A Two-For-One Deal!An Interview With the Cast of Tongues & Savage/Love
By Julia Bifulco
Tongues & Savage/Love is a production by the second-year students of Dawson’s Professional Theatre program, directed by Stefanie Buxton. It opens Wednesday, March 11th and will run until Saturday, March 14th. Tickets will be sold at the door, and it is pay what you can. The two plays, Tongues by Sam Shepard, and Savage/Love by Shepard and Joseph Chaikin were written separately in the 1970s but are meant to be performed together.
Cast members Vassiliki Gicopoulos, Nathalie Dantch, Emma Salkeld, Michael Atallah, and Fanny Dvorkin explain that the plays complement each other, since both explore the themes of love, life, death, and hope. Savage/Love is a compilation of eighteen love poems that contrasts with the existentialist Tongues, which deals with the life cycle.
The cast says they work through everything as an ensemble. Decisions are made by individuals but are meant to benefit everyone in the group. The music in the show, for example, has been collectively orchestrated by the cast throughout rehearsals. The original show has percussion in it, but in this production, the percussion is the foundation for the music they’ve added, like violins and guitars.
They have also altered the staging of the plays: “our director wanted a very minimal set,” they say, “because she wanted us to be the focus of it.” In terms of objects, they have a props table onstage with all of their instruments, LED lights, and a swing, but that’s it. The lighting has also been minimally adapted, as they have added lots of lamps to the set.
Cast members maintain the same character in both plays, as per their director’s wishes. They say that the plays can be read as though they have one voice throughout, but adding a performative element” was something they had to do themselves. “It was like, ‘here are your sections,’ and part of the work we did away from rehearsal was figuring out ‘who is this person saying these sections?’ and ‘what would cause a single person to say these lines?’,” they say of the process of creating their character’s worlds around them.
According to the actors, an important thing to follow when watching the plays is “being able to see which characters live together onstage” even when the cast is working as an ensemble. An interesting aspect, however, is that “anyone could be talking to anyone because of the ways in which these situations apply to everyone,” including audience members. It’s notable that the plays were originally written to be performed by only two people.
“Apart from casting and choosing the play, we’ve been very much involved in everything else,” the cast says, “We’re a huge part of the creative process: the music, the sound, the costumes, the set, the props; we have a lot of creative leeway for this production.” This is thanks to the piece being performed: “because it’s so open-ended, whatever the text means to each one of us can be interpreted in different ways”.
When asked what their favourite part of the show is, each cast member made the show sound more and more interesting. “The text is so beautiful,” says Dvorkin, “it’s not the kind of play you get to put on often in a student context, or even in Montreal. It’ll push the boundaries of what most people have seen so far, but not in an alienating way.”
“Starting off using percussion as a foundation to add more musical elements was a great process; working together to figure that out was really great,” Atallah says. The rest of the cast agrees, and Salkeld adds: “The fact that it’s such an ensemble piece is beautiful; having so many people onstage gives such a visual impact. We can all come together and partake in the magic of the piece.”
Dantch says, “The most stunning element of our show is how human it is. It’s not hard to understand, and it’s going to reach every single audience member no matter who they are.” Gicopoulos has a similar stream of thought: “I love the spirituality; not in the religious sense, but there’s this energy that floats around us. It feels like we’re pulling you into our world for an hour and fifteen minutes, but it’s just as much your world as it is ours. We’re not speaking at you, but having a conversation with you.”
Be sure to make your way to the Dawson Theatre from March 11th to the 14th “with an open heart and no expectations”. Oh, and don’t be ashamed if you cry; the cast confirms that many tears have been shed in rehearsal.