The Collection examines ‘the strange hormonal competition between men,’ says director Jordan Schartner
Go See a Play. It sits somewhere between a command and a plea, but it’s also the name of an ad-hoc group of young theatre professionals who have most recently banded together for a production of The Collection, by Harold Pinter.
The play follows two couples, Stella and James (Rachael Johnston and Rylan Wilkie), and Bill and Harry (Tyrell Crews and Joseph Sutherland), all of whom work in the fashion industry. “James forges a bizarre relationship with Bill, because of a peculiar obsession and his search for identity,” says director Jordan Schartner. “Pinter is amazing at giving a gradual reveal of information, so I don’t want to give a plot summary, but it definitely explores the strange hormonal competition between men.”
Small productions typically face many challenges, but this one is receiving a great deal of support from the business community, including hairstyles by Deva Dave Salon Boutique and set pieces from Amber’s Furniture. “They’re basically loaning us a living room,” says Schartner.
I join the cast and crew of The Collection at Smyth & Kang, a high-end clothing boutique that has come on-board as the play’s costume sponsor. “The show involves four fashion industry workers,” says Schartner. “What better partner than Smyth & Kang? They’re on the cutting edge of Calgary fashion — global fashion, really — so we’re here to pillage their clothes.”
The show’s production designer, Mike Patton, has pre-selected some items for the actors to try on. “Hopefully it fits, because we can’t alter the clothes at all,” he says. “We have to return them, so I can maybe pin them, but I can’t hem or press.” When Patton works on a larger production, he often has access to a full costume shop. “At this level of theatre, it’s beg, borrow, steal,” he laughs. “Right now, we’re borrowing.”
Fortunately, because the play isn’t set in a particular time period, Patton is able to dress the actors in contemporary clothing. “Because they’re all fashion designers, I really want their clothing choices to be deliberate,” he says. “Nowadays, people just throw stuff on because it’s on the top of a shelf. I’m looking for sharp lines, slim-fit, very clean.”
“We were chatting with Dave Richards from Deva Dave this morning,” says Crews. “He’s doing the hairstyles for the show, and it’s really interesting how very specific, clean, straight lines indicate power. This show is all about power struggles, so that really informs who these people are and why they act in a certain way.” Crews, decked out in dark-wash denim jeans and a stylish cardigan, looks decidedly deliberate. “It’s great to have Smyth & Kang on board, because it’s two facets of the arts in Calgary working together,” he says. “The fashion industry meets the theatre artists.”
The apparel for Johnston’s character, Stella, has some very specific criteria to fulfil. “She’s a high-fashion dress designer, so we have to find something that reflects that,” says Johnston. “But in the second half of the play, we also need to reflect her vulnerability. We found some high-power fashion suits for the first half, and a lovely flowing blouse for the second.”
Johnston emphasizes that actors’ clothing is integral to the way they carry themselves. “Shoes, especially, really inform the way you walk,” she says. “In this show, I’m wearing light heels and straight cut pants. The whole thing straightens my spine and makes me carry myself a bit taller, which says a lot about the character.”
Sutherland, the last actor to be fitted, agrees. “The ‘character’ is me,” says Sutherland. “The clothing needs to be something that I feel comfortable in. I think anyone can relate to that; think of the way you feel coming home in your work clothes, then switching into your jammies. It affects everything about how you see yourself and how others perceive you.”
Every actor should have a say in picking their costume, says Sutherland, adding that too often, actors are told, “This is what you’re going to wear,” which typically doesn’t mesh.
The Go See a Play team is a busy bunch; Schartner and Johnston, for example, are currently rehearsing Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure with Vertigo Theatre, and Wilkie is rehearsing Essay & The Russian Play with Urban Cuvz.
“I think, at this level, you have to work on at least two or three shows at the same time to make a living,” says Patton, “or at least pay the rent and buy Kraft Dinner.” On top of The Collection, Patton is in the midst of designing the set for The Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“It’s challenging in a number of ways,” says Johnston of rehearsing two shows simultaneously, “not least of which is stamina. I get energy from working with these guys. It’s a small production, so let’s not kid ourselves, we may not make any money. That’s not why we’re here. It’s amazing to step into a rehearsal hall with a fun, lighthearted team, working so hard to realize this project.”