BWW Interviews: Mitchell Cushman talks TERMINUS and the Off-Mirvish Series
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by Kelly Cameron
Terminus was a smash hit at this year’s Summerworks Festival, receiving raves from critics and audience members alike. It is also the inaugural offering in the new ‘Off-Mirvish Season’, an exciting theatrical initiative that has Mirvish Productions presenting bold and original works very different from what they have done in the past.
Terminus is described as a ‘spoken word Irish rap Opera’ and was called an ‘absolute must-see’ by The Toronto Star. Audience members will be invited up onto the stage at The Royal Alexandra Theatre for this unique and immersive theatrical experience. The show chronicles one supernatural night in Dublin and is told through three separate stories and three performers. David Mirvish has said that he believes the stage at The Royal Alex is perfect for this show, as it will be set amongst the backdrop of old chandeliers and gorgeous photographs from the city’s historical past.
The entire Terminus team returns for this remount, which features performances by Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Wilson. BWW sat down to speak with director Mitchell Cushman, who’s company ‘Outside the March’ originally presented the show at Summerworks. He discusses the unique nature of this type of theatre, his feelings about the new Off-Mirvish Season and explains why he thinks everyone will enjoy Terminus:
Congratulations on having Terminus back on a Toronto stage! How’s it going so far?
Great! The original production was only about three months ago so we’ve been working hard to get it back up to speed. We have such a talented trio of performers to work with that it’s been a never-ending treat. They really do all the heavy lifting in this process.
How would you describe Terminus to someone who has never heard of it?
I’ve been calling it a lyrical Irish rap opera. It’s based in Irish story-telling, so if people are used to going to see a play that has a traditional stage and an elaborate set this will be a very different experience. It’s more like telling a story around a campfire. It’s got larger than life scenarios but they unfold in the imagination of the audience and it is a very intimate experience. At The Royal Alex we will have the audience sitting up on the stage and the proximity to the performers (as well as their proximity to The Edge of the stage) will really come into play.
Have you ever had something outrageous happen as a result of the non-traditional staging? Has anyone ever tried to join the show?
We’ve never had any problems with the audience trying to get directly involved with the show, and in this production the delineation between the performers and the audience is pretty clear. One of my last projects was Mr. Marmalade and we did it inside a kindergarten classroom. During that show people would get a bit more involved. No matter how the show is set, we always have careful guidelines to ensure that the performers are always in control.
What is it about site-specific theatre that appeals to you?
It’s a big part of our company’s mandate to present works which harness the power of theatre as an event. There are any number of ways to do that, a great script can do it all by itself. For us we want to use creative and different locations to help create the feeling of an event.
Terminus will likely be exposed to a very different type of audience demographic as part of the Off-Mirvish Season – do you think they will embrace it as openly as the Summerworks audience did?
We certainly hope so and I’m excited to find out! One of the things that was really exciting about doing this show at Summerworks was the broad demographics to which is appealed. It’s risky and graphic but I found people of all ages and walks of life really connected to the story telling aspect of the show. At Summerworks one of the things which was most interesting to me was watching the way the audience responded to the show and observing how they hung on the every word of the performers. We’re hoping it will be the same at The Royal Alex and we’re excited to share it with more people.
You mention the show being risky and graphic. Would you describe it as scary?
I think part of it is disturbing and it has elements of a ghost story, but it’s primary objective is not to scare people. That said, it does get under your skin. One of the things that is really remarkable about the writing is it has this power to terrify even though it’s only done through the words.
Was that part of what grabbed your attention when you read the script?
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of Irish theatre and that dark comedy cloth. I also love this type of story-telling and the merging of different mediums.
The show was a tremendous hit at Summerworks. Does its’ reputation cause you to feel a certain amount of pressure with regards to the remount?
I think if we feel any pressure it has more to do with the stage and the place we’re doing it in, it’s a much bigger microscope that we’re under. But we’re more excited just to get the chance to show it to more people and have more people experience it.
The show is the inaugural presentation of the new brand new Off-Mirvish Season. What do you think of this new initiative?
I think it’s fantastic and I think everyone wins. It’s so easy to feel as though there are two theatre communities in Toronto. We have the independent theatre community and then the big budget theatre community and they can feel very separate. At the end of the day though, it’s all performing arts and I think if the independent community could reach part of that larger audience, the audience would fall in love with it. We’ve seen that happen as we’ve built the audience base with our company. A frequent thing we hear people say is ‘Wow, I didn’t expect to like it so much.’ I think the hardest thing is just getting people in the door and I feel Off-Mirvish can offer these independent companies a foray into a larger audience, and from Mirvish’s point of view they get to be more involved in local work that’s being produced.
I think the times are shifting and the age of having the five year mega musical run might not be what we are anymore. We need to harness what can be unique about theatre that can help us compete with other mediums. Theatre can be very intimate and that’s what we are interested in offering.
Do you think that there is still room for the big budget type shows in light of the changing face of Toronto theatre?
Absolutely. I think that so many people are first turned on to the theatre through seeing something big and glitzy and in lights. I think the trick is taking someone who is attracted by that and convincing them to come out in larger numbers to the smaller productions and show them other forms of live performance that they haven’t given much thought to before. I’ve most often found that if you can get them in the door the work has wide appeal and isn’t necessarily as niche as we might think. It’s getting people there in the first place that is the challenge. How do you make that first connection with people? It’s very hard and hopefully Off-Mirvish can assist with that.
For a younger audience perhaps more familiar with the big budget type shows – what would be the number one thing you would say to encourage them to come see Terminus?
I think that there’s an element of spectacle to this show, it just might be a different kind of spectacle than what you see in a million dollar show. It’s athletic in the way that it’s performed and it’s a testament to see the performers do this. It should have a wide appeal to a younger audience which is what we saw at Summerworks.
What’s next for you?
Outside the March will be involved in a tri-production of a work by Sarah Ruhl. She wrote a three and a half hour epic piece called ‘Passion Play’ about people performing various passion plays. It’s really three plays that all link together and we’re doing it with two other independent companies. We are going to put it on together as an epic immersive production in a unique theatre venue. We haven’t announced where we’re going to do it yet but it’s going to be very exciting.
When and Where?
The Royal Alexandra Theatre
November 21st – December 9th, 2012
Tues-Fri at 8PM, Sat 2PM & 8PM, Sun 2PM & 7PM (no show Sun Nov 25 evening)
Seating is restricted to 200 on stage seats per performance. Tickets are $69 with same-day rush tickets available in person at the box office for $29. Tickets can be purchased in person, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com
For discounts on Terminus and other Outside the March programming, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and request to be added to their mailing list.
For more information on the inaugural Off-Mirvish season, visit their official website: http://www.mirvish.com/pages/offmirvish.