Aesop’s Fables

By Sean Sullivan

Students and faculty from the School of Creative and Performing Arts are collaborating between the dance, drama and music programs for a production of Aesop’s Fables, running Oct. 22 to Nov. 2. The production is the first performance since the departments of dance, drama and music rebranded themselves as the School of Creative and Performing Arts.

Six acting students, four music students and four dance students are collaborating for the interpretive performance, providing a mix of all three disciplines for each of the 18 fables being performed.

“There’s nothing like working with somebody who has a different expertise than you,” Patrick Finn says, who’s directing the production. “You’re learning nonstop and that’s so exciting. It’s continually inspiring.”

The merger of the different departments into the School of Creative and Performing Arts was announced back in July after extensive discussion on how the programs could work together to promote the opportunities the University of Calgary faculty of arts offers and to help facilitate collaboration and improve on the more than 200 performances and concerts the three programs offer every year.

Acting director of SCPA Alan Bell had said at the time that fostering inter-department co-operation and encouraging student projects that incorporated all three disciplines were a big part of the decision behind bring the departments together.

Celebrating the launch of the new school and kicking off the 2013–14 drama season, Aesop’s Fables is the first full collaboration between the three departments.

Finn from the department of drama wrote and directed the performance while Bell, from the department of music, composed the sounds and music. Melissa Monteros and Wojciech Mochniej, both from the dance program, choreographed the production. April Viczko from the drama program designed the images projected on the back of the stage during the performance.

In addition, two art installations related to the production, created by David Daley and Daniel Dunbar from the art department, will be set up in the hall outside the University Theatre.

Of the hundreds of fables credited to Aesop, the list was narrowed down to 18 fables for the show and arranged based on the principles of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.

Finn says he chose the model of the hero’s journey to help find a way for all the different types of artists to collaborate. Each of the 18 fables is a reinterpretation of the fables, taking aspects of the story — the animal characters’ traits, the morals and the thematic elements — and finding different ways, through acting, dance and music to present these ideas in new and interesting ways.

“We’re using them as models for inspiration,” Finn says. “The framework is just a frame that allows us to collaborate in as creative a way as possible and have that as our kind of spine.”
Sometimes the results are more abstract. Sometimes they are more straight forward.

Each of the fables incorporates the different artistic approaches often with one method of interpretation, whether music, dance or acting, taking the lead. The mix of different art forms means that students from one discipline are required to learn and perform another form. The musicians are in some scenes performing or dancing, dancers are singing or acting and actors are singing or dancing.

“Clearly when we’ve got a part that’s complex and has a complex musical piece, the musicians are going to play that,” Finn says. “No one else is going to have that level of aptitude. But in general it’s an ensemble piece and we all work together to try and do the best we can for the scenes.”

Finn says it’s never all actors or all musicians during a specific fable. The performers are always collaborating and have been continually learning from each other.

Kelsey Koebel, a fourth-year dance student, says one of the challenges of acting for her was learning to project her voice and saying what her movements would normally say for her.

“I do a duet with one of the acting majors, but I’m the one saying the lines,” Koebel says. “I’ve never done that before and that’s terrifying at the start. They would give me tips on how to project and not have a shaky voice because I’m terrified.”

Simon MacLeod, student saxophonist in the music program, agreed that one of the big changes was learning to use his voice.

“As wind instrumentalists, flute and saxophone, we don’t tend to use our voice, our speaking voice,” MacLeod says. “We use our lung capacity but not necessarily our voice and because actors are constantly speaking and projecting we’ve had to experiment with vocal warm ups which has been very interesting.”

MacLeod is having to delve even further into acting for the production as he has been assigned a monologue, something he says is very new to him but that he’s excited to do.

“Memorizing as a whole is something that is new to almost all of the musicians in this show,” MacLeod says. “The type of music that we generally play we don’t have to memorize. We’ve got the stand and the music in front of us.”

MacLeod says that Bell composed music that was specifically designed so that the musicians could memorize it and still perform other aspects of the play, such as MacLeod’s monologue.
But MacLeod has also had to stretch his musical ability in another way — by loosening up.

“For the musicians it has been a very interesting experience working with the dance choreographers who lead our physical warm ups at the beginning of rehearsal,” MacLeod says.

Typically seated in a concert or orchestra, MacLeod says the music students developed a lot of tension in different area of their body that they had to work to relax. Part of their role in the production is being able to play a flute or saxophone in sometimes awkward positions.

“There is one fable where we have to get right down onto our hands and knees and be rolling around on the ground and still playing,” MacLeod says. “When we go into the practice room and practice we just stand there and play, but I’ve had to go into the practice rooms here and start rolling around on the floor.”

Koebel says that working with the different warm ups that each discipline has and the different ways of rehearsing and building material has been difficult.

“But it’s also been, other than a huge learning curve, a great experience,” Koebel says. “I’ve been able to change the way I work in my dance environment because of what I’ve gained from music and from acting.”

Riah Fielding-Walters, an actor in her final year of drama, who plays the production’s narrator, Joe, says that movement and dance is a great asset for actors to help them drop into a character and keep them alive on stage with their physical movement.

She says that one fable, that brings everyone on stage, is a great combination of all three disciplines. The segment involves all the actors, musicians and dancers appearing on stage for a fight scene with broadswords.

“With our swords clanking and hitting each other, it creates a sort of rhythm in and of itself,” Fielding-Walters says. “And then you have to be thinking why are you fighting? That’s the acting. The movement is the dance and the rhythm that we create is the music. I think it is the perfect amalgamation of all three in one piece.”

Finn says that faculty members are already discussing future collaborative projects, but he is especially excited to see what students come up with themselves and the kinds of projects they initiate.

“I think that the big secret, the big explosion is going to come from the students,” Finn says. “The contemporary art scene is far more multidisciplinary.”

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