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THFM prof reflects on directing at the RMTC (Part 2)

Tue. Jul. 11, 2023

Christopher Brauer is Department Chair and Associate Professor in UWinnipeg’s Department of Theatre and Film (THFM). Prof. Brauer’s creative work focuses on directing plays. Last fall, he directed The Three Musketeers (adapted by Catherine Bush from the novel by Alexandre Dumas) at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) Mainstage (November 23 to December 17, 2022).

Last winter, I spoke with Prof. Brauer about this, his first experience directing at the RMTC Mainstage. My summary of this conversation is in two parts. Here in Part 2, Brauer speaks to the distinctively UWinnipeg character there was in all aspects of the production, i.e., from the actors on stage, to directing and stage management, and to the production teams backstage, and how this reflects positively on the University of Winnipeg’s THFM program.

AM: Do you have UWinnipeg THFM alumni who go on to be directors?

CB:  There was an earlier generation, many of whom made that shift. I’m thinking of James Durham and Christopher Sigurdson.

In terms of more recent students, it’s a small number. Directing really isn’t for everybody; it’s a lot of pressure. Within every four years, we usually have 2 or 3, many of whom stay here and do assist directing processes and start to direct on their own, some of whom leave town. Matthew Paris-Irvine, who assistant-directed for me is off to Stratford [Stratford Festival] in Stratford, ON as an assistant director.

(We’re seeing a lot of our graduates right now heading to the festivals as actors and in various intern and apprentice positions, so we’re very happy about that. For example, Joseph Abetria is a THFM alumnus, who is a wonderful designer/costumer designer. For several years, Joseph worked as a design assistant at Stratford and is now designing for mainstage shows in Winnipeg and all over Canada.)

When it comes to directing, Emma Welham is a recent alumna of ours who has “really come up.” Emma was Associate Director for a RMTC show at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes this past season.

AM: Is directing sometimes something people start doing later on in their careers?

CB: Often it is. I look at someone like Cherissa Richards, who is an alumna of our program and has been a very successful performer. Cherissa worked at Shaw [Shaw Festival Theatre] in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON] for years and is now a highly recognized director, recently directing the RMTC Mainstage show Trouble in Mind.

So we’ve got a few directors out there. Again the numbers are small, because for every one director, you will have a several actors, technicians, and designers, i.e., the other departments are bigger. Not everyone’s good at directing and not everyone’s good at that business.

AM: I thought Tristan Carlucci and Melissa Langdon were outstanding in their roles. Could you say a little about them as UWinnipeg alumni?

CB: Tristan and Mel were actually two people I thought of as I read the show.

[Of Tristan Carlucci, who played several roles including Planchet] Tristan is a grad of our program. I directed him in Faustus (2009). Since graduation, he’s worked at a variety of theatres, but his key “bread and butter” is film work – and particularly he does stunts, working with Rick [Skene, retired THFM professor/Fight Director for The Three Musketeers/Co-founder of Skene Stunts Inc.]. When I was first reading the play and saw [the role of] Planchet, I thought, “This has got to be Tristan.” He’s great at physical humour. He’s a warm and generous performer and very energetic.

Planchet (Tristan Carlucci) clings to D'Artagnon's (Melissa  Langdon's) leg.

Christopher Brauer shares that “When I was first reading the play and saw [the role of] Planchet, I thought, This has got to be Tristan [Carlucci].”
Photo credit: Dylan Hewlett; Set Design: Brian Perchaluk; Costume Design: Michelle Bohn; Lighting Design (and THFM CAS member): Scott Henderson 

Tristan was a terrific student when he was here and, again, his work was very physical, which you don’t always see. He built a relationship with Rick when he was in our program. After graduation, Rick recommended training courses for Tristan and then [Rick] brought him on [into the company]. It was the same with Alan Castanaga, who was in the same year as Tristan. Alan was one of the standbys for Musketeers and he was terrific! And there were others who did stunts, e.g., Shannon Guile, Hera Nalam, and Krystle Snow. We brought in basically Rick’s entire stunt team, and they’re almost all our grads. Just an amazing bunch of UWinnipeg grads.

