Vancouver premiere of Doubt opens tonight

It’s no secret amongst her students who Michèle Lonsdale Smith’s all-time favourite playwright is. Well, okay, in truth it’s probably a tie between John Patrick Shanley and Chekhov, but it’s Shanley that she hands out more of in class. Michèle heads up the Lyric School of Acting here in Vancouver, and is also the artistic director of my company; Lyric Stage Project. When Shanley’s mega-hit and mass award-winning (including a Tony for best play and, oh, um…the pulitzer) parable Doubt starting making the scene study rounds a couple of years ago in Michèle’s master class, she would tell whoever she assigned the role of Mrs. Muller to that, just so they knew, she was pretty sure Shanley had written that role just for her, and that one day she was destined to play it when it finally premiered in Vancouver, just you wait. Not to put any pressure on the student, or anything.

Flash forward to this past summer, the Arts Club acquires the rights to said Shanley opus, auditions are held and, well, suffice it to say that sometimes dreams do come true. Doubt opens tonight at the Stanley with Michèle sharing the stage with a dream cast comprised of the Grande Dame of Vancouver theatre; Gabrielle Rose, the incomparable Jonathon Young and the wonderful Sasa Brown. Here’s a first look…

Michèle Lonsdale Smith as Mrs. Muller, and Gabrielle Rose as Sister Aloysius, in the Arts Club Theatre Company's production of Doubt. Photo by David Cooper
Michèle Lonsdale Smith as Mrs. Muller and Gabrielle Rose as Sister Aloysius, in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Doubt. Photo by David Cooper.
Jonathon Young gets to the point as Father Flynn. Photo by David Cooper
Jonathon Young gets to the point as Father Flynn. Photo by David Cooper

Gabrielle Rose, Sasa Brown as Sister James and Jonathon Young. Photo by David Cooper
Gabrielle Rose, Sasa Brown as Sister James and Jonathon Young. Photo by David Cooper
Jonathon and Gabrielle, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Photo by David Cooper.
Jonathon and Gabrielle, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Photo by David Cooper.

This One Goes to Eleven: Michèle Lonsdale Smith

Michèle graduated from the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in the late ’80s. Since then she has devoted herself to her craft in every aspect of its forms, as actor, teacher, director, writer, and producer. She is the co-founder and artistic director of Lyric School of Acting and Lyric Stage Project, with whom she just finished directing the company’s first two plays. She recently adapted A Winter’s Tale for the stage from a screenplay which she co-wrote and helped develop, and which was awarded Outstanding Canadian Feature at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto this past May.

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1.) Describe your present condition in one word.

Uninhabited.

2.) What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t before directing these plays?

That there’s so much more to know, to say, to do.

3.) What is the responsibility of today’s theatre?

I don’t know the answer to that in general terms. I know what I would like my theatre experience to be. Engaged in a LIVE moment-to-moment visceral spectacle that stimulates my mind, body, and spirit and takes me to a new world I’ve yet to experience, only a few feet away. In the process, to be surprised, even jolted, entertained, and to have my (our) condition mirrored back to me no matter how ugly or dark and find beauty, joy and inspiration there.

I believe we’re smack dab in a renaissance of theatre globally. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking and in reality the theatre is, and has always been, in a state of flux, I don’t know. But in any event, I dream of seeing as many people going to the theatre as easily and as matter-of-factly as they go to experience other moving art – movies, television, concerts. So I suppose it’s incumbent on all of us (dare i say duty) to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

4.) What was your biggest challenge in forming a theatre company?

The will to keep going.

5.) Where will Vancouver theatre be in 5 years?

The dream of course is that we will have ourselves a little village of theatre spaces and companies sprouting everywhere, and one day find ourselves in the midst of a vibrant and indigenous version of off-broadway. There’s certainly a sense that it’s on its way there.

6.) Posit the artist’s value in our current society.

Mandatory. Limitless. Life-changing.

7.) What is the balance between the artist and the critic?

I think the critic has to be an artist. And not a frustrated one. But one who sees his/her writing (review) as a piece of art and therefore, we hope, has some degree of integrity. If you believe the critic to be an honest and intelligent one, and that his/her motives are truly about the elevation of a certain standard, then it doesn’t matter… negative or positive – is it constructive? Does it help in the growth of an artist’s future work? But you know, like most artists, I loathe 99% of all critics.

8.) Do you have a unifying theory on actor training?

I think actors have to learn to teach themselves to grow. the success of an actor’s development is wholly dependent on how well they know themselves and the world around them, how much they love to learn, and whether they’re constantly evolving as human beings. Life is the best teacher an actor will ever have and it’s forever at their disposal.

And so I believe the best formal actor training mimics this process. It supposes that the actor is intelligent enough to cultivate his/her own theories, technique and depth of heart over a lifetime, and should do so while working with many teachers, many techniques, whose ideologies are fundamentally based in truly experiencing oneself (ones humanity) within all of it. In the end, that gives us an original actor, a unique voice… an artist.

9.) What are your top 3 must-reads for the developing actor?

Impossible to name just three. Here are just seven. Of course there are many more dissertations on acting development and a million plays and millions of books that seemingly have nothing whatsoever to do with acting. I don’t think an actor can read enough….of just about anything. If the book you’re reading is about life…it’s about acting too.

. The Art of Acting by Stella Adler
. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen
. A Dream of Passion by Lee Strasberg
. Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner
. An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
. To the Actor by Michael Chekhov
. The Intent to Live by Larry Moss

 

10.) What is the relationship between TV/film and theatre in terms of the actor’s ambition?

This of course is highly dependent on the individual actor and what his/her dreams and career goals are. I think often actors are motivated by the allure of the medium of film and television, rather than the work they actually get to do within that medium. Certainly, an actor’s exposure can be incomparable in film/TV and much much more money can be had. But the work experienced by an actor on stage often rivals most work, most actors will ever experience from film and TV.

I think theatre is a necessary component in an actor’s repertoire and growth as an artist, and I believe it’s necessary to continue to work on stage throughout a career, regardless of how much or how little TV and film the actor has done… “a li’l bit of this, a li’l bit of that.”

It occurs to me that some of whom I consider to be the best film and television actors working have an umbilical-chord kind of attachment to the theatre.

11.) What’s next?

The beach.