Featured next on the Hub’s 2017 Interview Series is the creative force behind “Adoration”, Tantalus Theatre’s highly anticipated inaugural production. Co-directors and producers Adrian MacDonald and Rahul Gandhi (who are also co-founders and co-artistic directors of the newly minted theatre company) and playwright/composer/violinist Violette Kay sat down with Camila Fitzgibbon to reveal the intricacies of their debut project, slated to premiere at Studio Porte Bleue on March 2nd.
It was in his first year at John Abbott College that Adrian MacDonald knew he wanted to give birth to his own theatre company – and one with a name to excite the senses.
“Tantalize” comes from the plight of the mythological Greek figure Tantalus, eternally punished as he was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.
Rahul Gandhi can relate: “as an artist, you live with the perpetual notion of never being able to reach that low-hanging fruit,” he reveals. “I always feel like I need to be pushing further and aiming higher to get to the point of being happy with my work.”
And, it’s precisely with that exceptional standard and impeccable work ethic in mind that Tantalus Theatre strives to enter and leave its imprint on the Montreal theatre scene.
MacDonald and Gandhi – who met at John Abbott’s theatre department – irrevocably decided to proceed with their current ambitious undertaking after having performed in a show together at last year’s Montreal Fringe Festival. “Looking back on that experience, we came to realize that the most enjoyable part of it all was our budding friendship. We then agreed from that point onward that, if either of us were ever going to produce any theatre, we were going to do it together,” recounts MacDonald.
The team of two had begun developing another project when they serendipitously came across a draft of Violette Kay’s Adoration at Studio Porte Bleue’s Theatre for the Ears, a reading series showcasing homegrown works by up-and-coming playwrights. Kay – then known to the co-founders as a fellow Abbott graduate – was immediately asked to hop onboard and the dynamic duo’s original production plan was put on the back burner.
“I loved the script from the moment I heard it,” says an enthused MacDonald. “The calibre of writing is extraordinary. My greatest fear today is not being able to do it justice.”
In a nutshell, “Adoration” tells a non-linear story of two former violin students who reconnect after their violin teacher commits suicide. As they return to town to attend his funeral, they look back on their experiences with their beloved mentor, reflecting on how he profoundly shaped their lives as artists and as human beings.
Loosely based on The Seagull by Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov, the play’s genesis took place within the creative breeding grounds of John Abbott College. “We were asked to adapt a play of our choosing by either Shakespeare or Chekhov as part of a class assignment,” recalls Kay. The two major themes herein borrowed from the Chekhovian classic include the piecing together of two different generations of artists and the conflict of creating art that is commercially viable versus that which is truthful and meaningful to its maker. Kay’s standalone script, however, is finely founded on her personal experiences as a violinist and its characters are confessed to have been greatly inspired by real-life figures she’s known.
Adoration is deliberately named, in fact, after the characters’ favourite song – a violin composition the multidisciplinary artist learned to play at the age of twelve and that she claims to be revisited by time and time again. “That idea of coming back to a piece of music is heavily tied into the play and I think it’s something anyone intimate with music can identify with.”
While it’s the musician’s perennial struggle that takes centre stage in this all-new production featuring original songs (Violette even plays the violin live), there are universal themes to draw non-instrumentalists in.
“Anyone that has ever been willing to go beyond the point of comfort and make self-sacrifices to pursue the thing that they’re passionate about will relate to Adoration,” MacDonald elaborates. “It’s about having that kind of hyper focus that has both negative and positive outcomes; ambition can result in success…but at what cost?”
What’s expected to hit a chord with audiences, then, is “the notion of how much you put into your work and how that will affect your life and the lives of those around you. There’s a huge immediate and and long-term ripple effect,” adds Gandhi. “Working on this script has reminded me how important it is to check in with yourself every now and again to see where you are – both inside and outside of the realm of artistic creation.”
At its core, Adoration – and Tantalus – is said to be all about the human experience.
And, in further conversation with the mastermind trio, our suspicion is that the creation is a heartfelt ode to the educators who sculpt lives.
