Centre Stage: Memorial Hall and the Need for More Space

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In our series Centre Stage, Grid City asks Fredericton theatre personalities to help shed some light on the city’s vibrant theatre scene.  This week we hear from Len Falkenstein, Director of Drama at the University of New Brunswick.

falkensteinWhat is your favourite city performance venue?

Fortunately, the one I spend most of my time in. Almost one hundred years old, Memorial Hall at UNB is both an incredibly gorgeous building and a wonderful theatre space. The beautiful, intricate woodwork, the marvellous stained glass windows (who wouldn’t feel inspired in a theatre where Shakespeare, Queen Bess, and the four horsemen are all looking down on you?). Often you forget about these things and then you see people walk in for the first time and the look on their faces as they look up and around. So it’s got character and atmosphere in spades, and as a performance space it is wonderfully intimate, has the best acoustics in the city, and can be configured in multiple ways depending on how you want to stage a show. Plus the creepy basement and resident ghost are great for spooking unsuspecting students.

Tell us about one production you caught over the past year that stuck with you.

When I was at last fall’s Vancouver Fringe Festival with my new play I saw a show called Aiden Flynn Lost His Brother So He Makes Another, by Theatre Howl out of my old hometown of Saskatoon. A beautiful, funny, macabre, and sad Frankenstein-inspired tale about a boy who builds a new brother to deal with his loneliness, from materials scavenged from around his farm. All told wordlessly, through movement, music, lighting, projection, and puppetry. I was utterly entranced by it, which is not something that happens that often. The genius of the way props were used, the richness and beautify of the pictures and story the cast created—all sheer magic, of a type that is unique to theatre and could only happen live on stage.

What upcoming production is on your radar as a must-see?

Well, that would have to be whatever the TNB Theatre School’s Junior Musical Theatre class will be tackling this spring. Because, of course, my daughter will be in it.

Producing a play for the stage presents a number of unique and exciting challenges. Which aspect of production do you enjoy the most?

It is probably that stage of things when rehearsals have mainly been completed and the set and technical elements get added to the show. Suddenly there’s so much there, a whole show, and a three dimensional world of set and colour and costumes and sound and lighting. I have a particular fondness for lighting. Building lighting cues is often the highlight of tech weekend for me. There’s just so much unique artistry to theatre lighting and it can have such dramatic and evocative power in a play.

For a small city, Fredericton has a great variety of theatre happening with each of the several companies representing a unique aspect of the city’s theatre scene.  What’s one major challenge you feel every company faces in producing theatre in Fredericton?

I’ll cheat and cite two significant practical issues that are problems for a large number of us producing theatre in the city. One is the very small number of experienced, professional technical/design personnel in the city. A large number of companies are depending on the same few people to make their shows happen. While we’re lucky that these people are as talented and dedicated as they are, they are way overworked and the situation is unsustainable in the long term.

The second problem relates to space. There is a desperate need in the city for another small, well-equipped, and affordable theatre space. So many small to medium-sized companies need  spaces to do shows in, and are making due with venues that are not well suited to theatre because that’s all there is and that’s all they can afford. Another good, accessible venue in the city would see the quality and quantity of shows rise dramatically.

Len Falkenstein is a director, playwright, actor, and dramaturge. He is Director of Drama at the University of New Brunswick, where he teaches theatre and playwriting. He is also Artistic Director of Fredericton companies Bard in the Barracks and NotaBle Acts Theatre Company, and produces his own work through his company, Theatre Free Radical. He holds a Ph.D in English from the University of Alberta and received his theatre training at the University of Saskatchewan.


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