In the film, The Full Monty, six unemployed British steel workers renew their sense of manhood and self by forming a strip tease act. The Americanized Broadway show ran for two years, earning many Tony nominations and several Drama Desk Awards, including Best Music. Montreal’s process-focused theatre company, Beautiful City Theatre, revives the production with a full band and a charismatic young cast. Not only can they sing and dance, but it seems they learnt a thing or two about choreography. I spoke with director Calli Armstrong and one of the six main actors, Dave Handelman (Harold), about the show.
Rachel Levine (RL): What is the show about?
Dave Handelman (DH): The show is about six unemployed steel workers who find that their lives are empty and they need to band together to create something in order to find fulfillment and friendship.
Calli Armstrong (CA): They realize that along the way, they start out really down on their luck and desperate, one guy is trying to see his kid, one guy has a wife who likes to keep buying expensive things and he wants to keep that lifestyle. They’re all drowning. They’re all facing different pressures, and wanting more in their lives. They’re struggling at this point in their lives. Throughout the show, they’re building a strip number, but the important part is that they find connection, self-acceptance, solutions, and live through their different struggles.
DH: Another theme is how masculinity is tied to employment. When they find that they’re unemployed, they feel less like men.
CA: In that way, the show critiques gender roles. It asks what is a man or a woman supposed to be. The women in show are more employed than men.
RL: The show culminates in a male strip tease. Was getting naked part of the audition?
DH: We had to prepare a one minute contemporary monologue and one minute of choreography and choreograph ourselves. I spent 2 ½ hours coming up with one minute. There was no nudity.
CA: We have the cast act as their own choreographers. It’s about six guys who are non-dancers who choreograph a dance number. In order to make the show as authentic and real as possible, we wanted them to experience that process. The choreography is done by the actual cast members. We wanted to make sure people were comfortable doing choreography, but we had no stripping in the audition pieces. On the other hand, we did a mini interview talking about the role of nudity in order to assess comfort level and if they had questions. Nudity is something we as a company take seriously. There’s a time and a place for it. We wanted to make sure everyone is comfortable with it. So one of the most important things we do is to try to create as safe space for our participants and create a space where people can be themselves, no matter what their ethnicity, sexual or gender identity, or spirituality.
RL: How did you get the actors to choreograph the numbers, especially the final one?
CA: We tried to warm them up with some workshops at the beginning to explore movement. We started with what the actors brought to the table, as opposed to teaching them. We taught a couple of steps, but the ideas are meant to come from characters of the show. We did some workshops and went to Westmount YMCA for one of our rehearsals and played basketball with a real ball and imaginary balls. It is hard and difficult to work and develop collaborative choreography at all and to do it all without a lot of experience. We put them up to a challenge and they met it using a variety of strategies.
DH: For most of the numbers and especially the last number, it was a collaborative effort. We tried things eight beats at a time and it took a lot of time.
CA: We try and guide them when appropriate. Our company, Beautiful City Theatre, is process oriented. Our metric for success is that we hope that everything we value has been done before opening night. The show itself is important and we want people to experience being on stage, but by the time we get there they’ve experienced something profound already.
RL: What do you think are the key messages of the show?
CA: I think it’s always good when we can work on ourselves and work on self- acceptance and forgiveness and recognizing diversity and celebrating that diversity and that’s what this company is about. The show really does that and acknowledges some of the stereotypes that are out there. By the end of the show we’re rooting for the guys and they have opinions that we don’t agree with and they can be sexist and homophobic, yet we can understand them. They come to understand and accept each other.
DH: If I had to wrap it up: be who you are.
The Full Monty plays at the Centaur Theatre (453 St. Francois-Xavier) January 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m., and February 1st at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-35.