“A teacher might casually say something without ever being aware of their power or conscientiously thinking ‘I’m going to say this specific thing to change this student’s life,’ but it happens. They give you this one piece of advice and then all of a sudden it becomes something that you live by every single day,” observes Kay.
MacDonald then shares: “one of the best bits of advice that I received from my favourite teacher of all time – I won’t name names – was a particularly hard pill to swallow. It was the following: ‘if you can feasibly do anything else in your life, then do that instead because this road is one that’s hard-walked.’
“I’ve learned that couldn’t be more true. The life of an artist is extremely draining and complicated, but because of the nature of it, it’s the type of lifestyle that some people just need to pursue. For me, I do this because there is no other option,” he muses.
“In my case, I had a professor in high school who opened my eyes to the liberal arts and I remember him telling me when I graduated to ‘not let anyone else ever tell you what to do.’ Without him, I might not be here today,” acknowledges Gandhi.
“All of these influential teachers and mentors I’ve had – Zach Fraser, Andy Cuk, Elisha Conway, Peter Vatsis – have told me time and time again to hit the ground running and that the best way to do so is to create your own work,” discloses MacDonald, who here makes his directorial debut alongside Gandhi.
As the new kids on the professional theatre block, their gallant initiative is an inspiring one – and one which we hope will bear fruit.
“Whenever I see plays created by young artists, I always pick up on little hints that suggest this was written by an unexperienced person who hasn’t actually lived this and doesn’t completely understand it – but not necessarily in a bad way. Truthfully, I too worry that I probably also come across as that,” contemplates Kay. “But then it’s made me think: does that mean that young people shouldn’t be putting on work about mature subject matters? Do we need to wait until we’ve experienced something in order to be able talk about it? I don’t think we do.”
“The beauty of this being my own play, I guess, is that I’m always free to fix it later,” she thoughtfully concludes with a smile.
(Note: After its initial run at Studio Porte Bleue, “Adoration” is expected to head to the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival this summer. We’ve been told significant alterations may be made from one production to the next due to the change of venue – particularly in terms of staging and direction.)
Furthermore, while Adoration is fronted by a young creative team and cast (Dawson College’s Nils Svensson-Carell and Skyler Clark and John Abbott College’s Nick Fontaine and Vanessa Schmoelz star), it seems the local community has been eager to rally around them.
“It’s funny because one of the most rewarding aspects of this whole process has been seeing all of these people get excited about this show and cheering us on when they don’t even know if it’s going to be good yet. They believe that we can pull this off somehow even more than we think we can.” laughs an amused Kay.
“What has kept me going with this project has really been the support of others,” reveals MacDonald. “I’ve discovered that if you throw yourself into something 100%, people will catch you. And because the Montreal theatre community is such a small one, they want to help people who are willing to work.
“We’ve gotten excessively lucky with Studio Porte Bleue, for example, who have generously contributed with their day-to-day input and allowed us to use their space. Without them this absolutely would not have happened.
“Our goal with Tantalus from the get-go has been to foster relationships with both established and emerging artists in Montreal, and so far the support we’ve received has truly been incredible. We only hope now one day to be able to do the same for the community.”
Interview by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
Adoration presented by Tantalus Theatre plays at Studio Porte Bleue (3035 Saint-Antoine O, Suite 378) from March 2nd to 11th, 2017. Performances are Wednesday to Sunday at 8 p.m. with one 2 p.m matinée on March 4th. Tickets are $15 – Regular Admission | $12 – Students/Artists/QDF members and can be purchased at the door or reserved via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit Tantalus’ official Facebook page
Featuring Nick Fontaine, Vanessa Schmoelz, Skyler Clark, and Nils Svensson-Carell
Directed by Adrian Macdonald and Rahul Gandhi
Written by Violette Kay
Musical Director – Violette Kay
Directorial Consultant – Colin Lalonde
Dramaturge – Elisha Conway
Set & Lighting – Peter Vatsis
Sound – Kate Babin
Costumes – Kelly O’Toole