Lenin’s Embalmers: Director’s Note

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“Lenin’s Embalmers”, a hilarious, dark, and satirical comedy from our Governor General’s Award-winning comrade Vern Thiessen is on stage now at the Ernie Checkeris Theatre in Sudbury. It is the Encore Theatre Company’s second mainstage of the 2013 Season.

As a director, this show pushed me to the brink. I am dumbfounded, confounded, and astonished that we were able to produce this brilliant, yet intimidating piece of theatre.

Honestly, it didn’t read so big on the page. But once you get into it, holy God.

Learn more about the play and our production here.

Anyways, we have begun the run and hopefully it will be strong. Hopefully it will have an audience. And hopefully, it will make our dear comrade, Vern, proud and will do his work justice.

This is only the third Canadian production of “Lenin’s” (the second, if you don’t count the Toronto remount) and our first mainstage comedy, so there’s a lot to prove and a lot at stake.

Here is the novel I wrote for the “Lenin’s” audience, appearing in the production program. Maybe it explains some stuff. Maybe it doesn’t.

More than anything else, I am grateful for the people I have the priviledge of working with on this show, both on and backstage, and I am awestruck by how precisely they have brought my vision to life.

In many ways, Lenin’s Embalmers is a daunting show to produce: eight actors, short scenes in many different locations, an embalming, the passage of time, many props, an embalming, some combat, an embalming.
 
Oh, and it has to be funny too.
 
In most ways, this is Encore’s most ambitious production to date. On the page, it’s a little scary. In the rehearsal room, it’s sheer terror. In performance, well, you tell me.
 
My receding hairline was certainly hastened in conceiving our production of “Lenin’s”. I struggled for months after we announced the season to come up with a vision that served Vern’s text but could also work within the (limited) resources of the fragile Encore bank account.
 
What I came up with is, I think, a grand departure from the typical convention of stagecraft. You see, the typical play will try to pretend it is not a play, using all kinds of visual trickery of set, light, and sound. Our production embraces its reality: it’s nothing but a play.
 
Vern Thiessen does a great service to the director in his opening script notes:
 
“I encourage producers to cast the best actors regardless of gender, age, race or disability. Non-naturalism in design, acting and directing is encouraged.”
 
Those two sentences were an incredible gift in bringing Lenin’s Embalmers to life.
 
I thought, “what if the set was just a playing space? What if the actors never really left that space? What if they were always in the scene even when they’re not actually in the scene?”
 
And this is the result.
 
I’m always anxious as hell when directing actors, especially good actors (like this ensemble). I can never really tell if they’re following me down into the depths of hell willingly or against every fibrous instinct in their bodies.
 
In either case, I take full responsibility for what you’re about to see. This ensemble has been a joy to work with and, gun to their heads or not, they have followed me into the abyss.
 
While we’re at it, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Cambrian College Theatre Arts Technical Production Program, who have been with us since the beginning. Ken Salah and his students are class acts and we owe a great deal of any success we have had, or will have, to their labours.
 
I would be remise if I didn’t acknowledge Lisa O’Connell, the artistic director of Pat the Dog Playwright Centre, for introducing me to this wonderful and colourful text. Lisa has taken a special interest in our community and I, for one, am eternally grateful for it.
 
I also must thank our Dear Comrade Vern, not just for the words, but for his surprising and gracious support of our little production. We don’t hear too many whispers up here from the Big Names in Canadian Theatre and so his enthusiasm and encouragement has truly invigorated us.
 
Vern, we’re saving a seat for you in spirit!
 
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And of course, a humble thanks to the most important variable in the equation: you, the audience. Thank you for supporting our work and for actually enduring the novel that is this director’s note.
 
I sincerely hope you enjoy the show.
 
“Lenin’s Embalmers” runs until April 27 at the Ernie Checkeris Theatre at Thorneloe University. For tickets and information, click here.
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