Black Hole Theatre Company opens new season
Personal experience for director Robert Smith reignites 29-year desire to stage The Sea
Two years ago Robert Smith, senior instructor in the Department of English, Film and Theatre in the Faculty of Arts, was with his wife in the Port of Calais preparing to take the ferry to England when he was confronted with the reality of the refugee crisis in Europe.
“We found ourselves in the midst of a host of people being pursued by police and paramilitaries,” says Smith.
It was that experience that rekindled Smith’s desire to stage The Sea, a play written by Edward Bond.
The Sea is about humanity’s conditioning towards violence told in a way that is both subtly funny, yet deeply disturbing. This darkly comic look at xenophobia and fear takes place in a British coastal town at the start of the 20th century. When a stranger emerges from an apocalyptic sea, the reactions of the townspeople set up a conflict whose outcome is both wrenching and irresistible.
It was that first-hand experience with xenophobia in Calais that reignited Smith’s desire to direct The Sea. “I thought of this play again, but only after I had come to terms with my feelings of confusion and dismay,” says Smith, director of The Sea.
“[In Calais] The authorities were driving hundreds of refugees back into the jungle and the sand dunes along the coast: virtually into the sea.”
“We wanted to show our audience that the world Bond presents is the world we live in,” says Smith. “We have worked with the script a little to bring it home, and to connect its historical parable to a time of global refugee crisis and political challenges to the spirit of toleration.”
“This all sounds too serious. As people who have said to me during rehearsals, The Sea is also a very funny play!” says Smith.
The Sea marks the start of the 2016-17 season for the Black Hole Theatre Company, the first full season in the new John J. Conklin Theatre at the Gail Asper Performing Arts Hall. The season will present three plays by three master playwrights. The season opens with The Sea, written by Edward Bond. In January, the company will present Translations, written by Brian Friel. The season will close in March with Aphra Behn’s The Rover.
This season will be unique in that U of M faculty members will direct all plays, explains Bill Kerr, artistic director of the Black Hole Theatre Company. The Company is student run in collaboration with the theatre program. Normally the season includes plays directed by faculty, alumni and current students. However, the faculty needs to learn the new space in order to supervise students.
“The faculty submitted two potential seasons to the company and the student executive selected this one,” says Kerr. “Therefore, the season is exciting on one hand because faculty members are all directing plays which they have worked on and wanted to direct for years, and on the other because these are plays which students wanted to work on and see.”
This season presented Robert Smith with the opportunity to finally realize his desire to stage The Sea.
“For me, work on the play has been a long journey,” says Smith. “I wanted to stage it 29 years ago at St. Paul’s College, but after auditions did not have the cast. The wait has been worth it. The cast of the current production has been marvelous to work with.”
Opening night for The Sea is on Wednesday, Nov. 30 in the John J. Conklin Theatre at the Gail Asper Performing Arts Hall, 3rd Floor, Taché Hall. The production runs until Dec. 10. Tickets are $18 and $12 for students and seniors. For a full listing of dates and show times, please visit www.bhtc.ca.