Interview: Connecting in isolation with “The Fairies are Thirsty”

The cast and directors of Snowglobe Theatre's first digital play share the challenges of creating in times of quarantine.

Featured in this interview/pictured above: Kieran Hunt (Director), Sabrina Auclair (Actor), Sandra Lee (Actor), Camila Fitzgibbon (Actor), Peter Giser (Artistic Director) – the creatives and cast of Snowglobe Theatre’s The Fairies are Thirsty, which livestreams May 23rd and 24th, 2020 as the company’s first digital production.


EDITOR’S NOTE

Hello! This is Camila Fitzgibbon, Founder and Editor-in-Chief here at Montreal Theatre Hub.

It is always a bit awkward providing media coverage for productions that I am in due to the blatant conflict of interest. However, I often have the desire to somehow still acknowledge the work of my fellow artists if it is within my means to do so. I particularly feel that towards the extraordinary people highlighted in this interview.

Enjoy this unusually raw, intimate piece.


A Zoom chat after a Zoom rehearsal. It’s been two months since any of us have seen each other in person, and yet we now seem to know each other’s faces, apartments, and lives more intimately than any of us had initially signed up to display.

Snowglobe Theatre‘s English production of Denise Boucher’s The Fairies Are Thirsty / Les fées ont soif was originally slated to open at the MainLine Theatre earlier this May as part of the company’s inaugural Directors’ Festival – until, of course, COVID-19 imposed the postponement of the 4-day event (along with over 300 other theatrical performances in Montreal this season).

With no foreseeable return to the stage any time soon, we now find ourselves congregated in a cyber realm of creation and connectivity. Gathered for this group interview is Kieran Hunt, director of our show; my fellow cast-mates Sabrina Auclair and Sandra Lee, who play Marie and Madeleine, respectively; and Snowglobe Artistic Director Peter Giser. Neither of us are quite certain how we got here, but it’s precisely that unanticipated journey of transposing our theatrical work to the screen that I’m keen to dissect.

Why did we decide to go digital?, I prompt the team.

There is pause. Truthfully, I don’t think it was any of our first instincts to betray our beloved live form for this unknown virtual counterpart. In the great debate of whether to create or not to create theatre in times of crisis, here it may have simply been momentum that trampled any budding hesitation.

“To be honest, I’d already cast the play and had already become quite excited about the project,” begins Kieran. “Then, suddenly, everyone else was so willing to do it. When it became inevitable that we had to put the play on this platform, it was scary because there was no precedent for this.”

“There was something really cool in the challenge of doing something that I’d never done before,” Sabrina voices in. “I had no idea what this was going to look like, how rehearsals would go, or how I was going to work with actors that I had only met in person a few times before being locked up,” she muses. “But I really like throwing myself up in the air to see what can happen”. I share her spirit and sentiment.

“My initial reaction was ‘hell no’,” confesses Sandra. We purge a cathartic laugh. “Knowing the person that I am, when I don’t want to do something, that’s when I’m like, ‘that’s what you gotta do’.” Her fear resonates; her courage inspires. “I still don’t know what I’m doing, frankly, and the only thing I can do is trust my instinct – and actually, I think that’s what this piece and what this process is really about. It’s about surrendering to the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar – that’s what art is.”

“It’s about surrendering to the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar – that’s what art is.”


Zoom rehearsal screenshot of Snowglobe’s The Fairies Are Thirsty. Pictured above: Camila Fitzgibbon as The Statue; bottom left: Sandra Lee as Madeleine; bottom right: Sabrina Auclair as Marie.


Vulnerability fully encapsulates the unusual experience of publicly exposing one’s privacies on the interweb. The Fairies Are Thirsty is now being livestreamed on May 23rd and 24th with our own bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens as makeshift backdrops. We burrow through closets and drawers to conjure costume and prop pieces. We scramble to learn the technicalities of video broadcasting. And then, of course, we climb the steep learning curve of acting and directing in the new medium. It’s not theatre, nor is it film. Unarmed and unequipped with our usual creative devices in this uncharted territory, all we can do is openly explore.

It is difficult terrain.

“There’s plenty of technique on how to achieve something with actors in the physical space that’s completely lost on Zoom,” Kieran reflects. “There’s a hundred different things that I would do differently or that I would know how to do on stage, but that here we just don’t know. And, as a director, you end up feeling like you don’t have a lot of control because every single lighting effect, scene change, and blackout has to be juggled by the cast. You have to end up relying more on your actors than anything, I found. But I’ve been very fortunate to have a cast and crew that has been willing to work through the harshness of the conditions.”

For performers, the affair can be described as a liberation of sorts, which is precisely what the three main characters of Fairies – a mother, a prostitute, and a saint imprisoned in their female stereotypes – are seeking for themselves.

“Strangely, I feel like through this medium I’m more free to create and express myself – more so than theatre or film, which can be so technical,” considers Sandra.”This almost feels a bit like reality TV or a Facebook live in a way, and that’s actually been a lot of fun.”

Sabrina and I nod in response. Because there is no precedent for this form of acting, “it’s a lot easier to not be scared of looking stupid,” she says. “And because I am alone in my house, that distance from the audience makes me feel like there’s no one judging me. I’m no longer worrying too much if my performance is not good enough because I feel like I’m really just doing it for myself.”


Preliminary artwork for “The Fairies are Thirsty”, courtesy of Snowglobe Theatre.


Snowglobe A.D. Peter Giser, who has been “sitting” in on rehearsals in intent study of this artistic experiment, notes a particular challenge of the new platform: connecting to scene partners and audiences from separate screens.

