upcoming play

[If We Were Birds]
Members of the cast and production crew talk over a scene during a rehearsal for the Queen’s Drama Department’s upcoming staging of If We Were Birds at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Allie Gottlieb)

For its winter major production the Queen’s Department of Drama is staging one of the most powerful contemporary Canadian plays.

If We Were Birds is a Governor-General Award winning play by Erin Shields based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the poem that also inspired Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and is a poetic re-telling of the myth of sisters Philomela and Procne. In Shields’ work the ancient tale is transformed into a modern parable about violence against women in times of war as revealed through a chorus of testimonials of loss and suffering.

The play was selected as it has a large female cast explains drama professor and director Kim Renders, who points out that the department is comprised primarily of women. She also says the subject matter is particularly timely because of the ongoing conversation on campuses across the country, including Queen’s, surrounding sexual assault.

It’s a powerful play, Renders says, and a great script,

As a result, one of the main challenges in the production has been how to handle the powerful testimonials. There are times when the material is so heavy that a lighter touch may be required, Renders says.

“Dealing with this script at various times, that’s the balancing act,” she says. “When do we really punch it in and drive it home to the audience with hair pulling and chest beating and when do you need to hold back and just let the words do the work by themselves.”

Months of preparations are down to the final weeks and days but there is an eagerness to take to the stage. Renders, a co-founder of Nightwood Theatre and former artistic director of Theatre Kingston, says she is impressed by how the students are approaching the play from acting and production perspectives as well as the three student assistant directors.

“I’m feeling people are taking a very responsible approach to the material, very mature, professional,” Renders says. “People are quite dedicated to the work, and there is a ton of work because one of the students, Adrienne Miller , is choreographing the chorus and another student, Deanna Choi, is creating a soundscape that goes all the way through the entire production. And she is also playing music live.”

For the assistant directors it’s a further learning experience as they step off the stage and take on wider responsibilities.

“I think that being an assistant director is a very interesting learning experience because we are observers on one part, where we are watching and learning from Kim and her decisions as well as the actors,” says Holly Molaski (Artsci’15). “With such a big cast they have so many ideas too. So I’m really trying to observe and get ideas from everyone else.”

For Colleen Rush (Artsci’15) seeing the wider scope of the production has been valuable.

“What I’ve found interesting is seeing how quickly the images take form,” she says. “I also find interesting that Holly and I have a lot of input and it matches up. There’s a lot of agreeing.”

If We Were Birds will be staged at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Performances will take place in the Studio Theatre Feb. 4-7 and 12 at 8 pm, with a matinee on Feb. 8 at 2 pm. The play will be staged in the Grand Lobby on Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 pm as well as a special “Sunrise Performance” scheduled for the morning of Feb. 7. The time has yet to be finalized.

Tickets are $22 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors and can be purchased online at theisabel.ca/tickets, at the Isabel box office (12:30-4:30 pm), or at the door prior to performances.