Vancouver’s One Story Collective moves out of the traditional theatre and into an industrial warehouse for its upcoming production of David Harrower’s award-winning, Blackbird.
“With how we are setting up the stage and the audience, it will be quite an intimate performance,” says Panthea Vatandoost, who plays the role of Una. “As actors, we will have nowhere to hide up there.”
Winner of the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, Blackbird is the story of a young woman who shows up at a man’s place of work to confront him 15 years after he went to prison for sexually abusing her.
“That is her struggle, trying to reconcile the man that she admired as a child with the man standing in front of her,” says Vatandoost. “Inside, she is still that little twelve-year-old girl who had a crush.”
Reaching back to her own pre-teen days, Vatandoost used that time in her life, where she was getting to know herself and feeling out boundaries for inspiration.
“That was a vulnerable time, and it would have been easy for someone to take advantage of that, of my inexperience and curiosity. This is what Ray did to Una,” she says.
At the helm of this production is director, David Bloom, who will find himself involved in two productions of Harrower’s drama this year, as he will also perform in a production in September.
“I couldn’t say no to either because the play has meant so much to me for so long,” he says. “So, it came to me, but it’s also been riding around in me for years.”
The attraction for Bloom comes from the complexity of its characters, the moral confusion, and its dialogue.
“I think we all feel much more comfortable when a sexual predator is an obvious monster. It means we don’t have to consider the possibility that we have anything in common with them,” he says. “I love how David Harrower has written these two desperately damaged people.”
A big part of the challenge in rehearsals for Bloom came from Harrower’s text where broken thoughts, and ideas are avoided and distorted, are the norm.
“So, figuring out what the characters would have said when they stop themselves, what they’re hiding with their words, and whether they believe what they’re saying have all been essential in our rehearsals,” he says. “We make new discoveries about these things every day.”
And while Vatandoost found rehearsals difficult as she became protective of the character she portrays, she agrees that the dialogue has also been a challenge.
“The writing is full of unfinished thoughts and sentences,” she says. “It has been an ongoing process to make sense of those sentences, and try to figure out what is it that we were going to say and why are we not saying it.”
Don’t get the wrong idea though, there is more to Blackbird than as an intellectual exercise.
“It also has to be visceral,” says Bloom “My guess is that it’s not particularly interesting for an audience to read about our process, but picking at those threads is one of my favourite things about working on a play like this.”
Recognizing the play’s content may not be for everyone, Bloom remains excited by his actor’s ability to bring these broken characters to life.
“Seeing Rodney [DeCroo] and Panthea delve into these two characters is such a rich experience, I’m on the edge of my seat every day in rehearsal,” he says. “These are gutsy performers with tremendous integrity who bring such deep humanity to their work.”
For Vatandoost it is the hope audiences will allow Harrower’s complex characters to unfold in front of them.
“To allow themselves to experience the confusing emotional ups and downs that Ray and Una experience as they try to make sense of what’s going on,” she says.
Blackbird runs March 21—April 1 at Backspace (1318 Grant St. [Alley Entrance], Vancouver). Tickets are available online at Eventbrite.