“I see this trouble with performers and even in regular day-to-day chats on Zoom with friends,” he articulates. “You can be looking at someone, but are you really connecting with them? Are we losing something here compared to when we used to hang out in person, or can we really have a heart-to-heart virtually? As an observer to this process, what I’m seeing is sometimes we do find this connection and sometimes the connection comes in ways that is not as effortful as we thought it would be. That’s because connectivity actually happens when you fall into a state of relaxation with someone. What I enjoy seeing is how we can fall into a really good energy with everyone without having to ‘act’, if you know what I mean. And that’s a really interesting thing to think of in terms of our lives right now. I think we can be with each other if we allow ourselves to believe that we can.”

Peter’s words are felt at the marrow. “It’s easy to get caught up in your own thing when you’re not in the same physical space,” admits Sandra. “Especially when you can watch yourself act on Zoom,” adds Sabrina, “which is usually not a good thing for an actor to be doing.”

The trials of human connection, listening, and understanding are the crux of Boucher’s seminal play – which, in its very narrative of isolated women, finds itself hauntingly pertinent to our present times.

“For me, what I try to always think in art is that what we’re going for is reality. That doesn’t mean it has to be literal – it can be abstract or humorous – but it should be something real. And right now this isolation is real. And if we can’t take what’s really going on in life and use that, then we’re stuck. To me, anything that’s going on that’s truthful has to be acknowledged on the stage, and although they say to check your baggage at the door at the theatre, you don’t ever really want to fully do that because we want your life. We want you.” he expresses.


“We can be with each other if we allow ourselves to believe that we can.”


The blurring of lines separating our professional and personal lives seems almost inevitable at this point. Our homes are now also our offices, classrooms, and recreational areas. Our children, spouses, parents, roommates, and cats suddenly share our sacred rehearsal spaces. We struggle to learn our lines as we subconsciously worry about our health, our finances, our loved ones. We battle anxiety and depression as we create. It is a marvel on some days that we have been productive at all.

“It’s such a time that we live in right now.” Sabrina opens up. “There are so many things happening in my life at this moment that are very stressful, and honestly – it’s hard sometimes to stay motivated.” Apart from being separated from family and friends across the country, Sabrina has been remarkably attempting to complete her directing residency at the National Theatre School of Canada. Due to the current coronavirus crisis, she won’t graduate as planned.

Sandra reverberates the sentiment. “I’m used to my daughter going to school during the day, so that’s usually my alone time,” she divulges. “But for me, even though there are times I feel completely overwhelmed, I show up. And sometimes just showing up is enough.”

The single mom’s radiant young child is a warm presence on our screens. Rehearsals often involve her wandering into the frame, but Sandra has handled it most graciously.

“I don’t fight it and I include it in my process. When everything becomes chaotic, I just surrender. And that release has actually been really wonderful in so many ways,” she says in all her poignancy.

I smile and sigh in emotional relief. I realize I am not alone.

Kieran then points to the silver lining. “It’s definitely been difficult,” he shares. He’s been a calm and trusted presence, admirably working full-time every day before heading back home to rehearsals at night. “But I am also appreciative of having a project like this as a constant in my life to look forward to and to keep me motivated. I know a lot of theatre artists don’t really have that outlet right now, and so I am grateful for that.”

Peter echoes some of the statements for himself. “I’ve had a full-time job for years. My wife had been asking me since last year to take a break of some kind. Then all of this happened. And suddenly I’m at home. But I can’t leave. I can’t do anything. I have to ditto on this project hooking me in and helping me straighten out my brain.”

(As a side note, I owe it to Peter for making one of the most generous phone calls I have ever received to just check in and help me with my own processing of all this.)


“Sometimes just showing up is enough.


Despite the tremendous hurdles faced, it is the passion for the work and for the people involved that propels the group up and over.

“Theatre is the collaborative art of everybody coming in and doing their work regardless of where they are, and of together building something greater than the sum of the individual parts. I’ve never felt that more than here,” weighs Kieran. “and it’s really been through the process of creating this with the actors that I have actually been more and more excited about this piece. Every time we come in and make a breakthrough of how we can manipulate the camera or unify ourselves, it’s really beautiful. The fact that we continue to do this in spite of everything really is a hallmark moment in my life.”

“It’s true that as soon as we start rehearsals, I’m always fine because you guys are so awesome and are having so much fun with this project. It’s really inspiring,” adds Sabrina. “I’m really going to miss all this, as hard as it’s been.”

We stop for a beat to wonder what will happen once the production is over.

I, Camila, am not sure what lies ahead for our careers and our community. But what I am now certain of is my necessity for a creative outlet in life, and of my strengthened resolve to fulfill that regardless of circumstance.

Sandra has read my mind. “Art gives us an outlet to nurture that part of ourselves that needs to express itself. That’s especially important during times like this because when you dim that external voice, your start to hear those other voices in your head too much. I hope that more people appreciate now how essential art and artists are, and how stories can help heal us and get us through anything.”

Sabrina is on the wavelength. “I also hope we come to realize how the people around us are so important. I hope we can remember how alone we felt and how we can’t do this all by ourselves. After all this we’re going to need a place to connect and process together what happened, and I think theatre will be just that.”

#RiseMTL, rise.



Snowglobe Theatre presents The Fairies are Thirsty
Written by Denise Boucher
Translated to English by Alan Brown
Directed by Kieran Hunt
Marie: Sabrina Auclair
Statue: Camila Fitzgibbon
Madeleine: Sandra Lee
Stage Manager: Jonathan Greenaway

The Fairies are Thirsty airs live on May 23rd and 24th, 8:00 PM EST on Snowglobe Theatre’s Facebook page.

Viewing is by donation/pay-what-you-can.
To donate to the production’s GoFundMe, visit this link.

For more information, visit www.snowglobetheare.org

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