Talking bears

Joel IvanyToronto Wunderkind director Joel Ivany is directing the premier of Norbert Palej’s EAST o’ the SUN and WEST o’ the MOON for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.  Operaramblings took the opportunity to ask Joel a few questions about his motivation for doing the piece and how directing young people differed (or didn’t) from his other directorial endeavours.  Here’s what we got:

1.  What attracted you to this project?  Was it working with kids?  Is it EAST o’ the SUN and WEST o’ the MOON itself?

One of my first professional gigs as a stage director was directing for the CCOC. It’s a beautiful company led by someone with music and love running through her blood; Ann Cooper Gay. She is an astounding woman and I admire the passion and patience she has for young people and music. When she approached me about the idea of doing a newly commissioned work, I thought it would be a great fit.

You can always learn quite a bit from working with kids. They are completely honest. You can tell when they are engaged and when they are not. They often ask incredibly complex dramaturgical questions and also very simple questions. It keeps me on my toes. Their creativity and imagination also allows believing in a world where there are trolls, talking bears, singing winds and trickster shadows.

Working on a new piece is also a great opportunity to work with a designer on a new project. This isn’t a piece that is in need of a concept or a re-imagining. It’s the first time it is being done, which is always exciting. I always prefer to work with a designer on any project, as the ideas can be discussed, problems worked out and is a collaborative process. This is the first time working with the talented young designer Laura Gardner.

The piece is based from a Norwegian Fairy Tale. Having worked in Norway, I have a soft spot for the country and its beauty. Norway has a rich tradition of folk and fairy tales. The story is simply told, but does have its challenges. Laura has worked some miracles in costuming various elements such as The Northern Lights, Shadows and the East, West, North and South Winds.

2. What are the main challenges and rewards of working on a children’s piece?  Does this change your directorial approach or process?

One of the main challenges is momentum. Because everyone in the entire cast is in school, the rehearsal process is spaced out over several weeks. Within each week, we rehearse twice for two hours each and then a 6-hour session on a Saturday.

One incredible reward is seeing how these kids from 3-20 work together and perform new music. It’s difficult for many adults. I think they don’t question or think that it could be hard. Instead, they just learn it and perform it.

Another cool reward is seeing them in their costumes and them finding it a transformative experience. Laura Gardner, our set and costume designer has done a great job. She should feel proud in her ability to costume teenagers and have said teenagers proud of what they are wearing. They find it cool.

In some ways, the process is exactly the same as if I were doing Nabucco with professional singers. Asking the singer questions about what your character wants, how do we get it, who are we talking to etc.

3. How is the production coming along?  What should we be watching for when we see it?

The production is coming along quite well. We just attempted our first stumble/walk through of the entire piece. I have to give a huge shout-out to the stage management team. They are coordinating and executing entrances/exits, costume changes and props for over 100 children in just over an hour of music. Incredible.

I think you should watch for the incredible poise of these young singers. It’s remarkable what they’re able to achieve. I think you should also enjoy the beautiful music that Norbert Palej has written. Beautiful beautiful melodies.

EAST o’ the SUN and WEST o’ the MOON; music by Norbert Palej, libretto by K.T. Bryski runs at the Enwave Theatre with previews on May 29th and 30th and main shows on the 30th, 31st and June 1st.  Tickets are available here.

Thanks to Amanda Smith for arranging the interview with Joel.

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