At least two Beautiful City Theatre (BCT) productions have been theatre about theatre. The Full Monty is about a group of men getting their pluck together to get naked to raise money following layoffs. Circle Mirror Transformation examined the relationships of a theatre class through a series of acting games. A Chorus Line continues the BCTs meta-theatrical tradition. I spoke to Calli Armstrong and cast member and dance company director Ghislaine Doté about the show that will sadly be in Montreal for one spectacular night only.
The show A Chorus Line is about a group of dancers who are auditioning for a part in a chorus line. Doté is a choreographer herself and explains that a “chorus line” is “a line of dancers who do the same thing and look the same. They do the same movements with precision. Broadway hands and stuff like that.”
The show takes that concept and puts it into “real time, minute by minute,” Armstrong explains. “It’s about finding the right people to be in that line and it’s an intense audition room and Zach, the director, attempts to do that in a different way. Instead of looking at how the dancers move together, he asks them about their individual stories and to disclose things that are personal. It’s not appropriate for an audition process if you ask me. Many of them experience a conflict, because they want to show their real selves and be guarded. ‘Do I need to do this to get this job?’ is what they are thinking.”
Doté adds that this kind of audition isn’t the way chorus lines work anymore today. “The choreographer was very strong in the ’80s and ’90s. Things have changed. In the ballet world, it has evolved. It brings me back to how tough it was at that time.”
This sparks my interest, of course, and I want to know about Doté’s dance company, Virtu’O, and how it is different from the situation in A Chorus Line. “Basically with my dancers what I try to do is create with them. I have strong ideas, but try to get their collaboration and at the same time push them further than they think they can go,” she says. “I see their potential that they don’t see themselves. I have to push them. That’s my role as a choreographer. I come from a time when choreographers were super bossy. What I keep is the rigor of the work, to be disciplined, but the idea now is that we all work together.”
Doté notes that this is similar to the BCT, a company that has long since focused on process. “[Armstrong] has strong ideas and directions and we work together and she’s open to our ideas. It’s a collaborative process, more so than a dictatorship.”
Dancing isn’t Doté’s only strength. She’s also been singing in a choir since the age of six and has done extensive training through a private teacher, as well as Vanier College and someone from the McGill conservatory. She’s appeared in Yiddish Theatre productions as well.
Armstrong says not everyone in the show has the same wealth of experiences as Doté. Some of the cast are BCT alums, others are just people Armstrong and the company wanted to work with. “Daphne Morin was an intern with us this year. She never did a musical before. Her character doesn’t … or can’t sing and that’s part of her schtick. The character struggles with singing. It’s the first role in a musical for Daphne, but I think everyone has been onstage with us before and we have some people that we wanted to work with. Two examples are Marc Ducusin and Richard Martz. Richard is on our Board of Directors and has experience in the Yiddish Theatre Community.”
The diverse experiences of the performers mirrors the show. “We’re throwing them together. Some know each other and have performance relationships, and some have never met before,” explains Armstrong, “Compared with other BCT shows, where we emphasized process and exploring, this one is intentionally thrown together and intense in a short period of time. It’s more about being live in the space and less of us working together what our mutual connections are.”
Another parallel is that BCT didn’t run auditions for A Chorus Line. “We invited people to be part of it. Natalie Gershtein (BCT’s producer) and I talked about who would be a good fit for the show, and we chose the show because it’s an ensemble piece. It would be an opportunity to have many people participate and get involved,” says Armstrong.
Casting was pretty clear to Armstrong and her team. “We wanted people in certain roles,” she says. “Some people have the right energy. It isn’t about a matching backstory. It was more that each performer has a quality that I thought would lend itself to the role. They could tap into something genuine for that particular role. There are many performers in the cast that could play many roles, but from what I knew of the performers they would be in touch with certain roles. We wanted to find people who could bring a genuine voice to that particular role.”
Armstrong says she’s playing a character whose gender she doesn’t identify with. Doté adds that she had to create a backstory for her character that isn’t how she would handle things. “I was actually struggling to find [my character] Bebe,” Doté explains. “I’m not buying her story why she’s upset. I’m like, ‘No.’ Finally, I found something unrelated to her but could use to create her. That’s what I do in dance. If I can’t relate, I go with something I can identify with.”
Since this a non-dancing version of A Chorus Line, Doté also explained how she has to bring her dance into her singing. “I think what’s harder with singing and acting is that there’s not that same physicality as with dancing. I’m looking for ways to be more physical or to be more committed physically with my core in my singing so it’s not as… I don’t know. With dancing, it’s easy, because you get into a story physically. The story comes with the movement. With singing, it’s an intellectual story. I’m trying to dance my singing and dance my acting as well.”
For those who fear that this is the only BCT theatre piece of the year — fear not. BCT is planning on doing a full run with their mainstage show, Punk Rock in May.
A Chorus Line, in Concert runs for one night only so don’t miss it. December 5 at the Centaur Theatre. 8 p.m. $35. Tickets HERE. Punk Rock will be out in May 2016.