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October 24, 2002 New company premieres play by Englsih teacher



From the cast of Still Once, Harry Standjofski and actress Diana Fajrajsl.

Photo courtesy of Nouveau Théâtre Anglais

by Clare Byrne

A regrettable feature of modern society, according to Thomas Morison, playwright and teacher in Concordia’s creative writing department, is that we are “constantly giving each other permission to be boring.”

He sees it in theatre all the time: disengaged audiences yawning politely, held hostage to the self-indulgent ramblings of the writer. A far cry from Shakespearian times, when dull texts were met with a volley of vegetables.

He takes pains to impress upon his playwrighting students that whatever goes up on stage must be interesting. It’s all about engaging the spectators, said Morison, without specifically catering to them. Judging by the synopsis of his own play, Still Once, which premiered in Montreal last night, it’s a maxim he applies to his own work, too.

The central character, Howard, is a “domestic tyrant who rails against the failings of all things, including other people, insects and inanimate objects” in a tragicomedy that “visits our world and then leaves it behind.” There’s mention of bicycle rides, and balloons tied with the wishes of children, of a woman who waters her flowers in the rain and inappropriate flirtations.

“It’s adventurous,” Morison admitted.

Harry Standjofski, a familiar figure in the city’s theatre scene and one of the few Quebec actors to perform in both English and French, plays Howard. Michael Springate, former artistic director of Playwright’s Workshop, directs.

Their presence “made all the difference in the world” when it came to applying for grants to help stage the play, Morison said.

He and Standjofski go back a long way, all the way to Concordia’s theatre department in 1980, when they were both students. Theirs was a good year. “The fact that a whole whack of us are still doing it [theatre] testifies to that,” said Standjofsky, who has been teaching acting and playwrighting at Concordia since 1986.

Indeed, the Still Once team positively teems with Concordia connections. Kathryn Cleveland, the production stage manager, and Stéphane Zarov, who plays Howard’s anxious neighbour Vern, are both former students. Michael Springate has also taught acting at Concordia in the past.

This is the first chance they have had to all work together, and their enthusiasm is palpable. “It’s a family thing,” said Standjofski. “We can almost finish each other’s sentences.”

Too often, Canadian theatre involves dropping a bunch of people from across the country into a room and expecting them to get on together and create art, he said. The best theatre is produced when the actors “don’t have to sniff each other out.”

Both Standjofski and Morison concur on what it takes to make a great playwright. Playwrighting is all about honing the craft, they say. It’s not like writing fiction. Technique is all-important.
“Most students are surprised at how difficult it is to write a play,” Morison said. “They get caught up in telling a story and forget about maintaining interest.”

Acting poses a different set of challenges. Standjofsky’s advice to budding thespians is that they believe in their own originality. Don’t copy anyone else, he urges. Who you are is what we notice.

Still Once promises originality on several levels.

What starts off as a realistic story ends up quite fragmented, according to all accounts. Visually, too, we can expect a very striking play.

Finally, the production itself is in the hands of a new English theatre company. Founded by Thomas Morison and Michael Springate, it goes by the tongue-in-cheek name of the Nouveau Théâtre Anglais.

Still Once will play February 12 – March 2 at Théâatre La Chapelle, 3700 St. Dominique. Tickets $12 - $18; Tuesdays are pay-what-you-can. For times, please call the box office, 843-7738.