Cassidy Thomson and Lauren Holfeuer finished school last April and had their first meeting for the new theatre company a week later. Before the end of the month, they’d picked two plays to produce in 2011.
Everyone in their upcoming play Still Life is a U of S grad: Kristen Holfeuer directs, Terri Morgan is the stage manager and Chris Hapke plays Mark, the play’s main character. Thomson and Holfeuer play Mark’s wife and mistress.
Thomson said they wanted to choose something that would shake up the Saskatoon audience.
“We wanted to find something that would be more challenging for Saskatoon audiences,” she said. “I feel sometimes, a lot of times, due to the constraints of commercial theatre, you have to make money, you have to do things that are more generally popular and those things tend to be more just entertaining and not a challenging piece of artwork.”
“We chose a work that is an acting piece,” added Holfeuer. “It’s about pure storytelling and the actors communicating the story straight to the audience.”
Still Life is a docu-drama, or testimonial-style theatre. The play itself is a true story; playwright Emily Mann interviewed three people and turned the interviews into a play.
“It’s about a soldier who’s come home from an unpopular war and that’s a reality of our time right now,” said Holfeuer.
Still Life is also unconventional because the actors break the fourth wall, telling their story directly to the audience.
There is only one story, told by three different people; it’s up to the audience to decide which contradictory story holds the most truth.
“When you graduate from an art program at the U of S, it’s kind of tough because you live in this safe little haven of the art world on campus.”
When looking at plays, they had to find one that was not only appropriate for them and the Saskatoon audience, but also feasible as a first production project.
“It’s really expensive and complicated producing,” said Thomson, “so we had to pick a project that had a smaller cast that wouldn’t require a really expensive set, that could be done more simply.”
They both agreed that one of the biggest challenges in starting their own theatre company has been learning the business aspects. While they learned some of the aspects of producing through the drama department program, nothing prepared them for the real world.
“When you graduate from an art program at the U of S, it’s kind of tough because you live in this safe little haven of the art world on campus,” said Thomson. “You have teachers guiding you and there’s plays for you to be in with audiences that come to see it; it’s safe and it’s great. Then you graduate and you sit on your parents’ couch and watch TV.”
“There’s no work-placement program,” quipped Holfeuer.
With no next step, Thomson said they decided to make it happen themselves. But Thigh High Theatre is a labour of love; both women work minimum wage jobs and they’re prepared to make no money with the upcoming show, though they are paying their employees minimum wage for their work on the production.
Their second production is Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, playing in March as part of the Live Five series. This more ambitious show includes a six-person cast and is produced in conjunction with Josh Ramsden’s Strike Twice Productions, another U of S grad.
They said they hope future projects will be as challenging as the two they’ve chosen so far. Part of their goal with Thigh High Theatre was to produce plays that showcase what they learned at the U of S.
“In school we learned a lot of interesting acting theories and ways of approaching theatre and devising pieces,” said Thomson. “We created all these beautiful scenes and works and projects that we presented to our 10 classmates that [no one else] ever got to see”¦. We wanted to take what we’ve learned and present it to a wider audience and make it more accessible.”