[Of Melissa Langdon, who was cast in the lead as D’Artagnan] Mel has a sort of earnestness. I taught Mel when they were here. They were in Concord Floral [gesturing to a poster from a previous THFM production]. They just have a great spirit. I was worried because they didn’t have a big fight background, but I also knew they have a tremendous work ethic. They had learned basic sword craft, but really the first day of fights, they didn’t look like a seasoned fight person – and everybody else was. But by the end, they were really flying through those fights!

D'Artagnon (Melissa Langdon) sits on the edge of the stage, turned to her right and raising a glass to one of the Muskateers 

Of Melissa Langdon as D'Artganan, Christopher Brauer says that, “I’ll never forget the first performance when D’Artagnan became a musketeer at the end: the audience cheered and applauded, and they did every night! . . . And that's really on Mel.”
Photo credit: Dylan Hewlett; Set Design: Brian Perchaluk; Costume Design: Michelle Bohn; Lighting Design (and THFM CAS member): Scott Henderson 

I’ll never forget the first performance when D’Artagnan became a musketeer at the end: the audience cheered and applauded, and they did every night! You never really know if [the audience] is going to take to a character and be part of their journey. And they clearly were. And that’s really on Mel.

AM: And still with Melissa Langdon for a minute. I was at the production where D’Artagnon was looking for an important letter in his pocket and it wasn’t there. But they handled it so well that they got an extra laugh from the audience.

CB: That was very much our take on the show too. That is, we don’t let anything slide and we can quip with the audience. We have to build a relationship [with the audience] and we maintain that relationship, so that the audience never feels like it’s precious and there’s a wall between us and them. That was important.

AM: You worked with Rick Skene as a colleague for many years. How did having a long-term working relationship with him benefit the show?

CB: On top of being professional and friendly colleagues, we became close personal friends, so it was always sort of a dream to do a show together. When they called me for Musketeers, I said, ‘I’d love to do it, but I’d like to do it with Rick.’ And when they called Rick, he said, ‘I’d love to do it, but I’d like to do it with Christopher.’ It worked out quite nicely!

AM: How did the production illustrate what the UWinnipeg theatre program does so well?

CB:  We’re a liberal arts program. We’re very rigorous on the performance side, but our students don’t have the hours of training that they would have at a conservatory school. We really aim to give them the tools. In any graduating year, not all of them want to pursue acting professionally, but the three to five who do will be able to manage and then learn on the job and learn through ongoing skills training.

As I was auditioning and I saw the 100+ people, it was really easy to cast Mel, Tristan and all these UW people. Also, because I know them, I know their work ethic. I know we have a shorthand for communication; we can just be upfront and honest and we don’t have to be delicate with one another.

Because we, as instructors, we work in the field, it’s wonderful to build the relationships here that we can then carry on professionally when they’ve [students] had a bit of “seasoning” time. I wouldn’t typically bring somebody fresh out of school into a show like Musketeers because they aren’t seasoned enough yet and don’t necessarily have the technique. But they’ve got the skills, so when they get that bit of seasoning, I’m thrilled to have them. And to see them in all positions. We had UWinnipeg grads backstage and on the stage management team, as well as on stage.

We all live and work here, so they’re building relationships with us and we’re employing them. I was talking to our out-of-town actors and they were remarking on what a wonderful experience it was for them to be part of a show where there was such a depth in the relationships. Everybody had known each other for a long time and were warm with each other, whereas often a show feels like a bunch of strangers coming together and at the end they’re gone again. In this case, I see those cast members all the time. They live in my neighbourhood.

Who knows if I’ll get another [RMTC] Mainstage gig ever. As they say, ‘the rising tide lifts all boats,’ and it was really important for me – and for Rick as well – to make sure we helped a lot of people with this gig and that felt really good. And they acquitted themselves really well out there. I was really happy about that.

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