Interview with Sabrina Auclair
The resilience of the arts in the face of all circumstances is one of the most uplifting signs that humans are more than a sack of water and a reptilian brain with a visual upgrade. The confined circumstances in which most of us find ourselves is mirrored by the 1979 Quebec play The Fairies are Thirsty (Les fées ont soif) in which three women confront the limits of their lives and identities. Snowglobe Theatre had planned to mount their English version of the show at the Mainline this May, but the situation prevented that. However, the three actresses and director made a decision to use the confinement in a meta-way and are doing the show online. The result promises to surprise with how virtual theatre can take advantage of its limitations and turn them into opportunities. I spoke to Sabrina Auclair, who plays Marie, the housewife about the show.
Auclair explains that The Fairies are Thirsty was considered to be the first feminist play in Quebec when it came out in 1979. “People protested in front of the theatre and didn’t want the show to go on stage. Montreal’s Council for the Arts refused to give funding for the show and it ended up in court because religious groups started an injunction process.” As always, controversy only brought attention and the show was a huge success.
The Fairies are Thirsty focuses on three feminine archetypes: the housewife (Sabrina Auclair) who is a stay at home mom and takes valium, the prostitute (Sandra Lee) who is sexually assaulted, and a statue of the Virgin Mary (played by Camila Fitzgibbon) who decries patriarchy and wants to break free from being a statue. Auclair explains that the show doesn’t really have a narrative arc. “It’s a really long poem,” she says. “There are monologues, songs, a lot of chorus work. The characters talk together and navigate the pressure that all three endure because of society and because of what men want from them. None of the three have much freedom over their life or ownership over their own bodies. They want to free themselves from the pressures of society they must endure.”
Of course, just as the three characters are pressured and confined in their respective roles, so too are we. Auclair explains that the medium of transferring the play online is a surprisingly good fit.
“This play talks about three women who are stuck in their own world, and because we’re all in our homes, physically separated,” she says. “There’s something that works well with how these women feel trapped. Doing a show via Zoom also works quite well. We are physically trapped. All the performers are in their own space and the play talks about that a lot. They’re all going through the same things. They don’t hear one another even if they talk. It works very well doing it online.”
Auclair mentions that there are challenges with the medium, of course. “There are scenes where we all speak at once and that doesn’t work with the technical aspects of Zoom. We had to change the director’s initial vision of the show a little bit.”
And of course, there are challenges with the costuming and the set. Everyone is using their own homes as the set and the lighting that’s around. Some needed props are set to be delivered. Auclair talks about how the actresses have all navigated this. “We can do awesome things with few means. All the performers have been very creative and have brilliant, clever ideas to change how their apartment looks. It’s trial and error, especially in the early stages. What about in front of a red curtain? Let’s keep that. What about when we talk in front of a mirror? Should the light be overhead or to the side?” Some of the stage magic is obtained by using the technology, such as blacking someone out by taping a sock over the camera.
Being home has the additional challenges of having partners and children around. Auclair’s cat makes regular appearances during rehearsals. Lee’s young daughter has come in to participate by copying the lines and movements. Auclair’s husband has volunteered to lock himself in the bathroom on show night.
“There’s nowhere else he can be. I use all the rooms. I even use balconies,” says Auclair.
But everyone understands the situation. “He’s an artist and understands those challenges of doing a show at home. It’s the reality of life. It’s just life. So there’s no point being angry at it or working against it. I think it’s brave of all the performers to do this in their own home with all the distractions. It’s a hard time financially for everybody. It’s a scary time. To do this in their own homes on their own free time, it’s really awesome.”
And of course, one doesn’t have the luxury of a transition of home to rehearsal space. “When I go to a rehearsal space, I can leave my personal things at the door. I can be there and be present at work. Now, I’ll be eating or on the phone right before rehearsal. It’s different to navigate from one to the other,” says Auclair.
But of all the things Auclair says are the most challenging, she mentions seeing herself act on Zoom. “It’s really strange because you don’t see yourself acting when you do film acting. Zoom is a weird medium for a performer. It’s being aware the camera is there and you can’t forget it is there and it affects how you perform and how it is translated. You can’t be looking at your face and assessing how you look when you cry. You have to forget that.”
But being online has allowed some incredible opportunities. For one, the show to continue, but also it allows for a bigger audience than they ever imagined. Auclair speaks about how her friends and family from coast to coast can see the show.
“The one thing that I like about this is that people from all over the country will be able to see it. This is special for me and a lot of the performers,” Auclair says. “I went to theatre school in Vancouver, so I have a lot of friends in Vancouver. Ever since I moved back here, they can’t see my shows. It is exciting for them to be able to see the performance and not be physically present. My husband’s family are from New Brunswick and my in-laws can watch the show. Our director, Kieran Hunt, is from Vancouver Island. His parents can watch the show. We were supposed to do it on stage and the only way to see it was to be there, but now we can bring in people from different communities.”
The virtual medium goes beyond just allowing friends and family to see the show, but also invites people who don’t go to the theatre to watch theatre because it is easier and more accessible, Auclair notes.
And while show night has its own set of upcoming challenges that are beyond the control of the performers, Auclair notes that even a live show can have things go wrong. She says, “People are understanding of that and the medium, and a show with so many technical challenges. I hope people will be kind and be able to appreciate it, even if there are technical problems.”
Auclair and all the performers are very excited to do the show. “We were scared but we all agreed to do it,” she says. “We were excited with this cool challenge and with what we’ve never done before.”
Overall she says that it’s unlikely digital theatre can replace theatre. She says, “Nothing will replace being in a room with people as a community and to tell those stories together. Digital theatre can’t replace that. In the meantime, it’s a cool outlet. I think it will be interesting and this might be a new medium used in theatre for awhile before we’re able to go back in person.”
You can watch The Fairies are Thirsty directed by Kieran Hunt on Saturday and Sunday May 23 and 24 from 8 to 9 p.m. It’s a pay what you can show (donations HERE). Information can be found HERE where a Zoom link should be posted the night of the show.