After mounting an acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” last season, Montreal’s Snowglobe Theatre returns to present a stage adaptation of the screwball comedy classic “His Girl Friday” at the MainLine Theatre from December 7th to 10th, 2017. Montreal Theatre Hub’s Alisha Ruiss spoke to director Peter Giser about the show in anticipation of its opening and Snowglobe’s development since their inaugural production. Read the full interview piece below.
MONTREAL THEATRE HUB: Why His Girl Friday?
PETER GISER: I fell in love with HGF ten years ago when a film teacher suggested I do on-camera scene work from it. It was a great experience, and I knew then that one day I’d love to mount the piece in some form. I think HGF is one of the greats, probably the quintessential fast-talking piece. It’s rare in that it has all the elements of a great comedy yet manages to deal with serious themes that in a darker piece might be a harsher pill to swallow. It’s a story that I feel needs to be told.
I understand this is your own adaptation based on both the film and the play, The Front Page. What made you decide to write an adaptation?
Even a staged version of the 1940 film alone would be a significant adaptation; however, there were certain thematic elements from The Front Page which I thought deserved to be included in the piece. The film focuses almost exclusively on Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s characters, but I wanted this to be an ensemble piece, so I added some material from the play and some of my own writing to fill out the roles of other characters. The set changes are also all mine – you’ll have to see the play to find out what that means!
What do you feel this story offers to a modern audience?
It has a great Shakespearean quality in that the rhythms and sounds of the lines carry the story as much as the content and characters. We don’t get that aural aspect often these days. Its fast pace adds to the entertainment; the quick-thinking characters manage to be charming even while antagonizing each other. I find it’s refreshing to see a piece where there are adversaries but no villain.
Most important are its topical themes: respect for women, empathy, political corruption, media spin, marriage, and vocation.
We’re living at a time where the media’s relationship to government and corporations affects our perception significantly. What are your thoughts on that and how does it tie into the play?
The original playwrights of The Front Page wrote from personal experience in city newsrooms about how news organizations will do anything they can within the law – and occasionally outside of it – to tell a flashy story and get ratings. Over the years the tools have changed but the trade has largely remained the same. The reporters in the story are investigative journalists but rely heavily on government sources to provide them with their stories. Investigative reporting is now largely unprofitable and relying on government sources to feed stories has become the norm. This information coming from the top down shapes the landscape of the news business now, and the manner in which each company creates its unique spin on the same information handed down is very much an element in this play.
The part of Hildy Johnson was originally written for a man. Why was it changed and do you feel this is significant to the story in any way?
Howard Hawks, the director of the 1940 version of His Girl Friday, apparently intended to cast Hildy as a man just as it was in The Front Page, but the story goes that during auditions his secretary read Hildy’s lines and he liked the sound of them coming from a woman, and the rest is history. The change turned it into a love story, one that happened to also address the question of the role of women in the workplace in what was then a male dominated field. I think that is a more interesting, timely theme than that of the original.
Would you consider this a feminist piece?
Absolutely. Although HGF is packed with important themes, I would put feminism front and centre as the most prominent and important of them. The entire story hinges on what women have had to do to make it in the workplace, and how they’re treated by men they work with. There are even hints of gender role issues that anticipate social changes that have occurred only in recent years. The idea that a woman should be able to pursue the kind of life that’s right for her is at the heart of the play.
What are the challenges with putting a classic film comedy on stage?
You can’t cut from an office to a car, then to a small room, and then back to an office quickly in the theatre, so the scene structure from the film had to be completely reworked. The camera also can’t cut away from an actor who doesn’t speak for a while so it’s necessary to figure out business for that person while the others are speaking. I suppose the biggest challenge, though, is to live up to the incredible energy of the film. Some of the film’s fast pace can be attributed to the editing, and since we don’t have that luxury, the pacing and energy has to come entirely from the company. Our cast deserves a lot of credit for what they have been able to accomplish in that regard.
This is Snowglobe Theatre’s second show. How has the company evolved since your first production?
It’s a very exciting time for us. Along with becoming a non-profit and adding wonderful members to our creative team, we’ve confirmed that our mandate will include offering opportunities to new and emerging artists to work alongside and learn from more experienced performers. We’ve set long term goals and intend to produce a complete season of shows each year.
Our goal has always been to do a variety of pieces including both plays and musical works. We began last year with a Shakespeare piece, followed up with HGF, and we’re already beginning work on an April 2018 production of two one-act operas: Menotti’s The Medium and Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea, a beautiful, lesser-known work. We’re currently in the process of choosing a smaller-cast play for the summer, and finalizing our choice of another Shakespeare play to produce for fall/winter 2018.
Tickets can be purchased online at http://mainlinetheatre.ca/en/spectacles/his-girl-friday or by calling the box office at 514-849-FEST.
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Official Website: www.snowglobetheatre.org